Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian.
More than eight dozen auto rickshaws were standing outside the New Delhi Railway Station and playing a hit song of yesteryear’s noted singer Mohammad Rafi –‘Pukarta chala hoon main’. Before people realised, the song stopped in the middle and a voice was heard, “I am Biswajit, Bollywood actor, your candidate in this Lok Sabha election from the New Delhi seat.” As soon as the sentence was completed, a new song began to play. This was the campaigning of 78-year-old film star Biswajit in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He contested from New Delhi as a Trinamool Congress candidate. Biswajit the romantic hero of 70s, lost badly, securing only 909 votes.
Film stars always shine in the glamour world like bright stars, but what happens when these stars have to come to the ground as a politician? Then their glamour fails to fascinate their fans. They flop in retaining their charisma.
After 11 years of marriage, star of the millennium Amitabh Bachchan landed in Allahabad with wife Jaya in 1984. That visit to his hometown had a purpose. With the intention of maintaining an old friendship with the Congress party Amitabh wanted to revive its lost connection with the city. Because long back in 1956 Big B’s family was settled in Delhi, as his father and poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan was a Hindi officer in the Foreign Ministry. Amitabh’s parents were very close to Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. And he was among the close friends of Rajiv Gandhi after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Amitabh decided to join politics to help his friend. He was the candidate of Congress from Allahabad seat in the 8th Lok Sabha election held in 1984.
The superstar of Bollywood contested against the former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna. Big B, along with Jaya and Ajitabh conducted dozens of meetings. During the meeting, it was difficult for the police to handle the crowds. Bahuguna claimed that the crowd has come to see actor Amitabh Bachchan, not for the leader Amitabh. As everyone knows, when a film star lands in the political arena, the opponent’s struggle becomes extremely tough. This fate also fell upon Bahuguna. Big B won a historic victory with more than 2.65 lakh votes while Bahuguna got 1.14 lakh votes. This result surprised all of Amitabh’s opponents. But Big B could not stay longer in the state.
In 1987, he resigned from the post saying that he is not fit for politics. He took this decision when his and brother Ajitabh’s name came up in the Bofors guns scandal. After that, he said goodbye to Congress and politics. Superstar Amitabh was not able to do anything special in politics and to the people. However, he clarified fans about his small stint of politics.
In his blog, Amitabh wrote, “For the Assembly elections in that state (Assam) I was sent to campaign for the party (Congress). An error of judgment forced my helicopter to land at the wrong destination. It belonged to the opposition. There was an instant physical reaction and the pilot advised us to make a hurried exit. As I sat back in the chopper, a young student broke the cordon, ran up to me, thrust his fist through the glass window and handed me a piece of paper. The piece of paper read, ‘‘Mr Bachchan, I am a big fan of yours, but I am with the opposite party. Please leave this state, you are making life very difficult for me for I am torn between two desires.’ It was one emotional plea that left me thinking long and hard. I felt for 25 years I had tried to woo my audience to love me as an actor. And once I had accomplished that I was now telling them to love my politics as well. Not acceptable to me.”
In an interview with Shekhar Gupta, Big B admitted: “I mostly think of it because there are many promises that one makes during an election campaign when you seek votes from people. My inability to keep those promises hurts. If there is anything that I regret then it is that.”
On ideological basis too, Amitabh did not stick to one party. Later, he was close to the Samajwadi Party and Mulayam Singh, all thanks to Amar Singh who was his good friend and helpful too. At the behest of Amar Singh, his wife and former actress Jaya Bachchan joined the Samajwadi Party. Nowadays, Amitabh is close to BJP and seen in almost all promotional advertisements of the government.
Amitabh Bachchan’s is not the only example of Bollywood stars who had flopped in their careers in the politics. Rajesh Khanna, Govinda, Rekha, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Vyjayanthimala Bali and Jaya Prada are other known stars who are flopped in politics.
Besides acting together in films, Dharmendra and Hema Malini have also won fame in politics. Both Dharmendra and Hema joined the BJP in 2004. On BJP ticket, Dharmendra won the Lok Sabha election from Bikaner constituency of Rajasthan, but he never participated actively in politics. He faced several allegations for it.
He was criticised for not being present in his parliamentary constituency. According to reports, local newspapers even carried advertisements asking about his whereabouts. Apart from this, when Parliament sessions were on, he did not even attend the Parliament. Neither did he ask a single question nor participate in any debate, and his attendance was a dismal 1.5 per cent. Recently, Dharmendra admitted that actors should remain in acting and not go into politics.
In comparison with Dharmendra, Hema’s political record is better. The ‘Dream Girl’ joined politics as a Rajya Sabha member in 2004 nominated by the BJP. Now she is a Lok Sabha member from Mathura and has done work in the field of Swachhta in her constituency. But in her constituency still, people consider her more of an actress than a politician. After a decade, when Hema re-contested from Mathura in 2014 elections, the public at her rallies demanded that she recite her dialogues from the 1970s’ blockbuster film Sholay.
Rajesh Khanna, who ruled the hearts of the fans for a long time as a superstar, did not stay away from politics. Rajesh Khanna was elected from New Delhi Lok Sabha seat on a Congress ticket. However, Rajesh Khanna aka Kaka’s journey of becoming a politician was not so easy. In fact, in the 1991 elections, he fought against BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani. Advani became cautious and played safe: he also contested from Gandhinagar. Advani won the elections from both seats, but in Delhi, he managed to beat Rajesh Khanna by a very thin margin. After a narrow escape, Advani resigned the New Delhi seat and subsequent elections were held again in 1992. This time again Congress made Rajesh Khanna its candidate, but now he was contesting against another Bollywood actor, Shatrughan Sinha from BJP. In the battle of the superstars, Kaka emerged as a big winner. However, Rajesh Khanna later retired from politics.
Very few people know that Rajesh Khanna was given ticket from New Delhi to spite Amitabh Bachchan, who had fallen out with his good friend Rajiv Gandhi following the Bofors controversy. In order to settle scores with Bachchan, Rajiv Gandhi wanted another superstar, so he gave the ticket to Rajesh Khanna.
The fabled Kaka, however, lost his connect with the people; possibly he thought he was still doing a film role. His mannerisms were often termed by his critics as arrogance.
Actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha’s political career is still in the doldrums, as he is paying price for his blunt spitefulness against BJP leaders, Modi and Shah. He now says the price is for his honesty in both his political and acting careers. In the recently held Kumaon Literary Festival, Shotgun recalled his political and acting careers and said, “No allegations have come up against me (in my political life) and sometimes for that, you may have to pay a price. When you are honest, you end up blocking the ways of people near you. They then pull you down.”
Sinha said that he had had to pay a similar price in his eventful acting career too. The outspoken parliamentarian admitted that starting his political career with a by-election opposite fellow Bollywood actor Rajesh Khanna, on the orders of senior BJP leader L K Advani was his biggest mistake because not only did he lose the election, but also a good friend in Khanna. He said Kaka had stopped talking to him after the polls. Although Shotgun wanted to break the ice between him and the veteran actor when the latter was battling for life, nothing materialised.
Sunil Dutt was the only Bollywood star who had the successful journey as a politician. After the death of his wife, the legendary actress Nargis, (she herself had a very small stint as a Rajya Sabha member) Sunil Dutt joined politics and the Congress in 1984 and was the elected Member of Lok Sabha from the constituency of Mumbai North-West, where he was known to have worked intensely for the cause of slum dwellers. An outspoken promoter of communal harmony, he was re-elected five times.
Nehru & Now
The credit to bring the fame and glamour of Bollywood film stars into politics goes to India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru. Pandit Nehru started the tradition of packaging the popularity of Bollywood stars in politics. He redeemed the popularity of stars for the party’s victory. In the general elections of 1962, Nehru gave a ticket to Subhadra Joshi from the seat Balrampur against Atal Behari Vajpayee. Subhadra Joshi was new and a stranger to that constituency and Nehru was also aware of the popularity of Atal Behari. So to combat the popularity of Atal Behari, he took the help of the then big star Balraj Sahni for the campaigning. Atal Behari Vajpayee finally lost to Balraj Sahni’s magic. After this, the trend started to encash the stars’ images by all the parties. While the stars started coming to politics as an alternative after retirement, political parties were also expected to win their elections.
Trinamool Congress relies the most on the charisma of film stars. Dev, one of the highest paid superstars in Bengali cinema won the Ghatal Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal as a candidate for TMC. More than 30 film stars like Kirron Kher, Hema Malini, Gul Panag, Paresh Rawal, Ravi Kishan, Manoj Tiwari, Rakhi Sawant, Bappi Lahiri, Moon Moon Sen, Raj Babbar, Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha have contested the general elections last time. Out of that only six film stars have been elected as members in the current Lok Sabha.
But many others like Rekha, Mithun Chakraborty in Rajya Sabha have the least participation as most of them have remained ornamental. You may see these stars in every other event and award functions. But when it comes to attending Parliament’s proceedings, they barring a couple of them prefer to keep themselves away from the very process that shapes the country’s future. As per the data of PRS Legislative Research, the sizzling Diva of Bollywood, Rekha, has less than 5.5 per cent attendance and did not participate in a single debate. She has not asked a single question till now. Besides Rekha, other star MPs’ records are not to be proud of.
You may have seen Mithun Chakraborty judging dance shows for reality TV but in the Parliament, his presence is less than 10 per cent. Mithun was a Rajya Sabha member since 2014, as a TMC nominee, but he has not raise any questions in the Upper House nor did he participate in any debate. He resigned after the Saradha chit fund scam rocked Bengal. Hema Malini has only 37 per cent attendance till the last monsoon session. Hema has participated in 10 discussions and asked 113 questions in the Lower House.
The Big ‘Why’
Roopa Ganguly has 87 per cent attendance and has at least participated in three debates, but did not ask any questions. Bengali superstar Dev’s attendance is only 9 per cent. So far, he has participated in a debate only once. But till now he has not asked any questions. Film Star Suresh Gopi has a good attendance of 72 per cent but has not raised any questions and participated in 4 debates. Paresh Rawal and Manoj Tiwari’s presence in the House is also fine. BJP MP Paresh Rawal’s presence in the Parliament is 68 per cent. He asked 214 questions and participated in four debates. Kirron Kher is the only actress who is actively participating in politics. Her presence in Parliament is 87 per cent. BJP MP from Chandigarh, Kher participated in more than 30 debates and asked 222 questions.
Why is stars-failing in politics such a rampant phenomenon? There are several reasons. One big issue is that they were not politicians but were coaxed and cajoled by parties into joining.
Mamata Banerjee, for instance, has a policy of bringing in a star to contest from any constituency where her party’s organization structure is weak, or where inner-party feud would jeopardise TMC’s win. The biggest example is when Dev was brought in, he was extremely reluctant but gave way once his promoters wrangled a deal from Mamata that he would be given time off for his shooting schedules.
In case of others, like Rajesh Khanna and Shotgun, there seems a complete blur between their filmi ways and the way politics is run. Both of them have been arrogant to the extreme. Sinha is not taken for campaigning reportedly for his demands to stay in the nearest Five Star hotel and begin his days after noon.
The real blame, however, must lie at the doors of the political parties, who bring in stars who are not interested in politics and have little consistent ideological moorings, such as Big B.
If you look at the stars down south who became political legends, they came of their volition and did much social work, especially MG Ramachandran.
So, it is the perverted route that politics has taken in the country, steered thither by unscrupulous politicians, that has resulted in this mire.
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