Celebrities in Indian politics: The dance of democracy

Published April 19, 2014
The 2014 Indian Elections happen to feature a record number of Bollywood celebrities contesting across parties.
The 2014 Indian Elections happen to feature a record number of Bollywood celebrities contesting across parties.

Glamour has been an intrinsic part of every Indian elections and the battle for 16th Lok Shabha isn’t any different. The Dance of Democracy explores celebrities involved on either side of biggest democratic election process in the universe...


Every time India goes to elections the entire process ends up resembling a carnival of sorts. It’s ironic that nearly a sixth of humanity exercises its right to choose it’s representatives and we end up calling it a dance of democracy or some such. Perhaps the overwhelming presence of Bollywood stars and celebrities such as cricketers, singers and the likes make it all a big tamasha. Besides being one of the most important elections in recent times, the 2014 Indian Elections also happen to be one that would feature a record number of celebrities contesting across parties.

As a general rule of thumb most Bollywood stars try to come across neutral, and at times, even mute spectators when it comes to politics. At the end of the day, nothing matters more to Hindi cinema than cash registers ringing and a certain level of political nonalignment makes it easier.

  Prithviraj Kapoor
Prithviraj Kapoor

The trend of attaching Bollywood stars to politics started way back in the 1960s when Prithviraj Kapoor, the patriarch of Hindi cinema’s first family, became the first actor to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Indian Parliament. Most film stars such as Sunil Dutt and his wife, Nargis, entertained troops guarding the borders and even contributed to welfare funds.

During the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi a few stars namely Dev Anand, Kishore Kumar, and Shatrughan Sinha refused to tow the Congress party’s diktats and found themselves targets of Income Tax raids and other state dictated measures. Dev Anand even went on to form a political party called the Nationalist Party and found great support amongst the people of what then used to Bombay. It’s a different story that the evergreen legend decided not to contest elections because he couldn’t imagine serving the people half-heartedly.

 Sunil and Nargis Dutt
Sunil and Nargis Dutt

It was during this period that Nargis Dutt found herself nominated to the Rajya Sabha and the trend of getting big stars to ascertain their political affinity gained momentum. Perhaps the fervor with which Dev Anand roused the masses made a lasting impression on Rajiv Gandhi that could have prompted him to field the biggest star of the day against a political stalwart.

The Amitabh Bachchan victory over H.N. Bahuguna, a former Congress bigwig who joined the Bhartiya Janta Party in his own backyard was the first such instance where Bollywood’s magnetism was used for political gains. A few years later Rajiv made Rajesh Khanna fight L. K. Advani in New Delhi and Khanna almost thwarted the future Deputy Prime Minister of India.

 Amitabh Bachchan
Amitabh Bachchan

Initially celebs would be used to attract crowds during campaign and their endorsements would get people to reciprocate, something that was quite common in South Indian politics.

The state of Tamil Nadu had seen the likes of big stars such as Sivaji Ganesan and M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) be staunch sympathisers of the DMK, and later Ramachandran floated his own outfit and even became a three-term Chief Minister.

But unlike their southern counterparts, Bollywood stars often played supporting roles and many a times lost all utility once they met their purpose. Bachchan quit within a few months of becoming a MP and Khanna couldn’t go beyond being someone who almost soured Advani’s party.

  Govinda
Govinda

Yet, time after time, almost all political parties turned to Bollywood stars to accomplish the near impossible. By 2004, Govinda had been long past his sell by date but the Congress party pitched hero no. 1 against Ram Naik, a stalwart MP and the Petroleum Minister in the then BJP government. Govinda ousted the incumbent North Bombay MP in such a manner that the senior politician who had defeated cancer in 1993 called it a day. But five years later, Govinda had nothing to show for his tenure in Parliament where he spoke for just two minutes and had a less than 15 per cent attendance.

It’s not like all actor-turned-politicians continue to limit themselves to attracting crowds or causing historical upsets. Amongst all Hindi actors who joined politics, it was only Sunil Dutt who never allowed his stardom to overshadow his public service. Respected across party lines, Dutt was a five-term and even held a cabinet post while continuing to work for his electorate till the very end.

Some like Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha seem to have struck a balance between being an actor and MPs, or even cabinet minsters, while some like Dharmendra had no idea why they entered politics. A visibly unprepared Dharmendra got a taste of the ugliness of politics when he was inundated by questions about his marriage to Hema Malini and his alleged conversion to Islam, and rarely attended Parliament.

 Shatrughan Sinha [L], Dharmendra  [C] and Vinod Khanna [R]
Shatrughan Sinha [L], Dharmendra [C] and Vinod Khanna [R]

The 2014 General Elections has more celebrities vying for votes than ever before. This time around Hema Malini will contest the Lok Sabha elections as opposed to being nominated to the Rajya Sabha, while old pros Vinod Khanna (BJP) and Shatrughan Sinha continue to stand from their usual constituencies.

Unlike before this time around, in addition to the usual suspects, the inclusion of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) has seen a whole new kind of vote seekers. AAP has pitched Gul Panag, the socially conscious former Miss India who is known for being not just politically aware but also vocal, against the BJP’s candidate actress Kirron Kher from Chandigarh.

 Gul Panag [L] and Kirron Kher [R]
Gul Panag [L] and Kirron Kher [R]

The clash of these two divas is the best contrast of the elections, while Kher gets husband Anupam Kher and friends such as Anil Kapoor to canvass, Panag is happily zipping across town on her Enfield in order to connect with the voter.

Then there’s Meera Sanyal, former corporate honcho with a net worth of Rs. 55 Cr., who previously fought as an independent candidate but is an AAP nominee now trying to fit in an outfit that otherwise cringes at the mention of corporates. Of course, no one’s making a grater effort to fit in besides yesteryears’ actress Moon Moon Sen with her efforts to campaign in the sweltering Bengal heat. It’s rumored that Ms. Sen, the daughter of the legendary Suchitra Sen, was more worried about sunscreen than her party, the Trinamool National Congress’ (TNC) manifesto.

 Meera Sanyal [L], Moon Moon Sen [C] and Nandan Nilekeni [R]
Meera Sanyal [L], Moon Moon Sen [C] and Nandan Nilekeni [R]

And as far as celebrity personal wealth is concerned then the hands down winner would be Congress’ Nandan ‘Infosys’ Nilekeni with RS. 7,700 Cr. Besides film stars and corporate honchos there are cricketers Md. Kaif (Cong) and Md. Azaruddin (Cong), footballers Baichung Bhutia (TNC), and other colorful individuals like Bhappi Lahiri (BJP) and the truly incomparable Rakhi Sawant, who formed her own party the Rashtriya Aam Party (RAP) who are also in the running.

  Rakhi Sawant
Rakhi Sawant

Looking at the names and the (lacking) credentials in most case one would believe that irrespective of the results, some of our worst fears about celebrity candidates might just come true.

Well, in a Q&A session conducted by a journalist on his own accord many of them revealed an abject lack of basic general knowledge when it comes to politics … Paresh Rawal (BJP) believed that Bhutan was a part of India, Mahesh Manjrekar (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) doesn’t know the name of India’s first President, Moon Moon Sen has no idea as to who wrote India’s national song or when her party was formed, and Kamaal R. Khan or KRK, the Samajwadi Party candidate from North West Mumbai told the press he wouldn’t answer questions as he was fighting an election and not sitting for an examination.

Years ago when Rajesh Khanna dabbled in politics, the late acerbic writer-columnist Khushwant Singh called him a ‘some kind of buffoon’, something that perhaps, sadly, stands true for a majority of his brethren running for office even today.

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