The Not So Great Second Act

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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On stars that twinkle during elections

HEMA MALINI IS a fit example for that puzzling question: Why do film stars want to get into politics at all? For ordinary mortals, the rewards of politics are often more fulfilling than what any other career can give. But a true film star, which Malini undoubtedly was, has already tasted every heady wind of adulation. On top of that, they don’t exhibit a single political bone their entire life until one day you discover that she or he is your neighbourhood Member of Parliament.

You should perhaps discount here those who join a party when it is a fledgling outfit. Or even, like many superstars down South, who float their own party and build a public life avatar from scratch. Hema Malini is from another category—those who parachute down directly. She was first nominated to the Upper House. She then contested and won a Lok Sabha seat. Amusing anecdotes mark her political odyssey.

Like when the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan was launched soon after the BJP came to power and all its workers were eager to show their participation. They had the sense to at least wield the broom they carried. At the time, Malini too came on television leading a crowd of supporters. Except that she wasn’t doing any sweeping, just holding a broom about twice her size and walking. This week she launched her campaign by going to a field and doing some sickle work, the kind of optics that screams inauthenticity. It churned a thousand memes. And some days before that, during an interview with NDTV, when asked pointedly about how she had spent her Member of Parliament funds, she floundered to answer. Ordinary politicians would have at least a few at the tip of their tongue. Hema Malini said that there was a big book that the interviewer could go through. In that same interview, she said that Mathura will vote her back because she had been there more than 250 times. In Parliament, it is a different story. According to the PRS Legislative, which keeps track of the performance of members of Parliament, her attendance was 39 per cent. It is still better than Rekha, at 5 per cent. But compare that to Jaya Bachchan, another actress-turned-Member of Parliament, who clocked 78 per cent. The national average is 80 per cent. Much earlier, when Malini’s husband Dharmendra was a Member of Parliament, his attendance, according to one news report, was 1.5 per cent.

There is really nothing that should prevent a star from getting into politics, but clarity on intention might help in seeing the job through in an efficient manner. Often political parties desperately court them to ensure a fight in a difficult seat. Like the Congress choosing Urmila Matondkar to contest in Mumbai-North, which has traditionally been a BJP bastion. She might have her work cut out, given the constituency’s past experience with Bollywood. For long Ram Naik won by massive margins there. And then the Congress managed a coup by getting Govinda to contest. He won and was never seen in that constituency or Parliament again.

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