The role celebrities play in politics

Their fame should be no disqualification but most of them end up triviliasing democracy

ashishm

Ashish Mehta | April 30, 2019 | Delhi


#Lok sabha elections 2019   #celebrity   #politics   #democracy   #bollywood  
Photos: Twitter/INCIndia
Photos: Twitter/INCIndia

In a 1992 Lok Sabha by-poll, voters of New Delhi – the power hub of the capital – were faced with an enviable choice: Rajesh Khanna of the Congress versus rising-star Shatrughan Sinha of the BJP.  The voters preferred the superstar over the non-superstar. It is not clear how Rajesh Khanna discharged his duties as an MP and served the constituency. At any rate, the choice was framed by the party bosses, and the voters chose wisely. Just a few months earlier, they had rejected the superstar and backed a seasoned politician, LK Advani. The BJP leader had then contested also from Gandhinagar, and chose to retain that seat, leading to this by-poll. Thus, people preferred an old-fashioned veteran politician over a superstar but when the choice was between two film personalities, the higher star power won the day. Rajesh Khanna went to increase his vote tally substantially when fighting Shatrughan Sinha. 

 
The voters of Allahabad, however, chose differently in 1984, though the sympathy wave after the assassination of Indira Gandhi had also something to do with it. They backed another superstar, Amitabh Bachchan, instead of trusted and otherwise giant politician, HN Bahuguna.
 
As Paresh Rawal is taking the bow, it is clear that for most film stars, being a politician is just another role to play. Apart from Sunil Dutt (and the whole of the south), no exceptions come to mind. There have been more and more of celebrities in politics since the 1980s, as TV screens entered the middle-class homes. The best candidate to symbolize this phenomenon could be Nitish Bhardwaj, Lord Krishna of ‘Mahabharat’ tele-serial, who in 1996 defeated Inder Singh Namdhari in Jamshedpur. (Namdhari is still a serving politician, but Bhardwaj quit after losing in 1999.) The trend is only rising now with a battery of actors, stars, starlets, balladeers, sportsmen and a hair stylist coming forward to do their bit for the nation through the platform of politics. Gautam Gambhir and Vijender Singh should feel very much at home in their new careers, when politics is increasingly looking like a spectator sport thanks to prime-time TV and social media. 
 
Fame and popularity are certainly no disqualification when anybody with no qualification can also contest elections. Many of them indeed come forward with a praiseworthy zeal to serve the people, and are already working for the political party of their choice before taking the plunge in the polls. It is better that they are seeking people’s mandate, because nomination to the Rajya Sabha is always an option. In Nehru’s time, it was Prithviraj Kapur, Indira Gandhi backed Nargis. By the time Hema Malini and Rekha were nominated to the upper house, they had precedents in Vyjayantimala Bali and Shabana Azmi. Hema Malini’s choice instead to contest Lok Sabha polls should then be welcome. Compared to the royal route Sachin Tendulkar chose to serve the nation, Gambhir is prepared to face the hustle and bustle of campaigning.
 
Those of us with different expectations from elections may wince at the star power trouncing the long years of politics on the ground, even if most non-celebrity candidates are not like Bahuguna either. Being an MP and representing lakhs of people is a fulltime job. Between one film shoot and the next, between one TV show appearance and the next or between two bouts, it is difficult to find time for helping voters in accessing benefits of government welfare schemes or voicing their concerns and participating in parliamentary debates. Bahuguna and Advani by the dint of their work among masses are better qualified at this job than Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna.
 
Those of us with different expectations from elections may also scoff at the transformation of an MP into a number. In the presidential form towards which our politics is veering, the choice before the voter is not between individual candidates, but between parties they represent – or more precisely the prime ministerial candidates of those parties. As the top leadership gets stronger, the middle-rung of politics made up of MPs becomes inconsequential. This top-down, centralized model has improved governance in terms of delivery of services, truncating the role of the MP for people in the constituency. However, the flip side is that the MP is not able to voice the social and political issues – law and order, corruption, communalism, or crony capitalism, for instance. 
 
ashishm@governancenow.com 
(This article appears in the May 15, 2019 edition)

Comments

 

Other News

“Script is the real hero”

Basking in the success of the new web series, ‘Scam 1992: The Harshad  Mehta Story ’,on SonyLIV, the OTT platform from Sony stable where the lead actors are new faces, NP Singh, MD and CEO of Sony Pictures Networks, has said that the script is the new hero. He credited the s

India’s active cases below 10% of total cases for three days

India’s trend of steadily decreasing active cases continues unabated. The number of Active Cases has remained below 10% of the total cases for the last three days, suggesting only one in 10 cases is active Covid-19 patient. The active cases comprise merely 9.29% of the total positive c

Cabinet clears bonus for non-gazetted employees

The union cabinet chaired by prime minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday gave its approval to pay productivity linked bonus (PLB) for 2019-20 to 16.97 lakh non-gazetted employees of commercial establishments like Railways, Posts, Defence, EPFO, and ESIC, with a financial implication of Rs.2,791 crore.

Covid-19: Daily new cases fall below 50K

India has leaped across several significant milestones in its fight against Covid-19. The new confirmed cases in the 24 hours to Tuesday morning have fallen below 50,000 (46,790, to be precise) for the first time in nearly three months. The last time the number of new cases was close to this level was on J

Media taking advantage of a divided Bollywood: Shatrughan Sinha

Legendary film star and politician Shatrughan Sinha has said that friendship in Bollywood is limited to onscreen, and there is no unity and some news channels are taking advantage of this situation. “Groups within the industry or their supporters may sometimes come together for some c

‘2.40 lakh TB cases went unreported in India in 2019’

In India, only 2.40 million out of an estimated 2.64 million cases of tuberculosis were reported to the government, that is, 2,40,000 TB patients went unreported, in 2019, according to the WHO Global Tuberculosis Report 2020. The reporting of TB cases, however, has significantly increased ov

Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter