Tue, Apr 14, 2009 - Page 5 News List

India’s ‘love guru’ seeking to woo hearts of voters

AFP , NEW DELHI

A professor dubbed “the love guru” is contesting India’s elections on an unusual platform — more freedom for lovers and standing up to vigilante groups who frown on public displays of affection.

Matuk Nath Choudhary, who is standing in the Bihar state capital of Patna, is promising that, if he wins, lovers of all ages will be encouraged to give free rein to their emotions wherever and whenever they please.

The soft-spoken Hindi professor, who gained notoriety thanks to a very public extramarital affair with a student three years ago, is running as an independent against many established political names.

But the man who made headlines for defying social norms in strictly conservative India to stay with his lover, despite his wife’s humiliating the duo in front of TV cameras, appears undaunted by the challenge.

“I am in this on my own steam. Unlike my opponents who have the backing of political parties and huge amounts of money, I have limited resources,” he said by phone from Patna.

“But my message — on love, education, improving society — makes sense, which is why people are listening to me. Everyone is scared of talking about love and sex. I do this openly and that is why I appeal to the youth,” he said.

Choudhary, 55, launched his manifesto last week with promises to bring in “adequate safeguards to lovers,” including a “lovers’ park” in Patna where couples could meet “away from the prying eyes of society.”

The idyllic setting — envisioned with plenty of trees and shrubs — will have therapists and counselors on hand to dispense advice on love, sex and relationships.

Choudhary’s words would appear to be music to the ears of India’s amorous couples who often struggle to steal a kiss away from family chaperones, vigilante groups and traditionalists.

India’s public parks have become battlegrounds between lovers and the self-styled Hindu extremist “moral police” who have beaten up and publicly humiliated couples for sitting together or holding hands.

Earlier this year, police arrested and charged a young married couple with obscenity for allegedly kissing at a railway station. They were later released thanks to a court order. But Choudhary has pledged sweeping changes if he wins in elections that will be held across the nation from Thursday.

“I will instruct the police, who are now ordered to make sure men and women behave ‘properly’ in public, to provide them with security against the self-appointed guardians of morality,” he said.

Not for him the big rallies and media campaigns of other candidates.

“I believe in the personal touch and simplicity of direct communication,” he said of his door-to-door campaign strategy.

And, perhaps surprisingly, Choudhary — who has one son — has strict ideas on family planning.

“We need to ensure our population is controlled,” he said. “To do that I propose all couples have just one child whose education the state will take care of.”

“In case there are two or more children in families above the poverty line, I propose a tax on the second child and others born after that,” he said.

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