Filmstars or political gangsters
Have India’s traditional political parties – national and regional – lost faith in their ranks to catch the imagination of ordinary voters or the common man? It would appear so in this election season when the parties are vying with each other to trap as many celebrities as possible to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha polls on their behalf instead of their committed, round-the-year campaigning hard-nosed professional party folks. Big-time public entertainers – past and present – are in great demand from political parties across the country to stand in for the coming Lok Sabha election on their tickets to win seats. Even magicians are not spared. Poll-bound political parties seem to be just desperate about boosting their winners’ tally. The aggregation of numbers is the key. And, not many parties can boast the presence of required number of clean-imaged professional politicians in their ranks who are certain to bring the number. Celluloid or sports stars look like a better bet than political gangsters.
Bharatiya Janata Party, which does not stand a chance to win a single seat from West Bengal’s kitty of 42, is fielding the country’s, most famous magician P C Sorcar Jr to cast a spell on the vast population of semi-literate ordinary voters in the mixed urban-rural constituency of Barasat. For BJP, even one seat from West Bengal means a lot. The same is the case of Congress, which fear near decimation in West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, aspiring to emerge as the third largest group in new Lok Sabha and to play a king-maker’s role in the next government, has the biggest star cast in its candidates’ list. It has lined up a battery of celebs to contest for the party, especially from those few opposition strongholds left in the state to ensure its position as a force to reckon with in national politics.
TMC’s celeb contestants include present day Bengali film superstar Dev, veteran cine stars Sandhya Roy, Moon Moon Sen, actor-daughter of superstar Suchitra Sen, singer Indraneel Sen, composer Saumitra Roy and footballers Baichung Bhutia and Prasun Banerjee, all first timers. Almost entire Tollywood, led by Mithun Chakraborty and Prasenjit, will campaign for TMC’s candidates from the film, music and performing art world. Minnows BJP in Bengal will have Bollywood singer-composer Bappi Lahiri to counter the TMC’s starry campaign. BJP has also put up singer Babul Supriya and actor Joy Banerjee among its star candidates.
Call it a side effect of the sudden triumphal emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in India’s electoral politics with the last Delhi assembly election which proved to be a political Waterloo for most big names in the game, including Sheila Dixit, or not, the traditional political parties are worried that professional politicians are fast losing the common man’s trust and vote bankability. Congress has been trying it best to persuade star cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, the latest and youngest Bharat Ratna award recipient, to campaign for the party for some of its select all-India candidates and also those in Maharashtra, where the fate of the party’s position along with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), its ally, hangs in balance in the face of growing public support for BJP, the Republican Party and independents leading anti-corruption crusades.
Next to West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh will see a big surge of star power, led by charming veteran Hema Malini in Mathura, shuttler Ameeta (Modi) Sinh, and cricketer Md. Kaif. BJP is banking on evergreen Hema Malini’s charm to win Mathura in Uttar Pradesh where every seat matters. In fact, North India will have a fare share of stars – old and new – such as Kirran Kher, Nagma and Gul Panag. In contrast, South India, having a star-struck political tradition, may not see many new faces, barring the rising Telegu film star Pawan Kalyan, who like his more famous superstar brother Charanjeevi, has promoted his own political party, Jana Sena. Over 200-film-fame Tamil star Vijaykanth threatens to have a crack at Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK in this Lok Sabha poll. Vijayakanth’s DMDK is her main opposition in the Tamil Nadu assembly. DMDK along with four other small parties has joined BJP-led NDA. Famous southern film stars turned politicians Sarath Kumar, Mohan Babu, Babu Mohan, Ganesh Kumar, Nepoleon and Kota Srinivasa Rao may be seen in various roles in this election.
Theoretically, if all the celebs in the fray manage to make it to Lok Sabha, they could combine to form the third largest group irrespective of their party affiliations. And, a good number of them would be first-timers. Historically, celebs are not known to actively participate in Parliamentary proceedings. Some of them are members of Rajya Sabha in the nominated category and mostly treated as decorative pieces. Their usefulness are seen and exploited at the time of voting on an issue or resolution. The chances are that the presence of such a large number of reel-and-field entertainers in the next Lok Sabha could easily make it the dumbest Lower House in history. The ruling combination may not be concerned. After all, which government ever encouraged a debate on its action or inaction?
In a popular democracy such as India, election is all about the number and not its intrinsic quality. If the morning shows the day, the chase for the number by belligerent political parties and their unreliable alliances promises to be much nastier than anything similar witnessed earlier by the country’s electorates. Recently, a BJP-AAP free-for-all in three states – Delhi, Gujarat and UP – occurred almost simultaneously in the style of serial blasts in modern terror attacks to mark the Election Commission’s ‘model code of conduct’ for political parties within 24 hours of its application may serve as a storm signal for the nature of things to develop in the coming weeks. At least 100 people were injured in these well orchestrated clashes freely using bricks and bats. One will not be surprised if such political race and brinkmanship lead to bloodshed and even death of one or two key candidates.
The strong possibility of no single political party or its pre-poll seat-sharing alliance reaching even close to the magic number of 272 seats in Lok Sabha portends an increasing use of muscles or of fear as a weapon in the chase of the requisite number.
If anything, the fielding of so many footballers, film and fashion-world stars, cricketers, magician and wrestlers in the election contest in preference to regular political party candidates projects the desperate situation the political parties facing in the number chase. Unfortunately, those celebs fronted to contest the election on various political party tickets, are most unlikely to be aware that they are being used as petty political pawns in this number game. For some, it may appear to be just a fun. IPA