Do Star Wars at Hustings Signal Political Bankruptcy?
Many celebrities have entered the fray this time in a state which always took pride in fielding thinkers
Bengaluru: If politics is the last resort of scoundrels, then Kerala has a long line of celebrities vying to earn the epithet. Never before in the history of Kerala politics have so many film, TV and sports celebrities jumped into the poll fray.
The fact that almost all political parties had to rely on star power speaks of the political bankruptcy of the state. Says OK Johnny, a political observer: “Kerala is on a reverse gear. It has become a politically bankrupt society. Who are the icons of Kerala youth today? None. There’s an ideological vacuum and it breeds all fascist tendencies.”
Kerala politics rarely accommodated those from the tinsel world as the state boasts of a politically conscious population unlike neighbouring states Tamil Nadu and Andhra. At least that is what its garrulous politicians would want you to believe as the reason for the state’s hitherto dislike for the glamour world. But the recent trend has turned that claim on its head. Mukesh, a veteran movie actor and host of a few popular shows on television, is the Left Front candidate in Kollam and Jagadeesh, his contemporary and a popular comedy show judge on television, is the Congress candidate taking on another actorturned-politician and former minister in Congress government KB Ganesh Kumar (now with the rival LDF formation) in Pathanapuram constituency. Another National Award winning actor Suresh Gopi whose right leanings have been pretty evident for a while now but who was reluctant to dip his toe in the political waters has been roped in by BJP as its star campaigner. Other small-time actors like Bheeman Reghu and Kollam Thulasi too have joined the bandwagon. The latest to join the fray is veteran actor, known for her ‘amma’ roles, Kaviyoor Ponnamma who launched BJP’s poll campaign in Manaloor constituency in Thrissur. The saffron party that does not have a strong base in the state has also fielded cricketer Sreesanth in state capital. There are also some media personalities with political leanings who have entered the poll cauldron. Like MV Nikesh Kumar and Veena George who have been roped in by the Left Front, of course not without rumblings within.
It is not that movie actors have not had success in Kerala politics. Ganesh Kumar was the first actor who won an Assembly election in the state in 2001. Kumar’s victory in 2001 as Congress-led UDF candidate in Pathanapuram was regarded as the first victory of an actor in Kerala. But it was the result of a political upheaval rather than the triumph of his star value. He was fielded by his father R Balakrishna Pillai, the founder of his own Kerala Congress faction. Pillai launched him as his political successor and he won the election and joined the then AK Antony cabinet as transport minister.
Veteran actor Innocent was another exception. His victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha election as a Left-supported candidate in Chalakkudy was a turning point. It proved that a filmstar can sail through without a godfather. But here too, Congress fac- tionalism and Christian politics worked in his favour as his opponent Congressman PC Chacko was mired in many controversies. Moreover, Innocent, being a cancer survivor, secured a lot of sympathy votes too as he was a prominent figure in the fight against cancer.
For almost three decades since the formation of Kerala, filmstars stayed away from politics until the then chief minister K Karunakaran introduced evergreen hero Prem Nazir into Congress politics in 1987. But Nazir was clever enough to stay away from contesting.
In Kerala, actors have been consid- ered intellectually inferior to poets, writers, professors and lawyers, who were the ruling class in the state. Says OK Johnny: “Keralites have always looked down upon Tamil Nadu politics and the roles filmstars played in elections.” That explains why political parties have kept Malayalam film stars out of polls, he says.
It’s not that attempts had not been made in the past. In mid-80s, Lenin Rajendran, a film maker with Left leanings, contested twice against Congress candidate and former President KR Narayanan in Ottappalam Lok Sabha seat but failed on both occasions. Murali, another acclaimed actor with Left leanings, dared to test the poll waters of Alappuzha in 1999 with little success.
On the contrary, the state had a culture of electing men of letters and thinkers as lawmakers. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Jnanapith award winner SK Pottekkatt, Justice VR Krishna Iyyer, Prof Joseph Mundassery, Prof Sukumar Azhikode, Prof ONV Kurup, Prof MK Sanu and many more intellectuals cutting across political lines actively participated in electoral politics. In 1996, poet Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan defeated veteran politician MV Raghavan. The only person who had some links to movies to have got elected was Ramu Kariat, maker of national awardwinning film Chemmeen in 1965 and an intellectual icon.
Popular comedian Jagadeesh