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Indians Look To Stars For Election Results

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Millions of Indians voted today in round four of that country's general election. That means there's still one more round to go, and one more week of uncertainty. Some people are resorting to unusual methods to find out who will win. NPR's Philip Reeves visited one man in New Delhi who's suddenly got a lot of work on his hands.

PHILIP REEVES: Pandit Ajai Bhambi is happily leafing through a big file containing his accomplishments. He points to a newspaper article. It says he predicted way back that Barack Obama would be elected president of the United States. Bhambi's round face breaks into a proud smile, a smile that's surprisingly radiant for a man who says he knows the future. Bhambi is one of India's army of astrologers.

Mr. PANDIT AJAI BHAMBI (Astrologer): Anybody can come to me, I'm an open (unintelligible), from this party can come, that party can come and I tell based on his chart or horoscope, which I cast and then I predict.

REEVES: He's going through a busy patch. In a week, voting ends in India's general election. Everyone's desperate to know who will govern this rising nation. No one's more eager to know than the politicians themselves. Bhambi says they've been consulting him.

REEVES: Ministers do come and see you? You've had ministers?

Mr. BHAMBI: Yeah. Don't ask me their names. This is difficult for me to, if I say their name, because this is me personally, on a one to one.

Unidentified Man: Four, three, two, one, zero.

REEVES: India recently sent a rocket to the moon and for all its chaos and poverty, it produces some of the world's finest scientists, engineers and business executives. Astrology remains a multimillion-dollar business. Belief in its mystical powers seems largely unshaken by change.

Mr. JACK SORIAH(ph) (Writer): Indians have sort of multitasking minds, if you can sort of put it that way.

REEVES: Jack Soriah is a writer and commentator.

Mr. SORIAH: They can be absolutely rational about something, science or technology or computers, at their job, and then have all kinds of beliefs which people might find a bit strange, including belief in the malefic influence of Saturn at particular times of the day.

Mr. LAL KRISHNA ADVANI (Leader, Opposition party): (Foreign Language Spoken)

REEVES: Lal Krishna Advani, the elderly leader of the largest opposition party to BJP, is out on the stump, trying to win the contest to become India's next prime minister. Advani certainly seems to believe in Saturn's influence. When he filed his election nomination papers, he did so at precisely the time deemed auspicious by his astrologer. Plenty of other Indian politicians share Advani's beliefs.

You might expect many people, especially young, educated Indians, to find this a little weird. But no.

Ms. RAMIYAH SHINDRIN(ph): No, I would just think that's normal. Perhaps also because of their age, I would think that's just one of the things they do. In fact, I might think it's weird if they didn't do it.

REEVES: Ramiyah Shindrin is 26, lives in Delhi, and works for an international agency. She, her husband, Ajay Govind(ph), a filmmaker, and an actor friend called Ranjin Sunderim(ph) agreed to talk about what astrology means to them, as young, urban Indians. First, Ranjin.

Mr. RANJIN SUNDERIM: Well, if I find that I'm having like a troubled time, generally, like something's wrong with me and I don't know what it is, it just seems like something vague, maybe, you know, I'm irritable, or something like that, I might consult an astrologer to see if there's any general negativity supposed to have happened in my life during this time.

REEVES: It's easy to find Indians who don't believe in astrology. But even for skeptics, astrology seems to remain part of the fabric of daily life.

Mr. SUNDERIM: There's actually a time, an hour in the day where you are not supposed to move out of the house, you're not supposed to start anything auspicious. That comes every day.

Mr. AJAY GOVIND (Filmmaker): Different thing every day, and these times don't matter, because we're living in Delhi. We have, you know, work schedules, you can't say, oh, you have to leave before 8 o'clock in the morning, because it's not possible, you know, the office starts at 10. So it makes no sense. I guess you can say conveniently, certain kind of things have just been left alone or forgotten, but for special occasions like weddings, you mentioned purchases.

For instance, people would buy a car but choose the date of delivery based on what's a good day.

REEVES: That's Ramiyah's husband, Ajay. So who will win the election? Will India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, keep his job? Bhambi, the astrologer, has examined the charts. For the record, he thinks Manmohan Singh's chances are, well…

Mr. BHAMBI: None, none, no.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

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