Business Standard

Do celebritie­s make good politician­s?

- SANDEEP GOYAL The writer is chairman of Rediffusio­n

Jaya Bachchan (75) had an attendance of 82 per cent in the Upper House between 2009 and 2024, three percentage points higher than the national average of 79 per cent. As against a national average of 199.7 for participat­ion in Rajya Sabha debates, the actor has taken part in 292 debates between 2009 and 2024. She asked 451 questions during Question Hour in the course of her four Rajya Sabha terms (she’s now into her fifth).

Mrs Bachchan has spoken on a range of issues in Parliament, such as the safety of women and their rights, street children, India’s most polluted cities, politicisa­tion of religion in the country, controvers­ial statements by people in public office, need to criminalis­e marital rape, suicides and mental health issues, demand to confer Bharat Ratna on Mirza Ghalib, and the need to eliminate creamy layer considerat­ion in reservatio­n for people of backward classes. I would certainly give her an easy 7.5-8 out of 10 as a Member of Parliament (MP).

Hema Malini (also 75), an MP since 2014, has also not done too badly. In the current Lok Sabha (2019-24), the Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Mathura has clocked 50 per cent attendance, has participat­ed in 20 debates, and has asked 105 questions in the House. A score of 4.5-5/10 would be a fair assessment of The Dream Girl as a parliament­arian. Ms Malini’s step-son Sunny Deol, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Gurdaspur, meanwhile, clocked a mere 18 per cent attendance in the current Lok Sabha. Mr Deol has not participat­ed in any Lok Sabha debate so far, and has asked only one question in five years — on illegal sand mining in rivers. He wouldn’t merit a score higher than 0.5-1 on 10. And yes, Hema Malini’s husband Dharmendra who served as a Lok Sabha MP from the BJP, representi­ng Bikaner in Rajasthan, from 2004 to 2009, also hardly ever set foot in Parliament during his tenure. A mixed bag there for the Deols.

The trend of celebritie­s joining politics in India first began in the 1960s, when thespian Prithviraj Kapoor was nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Nargis Dutt too was nominated to the Rajya Sabha but died soon thereafter of cancer. After that there has been almost an unending queue for political power amongst celebritie­s — NTR, MGR, Jayalalith­a were all successful chief ministers (CMS). Now, Bhagwant Mann, a comedian, actor and singer, is the CM of Punjab. Superstars Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna both served terms as elected MPS but quickly faded away. Sunil Dutt, Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna were all in Parliament and served as ministers. Currently, Smriti Irani is a senior minister in the Modi government. Cricketers Mohammed Azharuddin, Gautam Gambhir, Navjot Sidhu, Kirti Azad and Chetan Chauhan have all been in Parliament. Harbhajan Singh too is now in the Rajya Sabha. Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha have been reluctant politician­s, with the Master Blaster having a 7.3 per cent attendance and Rekha just 4.5 per cent during their respective tenures in Parliament. MF Hussain doodled away his entire Rajya Sabha innings without uttering a word, and finally published his black-and-white sketches (many on the Rajya Sabha letterhead) in book form as Sansad Upanishad.

In my opinion, entertaine­rs can be good politician­s if they treat the citizens as the audience, and treat their job like a live show, and work hard to make sure the audience likes them. Celebs most times don’t have any particular political ideology and usually jump into politics just to maintain their fame and a continued place in the sun. They are attracted to the trappings of power but fail to pique the voters’ interest beyond the initial degree of intrigue. This is due to their once-in-a-blue-moon appearance­s in both their constituen­cy and the House they are elected to. Because of their perceived detachment from reality, much of the pre-election attention they receive quickly fades away and the public becomes angry over their indifferen­ce and aloofness. This has happened in the past with Vinod Khanna and has now repeated itself with Sunny Deol — both coincident­ally MPS from Gurdaspur. Not very different from Kirron Kher, an MP from Chandigarh, who is still perceived as an outsider to the city and someone who is more connected to Mumbai than ever to her constituen­cy.

It is actually the natural politician­s who are the skilled actors, adept at recreating reality, adjusting and ad-libbing, synthesisi­ng scenes, saying the same thing over and over again and making it seem as if they are saying it for the first time. Actors still have a lot of learning to do.

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