Millennium Post

Stars creating disharmony

Last Sunday driving to office one observed a rare irony. The 5 pm news on FM Gold announced the outrage against the induction of Hinduvta activist Pramod Muthalik into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As one wondered why when BJP’s development propelled poll agenda was fuelling its campaign so very well, party leaders decided to induct an absolute looney like Muthalik into the party, the channel started broadcasting an old Bollywood song, Na Hindu Banega, Na Musalman Banega...

Filmed in Dhool Ka Phool, Bollywood maestro Yash Chopra’s debut film as director, the song was scripted by impeccable Sahir Ludhianvi and continues to be an ode to Hindu-Muslim harmony. In fact whenever we talk of national integration, we talk of Bollywood and cricket as the two most unifying factors in our nation. For decades Bollywood stars and cricketers have been loved for their performance and bringing accolades rather than for their religion.

However, for the past few elections a definite trend has started to use both the Bollywood and the cricket personalities as caste and religion icons to woo the voters. The upcoming Lok Sabha poll once again reiterates this trend. Fielding of Hema Malini by the BJP and Mohammed Azharuddin and Nagma by the Congress are case in point.

Hema Malini has been fielded from the Jat-Brahmin-Dalit dominated constituency of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP in the past won this seat on four consecutive occasions between 1991 and 2004. During this period, the Ram Janambhoomi agitation was at its peak and so was the popularity of the NDA government. Its candidate from here was from the Jat community and got Brahmin votes in bonus for contesting on lotus symbol as party leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s name was associated with the area. However, the Brahmins deserted the party in 2004.

In a move to bring the two communities together again for lotus, the saffronites have found a unifying symbol in Hema Malini. She is a Brahmin married to a Jat – Dharmendra Singh Deol. While Hema Malini is a Tamilian, Dharmendra is from Punjab. They have worked all their life in Mumbai with no connection whatsoever with Mathura except that of the caste. That the Deols have been admired across the states and communities matters little to these power seeking stars when they decide to don the garb of the caste leaders of Jats.

Dharmendra himself had contested the 2004 Lok Sabha polls from Bikaner and won from the Jat dominated seat. His son Sunny Deol has been campaigning vociferously in another Jat-dominated seat – Baghpat – to garner support for BJP candidate Satyapal Singh, the former police commissioner of Mumbai. It’s another matter that Deol in several films keeps shouting that his name is ‘Indian’ and his religion also Indian.

So is the case of former India captain Mohammed Azharuddin. The Congress party surprised everybody on the eve of last polls in 2009 by fielding the wristy willow-master from Hyderabad from brass city of Moradabad in western Uttar Pradesh. Moradabad is a Muslim dominated seat not won by the Congress since 1962 except for the aberration of 1984. Fielding Azharuddin helped Congress win the seat as the former India captain was a much bigger Muslim name than any other local leader.

Like Dharmendra, Azharuddin too found no time to serve his constituency. While Dharmendra decided not to contest the poll again, Azhar moved heaven and earth to be given ticket once again and that too from a Muslim dominated safe seat, this time in West Bengal – Basirhat or Murshidabad. Though the party did not oblige him in West Bengal, he has been given a ticket from Sawai Madhopur, which now has a sizeable minority electorate following delimitation of the seat implemented in 2009.

Azhar in heydays was captain of Indian cricket team and not a player of club named Muslim Gymkhana. All through his cricketing career he was adored for his mastery with bat till he brought infamy and disgrace on himself by getting involved in the match fixing scandal.

No other logic than polarising votes on communal lines justifies fielding of southern star Naghma from the Meerut seat. The seat is currently held by Rajendra Agrawal of BJP, which again held sway over the constituency during the Ayodhya movement winning it for three consecutive terms between 1991 and 1998. In 2009, BJP managed to win the seat with a margin of 30,000-odd votes as there was split in the minority votes. Naghma has been fielded with the thought that she has the potential to consolidate the minority votes in her favour in a communally charged atmosphere.

Film journalist Bharati S Pradhan in her 2003 book Colas, Cars and Communal Harmony, tries to give a unique definition to the spirit of secularism in Bollywood. According to her, in the Hindi film industry, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs live and die alike every Friday. ‘Religion doesn’t rule here. The box office does,’ wrote Pradhan, whose book looks at the multi-hued families that thrive in Bollywood.

The question is when the multi-religious families of Bollywood successfully weave dream-after-dream for years together with reasonable success at the box office, why do they choose to play the caste and communal cards for rich dividends at the polls. Do they not believe in their appeal across the caste and community lines?

Regrettable as it may sound but the most loved film and cricketing icons have come to identify themselves as no more than the symbols of caste and community. Indeed sad for Indian democracy.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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