Vote in the name of love

Indian Lovers Party advertising van
Image caption For now, Kumar Sri Sri is happy with the ice-cream cup symbol allocated to him for political purposes

"In the next 10 years, the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party are going to have a new rival to contend with... my Indian Lovers Party," says Kumar Sri Sri.

In a country where killings in the name of honour are not uncommon and canoodling couples are beaten up on Valentine's Day, Mr Kumar has set himself up as a defender of love.

He launched the party on Valentine's Day in 2008, embarking on a journey that has taken him from being a lone crusader and an object of ridicule in the community to the leader of a political party with more than 100,000 registered members.

Sitting on a wooden bench inside his one-room office in the Chennai (Madras) suburb of Kodambakkam, Mr Kumar, 34, talks with animation about his cause.

A computer covered with a transparent plastic sheet sits on a table, under which folders labelled with his party's name are stacked neatly.

Mr Kumar's face is framed by a faded wall calendar carrying a sepia image of Mahatma Gandhi. To one side, atop a television set, a yellow, heart-shaped clock provides a suitable backdrop for Mr Kumar's long discourse on the politics of love.

Serious threats

Mr Kumar says it was the problems he faced during his own days as a "lover", as well as the situation experienced by many couples who had fallen in love but found it difficult to get married in the face of parental opposition, that prompted him to launch a political party to support the cause.

Since then Mr Kumar has supported, with his presence and his money, more than 15 weddings among "lover couples".

In other cases, he counsels, mediates and does everything possible to ensure a happy ending for the pairs, ie marriage.

After all, that is the stated agenda of his political party. Its mission statement, spelled out on its website, says: "Its objective is to heal the wounds inflicted in the hearts of lovers by society."

While this may not exactly be very specific, Mr Kumar is very particular about who he helps.

First, he checks the basic details (age, address and willingness) of the prospective bride and groom and, if possible, has a conversation with the parents.

"I do not support anything wrong like extramarital affairs," he says.

In cases where there are serious threats against the couple, he sends the material on to the Police Commissioner's office, where he is well known.

"In Tamil Nadu, the police are friends of true lovers," he says with a dramatic flourish, a statement that couples routinely harassed by officers on the sands of Marina Beach would contest.

Image caption Kumar left his Andhra Pradesh village for Chennai at 16 after a fight with his parents

Mr Kumar's own story sounds like something out of an Indian movie, beginning with his bus journey at the age of 16 to Chennai after a fight with his parents in his village in Andhra Pradesh.

Mr Kumar came to Kodambakkam with the dream of becoming a film star, finally ending up as a make-up artist after a prolonged struggle.

And somewhere in those years, he added the extra syllables Sri Sri to his name ("numerology for luck") and also met, fell in love and married his wife and primary supporter Mangala Devi.

When Mr Kumar launched the ILP, he had 5,000 rupees ($100) in his pocket and three assistants whose job was to stick posters around the city - "not supporters but helpers who worked for money".

But he says the three-and-a-half-year journey has been carefully planned.

"I am slowly laying the basement now and soon I will build on it," he says with a smile.

Taj Mahal flag

For Mr Kumar, getting lovers married is not the sole goal, though at present it is his primary aim.

He clearly sees this cause as one that is attractive to youth, and that is where the votes lie.

In the recent state assembly elections, he stood from the Chennai suburb of T Nagar and won more than 3,000 votes.

He says he has already been getting feelers from various political parties within the state.

Not everyone is convinced though. Publisher at New Horizon Media and Chennai political blogger and commentator Badri Seshadri dismisses him as a "crank", calling the idea of the party a publicity stunt.

He says: "Every party has - and needs to have - a clear political goal, but the Indian Lovers Party does not seem to have any political goal.

"'Lovers' do not belong to a political class and as such, they do not require a political party."

For his part, Mr Kumar is eagerly looking forward to the day when he gets to pick the election symbol of his choice - once his political party is registered and recognised at the national level.

For now, he is content with the symbol given to him: a cup of ice-cream.

And he points with pride to the party flag that he has designed with great thought and love; a Taj Mahal (his ultimate symbol of love), enclosed by a white heart (the white, he says representing Christians) outlined with three colours - pink (for love), orange (for Hindu) and green (for Muslim). Not to forget the yellow arrow that pierces through the heart.

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