Glamour and democracy
Charisma of celebrities entering into politics can be channelised for serving people and strengthening politics only through dedicated endeavours and not frivolous goals
Legislature, Executive, Judiciary and the press are originally said to be the four estates of democracy. Over time, one more estate was added to the list, jocularly termed as the fifth estate in unofficial parlance. And that is the spiritual empires of godmen generally known as gurus, babas, swamis and tantriks who wield substantial influence in politics: firstly, as their millions of devotees with unquestionable fealty have potential to influence polls; and secondly, they involve in a lot of 'extra-curricular activities that politicians find extremely useful to cultivate and encourage them. Now there is a new class of elites who with their larger-than-life image and monumental popularity are playing an effective role in politics: who else? The film stars and celebrities. Now it's time we call them the sixth estate of democracy for they have come to stay.
Elections to democratic institutions are fought on ideological lines and on issues of development such as poverty, unemployment, inclusion, health, education, security and so on. Accordingly, the political parties prepare lengthy manifestoes and make promises to people in order to win their confidence. However, factors such as caste, religion, money and muscle power, have never ceased to play their predominant role behind the ostentatious democratic facade of political campaigns. As if these secret weapons, as cards up on the sleeve, are not enough, political parties have also invented new ways and means to woo the voters. Inducting celebrities like movie actors and sportspersons into the party and showcasing them before the voters as star campaigners is one such method. They are not very wrong in believing that the charisma of celebrities will work as a value addition to the ideology of the party and will certify its manifesto before the masses.
Stars and celebrities too seem to have realized that they have some political value which can help their career while primarily, it can also ensure new pastures of public life later when the limelights turn dimmer. In every election season, a good number of film stars and sports giants join political parties and, befitting their stardom and fame, the political parties roll out red-carpet and admit them into the party with wide publicity, pomp, and high-sounding fanfare. Movie stars and celebrities enjoy the privilege of choosing a political career directly through the wild card of 'lateral entry' granted in their favour. Fortune favours some faster that they get nominated to upper house straightaway from the sets of the studios without having had to soil their clothes, working hard from the grassroots level and climb up the ladder after series of struggles within the party, unlike the seasoned regular politicians. And interestingly, they continue to shine in their new assignment, more an avocation, unhindered even if it means to shift loyalties from one party to another as and when circumstances demand or convenience mandates. Parties are ever ready to welcome them with open arms, ta-da!
It appears that elections are reduced to a mere game of numbers and ideologies and principles are now underplayed. There is a cut-throat competition between major political parties to win the maximum number of seats in order to form the government. A part of the 'marketing strategy', inter alia, is to add glamour and charm to the poll campaign by deploying film stars and celebrities to enhance the prospects of victory; as their presence glorifies the party's image and helps to woo the voters. Stars also desire political patronage for it offers protection and support on various matters. A symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship is visible between politicians and celebrities. As it is said that nothing succeeds like success, celebrities do not need to stagnate in their field of excellence or face vicissitudes of fortune any more. The sky is the limit and ambition is no crime. They are eager to invest their popularity and glamour into politics and the overture is evident in their hyperactivity on social media through comments on political and social issues; it's taxing for the imminent take-off. The gold rush is visible as several stars, mostly the younger lot, are seen in roadshows and election rallies radiating glamour and splendour. They mainly keep parroting that the leaders of their party are the only messiahs and voting them to power is the only way forward for people. Though it's a different matter as to how much they understood politics and governance or how sincere they are in adhering to the ideology and values of the party they instantly joined.
Parties seem to emulate the strategy of a typical film director who with the proper plot, music, comedy, sentiment, emotion and, sensation essays to make his film a super hit at the box office; the only difference here is that it's the ballot box. Glamour and glory of heroes and heroines seldom fail to influence people. By their mesmerizing aura, they impede the natural judgement of people. They can be used as suitable instruments of propaganda as they succeed in diverting the attention of people from real issues of development to hero-worship. Political thinkers or the great visionaries of democracy would have never imagined that one day political parties will resort to such desperate ways to seek the support of people instead of winning it on the basis of real performance and commitment to democratic values, the way which is more honourable. One may not be at fault to call such electoral manoeuvrings a bastardization of the political process in a democracy.
The nexus between the entertainment industry and politics has long been established in the world. But, there is a difference of kind in terms of vision and commitment. Film personalities joining politics or actively working for social causes have never been tabooed. Where the Indian cinema industry had given three famous Chief Ministers, Hollywood had produced a President and many Governors in the United States. They made a great difference in politics with effective leadership in addressing issues like poverty, unemployment, universal healthcare, education, etc. Iconic leaders like MGR, NTR, Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha were originally film celebrities. MGR's midday meal scheme in schools and NTR's two rupee/kilo rice programme for the poor have become an inspiration for many state governments. They proved themselves as visionaries in their own right and never chose politics as a part-time occupation or a hobby. There are many film personalities from Bollywood also who joined politics, fought elections directly and actively delivered the duties of lawmakers. They subscribe to the ideology of the party they belong to and, utilize their popularity to address the problems of people in the best way they deem fit. Some more are involved in philanthropic work championing the cause of the poor and marginalized classes. Some made generous donations to social causes and took bold stands on issues. Socially conscious and politically committed film stars are always welcome in politics as they can make a great difference in politics by channelling their charisma in positive ways. They are a class apart.
Political parties as the mouthpiece of the public are supposed to represent ethos, ethics and dignity of democracy. Moving away from frivolity, they should try to inform and educate the masses on issues and seek support on the basis of their vision and integrity. It will be infamy to convert democracy into a frenzied reality show. The beauty of elections is in fair play but not in glamour and clamour.
The writer is a former Additional Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh. Views expressed are personal