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Blooming lotus creates headache for Indian election officials

Candidate says abundance of flower-covered ponds provides advantage for rivals as lotus is their symbol

Officials overseeing elections in India have grown used over the years to politicians trying their best to secure even the slightest edge and to deny any such thing to their rivals.

But election officials in Madhya Pradesh have responded with incredulity after a local politician requested the authorities cover over the state's lotus ponds, claiming his rivals were getting an advantage in an upcoming election because the other party's symbol is the lotus flower.

Earlier this week, members of the Congress Party, the symbol of which is the hand, wrote to election officials saying the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the symbol of which is the lotus, was benefiting from the recent blooming of lotus flowers in certain parts of the state. It asked that workers be dispatched to cover up the flowers.

"Since the BJP came to power in Madhya Pradesh, the number of lotus flowers in this area has doubled," Amar Chand Bawaria, a Congress politician, told The Independent. "It's being used to the BJP's advantage."

The unlikely request comes as the India prepares for five state elections due to be held before the end of the year and which are being seen as an indicator of the way the country might vote in next year's parliamentary elections. The campaign is becoming increasingly bitter.

Nationally, the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, are looking to dislodge the ruling Congress party-led coalition. But in the central state of Madhya Pradesh the situation is reversed and the Congress is looking to oust the BJP, which currently controls the state machinery.

The BJP has laughed at Mr Bawaria's request, claiming it shows the Congress is not serious about challenging in Madhya Pradesh, part of India's so-called "Hindi heartland".

Vishwas Sarang, a BJP member of the the Madhya Pradesh assembly, said: "This is foolish activity - it's kids' stuff. There is no need to cover  up natural things. If they are talking about covering the lotus flowers, does that also mean they should cover up everybody's hands?"

As unlikely as Mr Bawaria's suggestion may sound, there is a recent precedent which may have led him to believe the authorities might act.

In January 2012, officials in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh ordered the covering of around 200 statues of politician Mayawati and her party's symbol, the elephant, ahead of a local poll.

Officials decided that Ms Mayawati's Bahujan Samajwadi Party would have received an unfair advantage and so ordered the statues to be covered with more than one mile of pink plastic wrapping. At one point, officials had to send for extra supplies after running out.

But in Madhya Pradesh this case, it appears the Congress is not going to get its way and a meeting of election officials in the city of Bhopal decided to reject the request.

Akshay Rout, a senior official with the Election Commission of India said he had never before heard of a request to cover a lotus pond.

"There were certain suggestions that came before the commission," he said. "But I can clarify that we are not doing anything of this sort."