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India Elections 2024: Do celebrities make good politicians? Image Credit: ANI

As election season goes full throttle in India, the usual suspects — actors and athletes — throw their name in the mix. This despite evidence that an overwhelming number of them remain a one election wonder, showing off their other credentials to influence voters but five years later leaving without much to show for it.

For instance, former cricketer, Gautam Gambhir was hardly on the front foot during his term as a BJP parliamentarian, he spent more energy on IPL, digs on former colleagues and a controversial gesture against cricket fans than scoring big in the political field. But will voters wise up? Gambhir may no longer be in the fray but there are plenty new contenders including another former cricketer, Yusuf Pathan.

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Some nominations like that of actor Kangana Ranaut by the BJP are hardly surprising, it has been a culmination of months of unofficial politicking. Outspoken, on occasion jarringly so — she is yet to apologise for her controversial comments against industry colleague Urmila Matondkar — she has put the right foot forward with her selective outrage.

Others like Arun Govil, a yesteryear’s name who played Lord Ram in the popular Ramayan serial in the 80s are hoping to cash in on faith and ideology. Actor Randeep Hooda perhaps thought similarly when he sold personal properties to fund a film on Savarkar, the man the Sangh tries to boost as a champion of India’s freedom struggle despite his controversial mercy petitions. The movie has flopped.

Do celebrities make good politicians? It is a loaded question when we are uncertain that even politicians make good leaders. Actor Sunny Deol was elected from Gurdaspur in Punjab on a BJP ticket in the last elections. Forget attending Parliament — he had 18% attendance — he hardly visited his constituency where his angry voters in frustration put up ‘missing’ posters of their MP.

Such was his lack of commitment that Deol authorised another man to work on his behalf. During his scanty presence in Parliament, he asked one question in five years. This was the man who based on his glamorous trappings defeated the much-respected Sunil Jakhar — at the time with the Congress.

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Is the joke on us?

Across parties it is a similar trend. Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jehan from the TMC were among the exciting new faces in the outgoing Lok Sabha, both — for now — will remain one-time MP. Jehan who was missing from Sandeshkhali — which falls under her constituency — since allegations of sexual abuse of women by a party strongman has not been given a ticket again.

Resources and seats are wasted but is there a way to distinguish a deserving candidate from one who comes in with a sense of entitlement? Voters give Bollywood and other celebrities a long rope forgetting how real, and reel are as apart as political promises and fulfilment. And so, they get what they vote for.

But not always, many celebrities are nominated to the Rajya Sabha. The President of India can propose the names of 12 MPs (on the advice of the government) from various fields other than politics. Sachin Tendulkar, India’s biggest cricketing superstar has also graced the upper house of Parliament, but his strike rate was dismal.

He had a measly 7% attendance during his tenure, nor did he ask any questions and yet shockingly, he was marginally better than actor Rekha. To say this is an embarrassing outlook would be to underplay the seat that these men and women mock. Last year music composer and Rajya Sabha MP Ilaiyaraaja did not attend a single day of the winter session.

Then there are those like Hema Malini who continue to wing it, or perhaps her sloppy sweeping photo-op outside Parliament and ludicrous crop-cutting images during the last elections waylay us and she has the winning formula that goes beyond her dream girl persona. Contesting from her constituency of Mathura for the third time, at 75 she seems to have also evaded the cut-off for BJP’s much-hyped Margdarshak Mandal where veteran leaders like Advani were sent into forced retirement.

There are of course those who transitioned successfully, like Jayalalithaa. A popular film star she was persuaded by MGR — who himself had a successful film career — to join politics and served six terms as Tamil Nadu chief minister. In South India cinema and politics is a relationship that goes back in time and is acknowledged with both unmatched adulation and hysteria.

Just a hobby 

India’s electorate when it finds itself short has to wait five years to see the back of a disinterested candidate. Those who make a mockery of votes and don’t engage in debates or even ask questions are disdainfully dismissing the public that elected them with absolute faith.

Or perhaps, politics is just a hobby they outgrow sooner rather than later. More importantly though, they deprive a more deserving candidate of a shot of doing something worthy.

Perhaps it is time to rethink if some actors are better off in the cinema and some cricketers in the commentary box? The list of one-time MPs is increasing but will the voter smarten up?

As politicians keep their ideology fluid and go on a last-minute party swap before the elections, their biggest arrogance remains in expecting the electorate to be faithful. Add to this, celebrity faces on the election campaign and the joke is on the voter.