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Urmila Matondkar joins politics...
Urmila Matondkar joins politics...|File Image
OPINION

Politics and Indian Celebrities

What is important to realise is that every time a celeb joins politics, we must know that it is their post-retirement exploration.

Sunaina Upadhyaya

Recently, former RBI governor and economist Raghuram Rajan was asked if he has something against joining politics.

His answer was: “First, my wife has said she will not stay with me if I join politics (he said with a smile).”

The interviewer prodded: “Do you think it’s too noisy here for your style?”

Rajan said: “No, no. Politics everywhere is similar. It is not particularly noisy or whatever, I don't have any taste for it. Somebody else can give the speeches and gain the votes.”

For all practical purposes and notwithstanding his taste, Rajan is perhaps one man who India really needs to save this nation’s economy from the downslide. His addition would also instill a new hope in people’s heart that “all will be well” in the deteriorating political discourse as well.

But instead what Indians get bombarded with is a bevy of fading celebrities – Daler Mehndi, Hans Raj Hans, Urmila Matondkar, Gautam Gambhir, Vijender Singh, Sunny Deol – to add to the swelling celebrity balloon bursting at the seams with the likes of Hema Malini, Shatrughan Sinha, Jaya Prada, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Dhamendra, Raj Rabbar etc (some of them not contesting the ongoing Lok Sabha elections).

Now one might argue that these celebs are a far better choice than a terror accused out on bail but that’s a debate for another day. One might also argue that celebrity politicians are not something new, neither limited to India only.

Also read: The role of media in defending the Constitution

True. Before 2019, we saw many celebrities turning into politicians in India, many in regional politics as well. Some even proved their mettle and went on to become cult leaders like MG Ramachandran, NT Rama Rao, J Jayalalithaa or M Karunanidhi. But that was a rarity and happened mostly in one region or state, to be precise.

Celebrities join politics in other countries as well. In the US, former President Ronald Reagan was what they call Hollywood B-movie star. Arnold Schwarzenegger, two-time former Governor of California, was a well-known Hollywood action hero.

But since we live and breathe Indian politics, let’s talk about our celeb politicians, especially the new entrants.

This is not to say that celebs don’t deserve to be in politics or don’t have the ability to lead the people of this nation. In fact, they are not the ones that we should grudge for jumping into the fray. If anyone is to be blamed, it’s us -- the voters.

Celebrities are not necessarily bad politicians, but we are for sure very bad voters. A certain Hema Malini or a Jaya Prada can’t become a Member of Parliament, unless we vote for her.
Sunny Deol joins BJP recently...
Sunny Deol joins BJP recently...
File Image

Celebrities are not necessarily bad politicians, but we are for sure very bad voters. A certain Hema Malini or a Jaya Prada can’t become a Member of Parliament, unless we vote for her.

The reason why celebrities are fielded is because they are popular among people. It is their star power that the parties want to cash in on to increase their tally. However, we the people forget while voting that we love these celebs for what they did in their original avatar as actors or sportspersons. Not as politicians. So why suddenly make a celeb into an MLA, MP or minister?

Hard-core, non-celeb politicians know it well that people don’t think very highly of them and mostly associate them with corruption and mis-governance. However, they are mostly disliked because of what they promise but hardly ever fulfill those promises.

With India becoming increasingly polarised, with both the ruling party and its opponents deteriorating the political discourse, politics at the moment is seen as a career of the disingenuous. But political leadership is neither a work of charity nor a role of inheritance. This is just another job. Politicians get paid to do their job and they better do it with efficiency. However, in our country, it a given that politicians take their role as preordained. They feel they are above everyone else and more often than act on their whims and fancies. The voters, too, have accepted it that politicians needn’t necessarily perform because – that is how they are. We are happy with what our political class claims to have “done for us”. The whole concept of they “doing it for the people or country” is wherein lies the problem. What they do is not a favour but their job.

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The role played by the media too is responsible to a large extent in making ‘heroes’ out of politicians. Day in and day out voters are bombarded with unrelated information on how some political leaders spend 18 hours of their day working for the nation or sleeping for just three hours. In any other sensible democracy, this would have been seen as a mark of inefficiency. A person working for 18 hours a day yet with such poor results. Nobody is asking them to slog for unjustified hours. Real efficiency would be when they work the normal shift of 8-9 hours a day, as everybody else in any private or government job does and yet deliver the job given to them.

Of late, the media has been busy highlighting the long hours of work by politicians or how common man-like our leaders are – they love doing yoga or Japanese martial art Aikido, whether they love mangoes or how they eat them et al. But do we really need such details? Just imagine, would you be interested in knowing what an ordinary government employee does in his/her free time or know how to cook/eat/bathe?

Then why make celebs out of politicians? Because we love celebs and are so used to hero-worshipping that we don’t see politics as a profession. We see it as a voluntary service, charity work for the nation. It’s not. If anything it’s the exact opposite of that.

In a political system where money and popularity are key factors to win elections, celeb-politicians are having a cakewalk. And why won’t they. After all, voters give them the mandate to do so.

This exalted status of public service attached to politics has made it possible for them to play with the voters’ emotions and present everything they do in a way that it is for the nation. Political parties have also cracked the code that it’s easier to field a few celebrities from films and sports to get our votes. It’s a common perception that rich celebs don’t come to politics for money. So, there is a chance they will work honestly. But we forget rich celebs may not come to politics for money, but they come for power. The power that we have bestowed on elected leaders to run roughshod over us.

In a political system where money and popularity are key factors to win elections, celeb-politicians are having a cakewalk. And why won’t they. After all, voters give them the mandate to do so.

What is important to realise is that every time a celeb joins politics, we must know that it is their post-retirement exploration. So, why should voters be a part of such misadventures?

(Sunaina Upadhyaya is a senior journalist from Assam based in New Delhi. Views expressed are her own)