Can they

rock the vote?

What does it mean when political parties rope in celebrities to stand for elections? Vedika Kanodia looks at the polls.

Being a celebrity is a tough job, right? I mean, all that limelight, all that invasion of privacy, all those trolls, all that body shaming? Surely all those freebies, all that entitlement palls after a while? And then an army of image managers nipping at your heels to make sure you get the right kind of attention? Who needs that?  Who wants that?Apparently everyone.

Actor turned politician, Rajnikanth imitating Apana Mudra. Source- Open the Magazine

Because celebrities have more than a ticket to the red carpet. They have agency. They have power over common people. All that work on producing a flawless image for the camera translates into the ability to tell  us what to do. Build your immunity with this chyavanprash because Akshay Kumar has two spoonful every day. Wear that banian because it graces a Deol chest. Buy that filter because Hema Malini has one.

But slowly they’ve begun to move into the political sphere. Entire political parties have been built around the mystique of N T Rama Rao and M G Ramachandran, to offer two examples from the South. In Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan, the man who would not do a commercial when Sunil Gavaskar was perfecting his square drive while Palmolive was perfecting his shaving, suddenly turned political. He joined the Congress party, stood from Allahabad, defeated the Janata Party Titan, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, and then crashed and burned in a couple of years and dragged himself free from what he described as the ‘cesspool of politics’. 

Since then any number of celebrities have joined politics, generally on the winning side.  Hema Malini  and Dharmendra who converted to Islam so that they might marry joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. So did Dharmendra’s Sunny Deol and the television star Smriti Irani. 

Famous Sholay actress Hema Malini, officially joined the BJP in 2004. 

The question is: what’s the point? They may be very good at delivering a line that pleases the audiences, they may be able to dance extraordinarily well but are they legislators? Will they vote with their constituencies in mind? Do they know what it takes to make a bill into law and for a law to hit the ground and begin to be operative? And why are they all so silent when freedom of expression is threatened by extra-Constitutional authorities? Why do they never try and speak up for their industries?  

Then we have the celebrities who prefer to remain neutral in every moral crisis. They are the ones who will post pictures of their vacations as the nation burns in Covid fires. They will post their workouts and suggest that everyone should stay home and stay safe, as if everyone has the same financial cushion as they.

 

But then perhaps they are aware of the costs of speaking out. Celebrities have to face many consequences for speaking their mind on any delicate political matter, for e.g. Kangana Ranaut’s twitter account was suspended because of her recent tweets on the alleged political violence in West Bengal after election results were announced.  She had blamed the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) for violence in the state and also urged the BJP to impose Presidential rule in West Bengal. In her tweet the actress urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to 'tame' Mamata Banerjee using his 'virat roop' from the early 2000s. On one side Kangana faces backlash for sharing her opinion and on the other side Sharukh Khan was heavily criticized for not voicing his opinion on the violence against the Jamia Milia University students in Delhi. While actor Deepika Padukone visited the JNU campus at the same time to converse with the students and staff who had experienced brutal violence, there was an uproar and controversies were spun because of her showing support in favour of the students. People made sure her upcoming movie Chhapaak did not do well on the box office and thousands decided to boycott her film as payback for her showing support for the JNU students. 

BJP MP Sunny Deol’s district is in tragic condition with no proper hospitals, no schools and absolutely no education system.'' says an ex-youth secretary of Samajwadi Party in Varanasi who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Being a politician means being a public servant, everything is for the people, but if an actor enters this field then he won’t understand the plight of the people because their entire life revolves around dramatics.

Perhaps the political parties choose them because they know that these stars will not get involved in the actual work of governance. They bring the seat and then their job is done. Politicians on the other hand have some idea of how the system works and when they want to, they know how to work for the people and can handle high intensity situations, celebrities are just pretty faces and underneath that they don’t get the plight of the people.”

Mohini Singh, ex-General Secretary for the Congress, Indore says, “If a celebrity is standing for elections then in my opinion, they lack political qualifications and background to do so but if they are endorsing a particular political party or leader then that is their personal choice entirely.” 

To the average voter at the poll booth, the argument is simple. It was formulated first during the time Amitabh Bachchan was running for parliament. He has already earned enough money, he will not try to earn it by selling favours, said the people. In other words, the politician is no longer seen as being in it for the public good but for personal gain.


Another way of looking at it is to consider one’s own biases. Our tendency is to say: If My Party gains a seat because of a celebrity, that’s fine. If Their Party gains a seat because of a celebrity, that’s not on fine.


Vineet Ramani a digital marketing campaigner for Congress puts forward his views in the direction that “On one side celebrities like Smriti Irani are quite good at their jobs but there are politicians who don’t have an opinion they just have a face, that’s the only reason they can convince rural India to vote for them, because of their stature in the media.”


The question is: what does a political party want from its elected members? Do they want them to bring in intelligence and social concerns? Do they want them to represent the diversity and plurality of India? Do they want them to have minds? Or would they just like them to obey party whips and mouth party policy?


Either way, the celebrities are here to stay at the polls. 
 

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