By Dipanjan Das:
It’s time for the good old elections again, and this time the stage is set for a showdown between the forces of fundamentalism (as some claim) and the champions of corruption (as others assert) with the adherents of anarchy (according to some) throwing a spanner in the works. I’m not going to attempt any analysis of the greatest show in India or any of its stars here. What I want to point out is an interesting trend in the process of candidate nomination, and attempt to draw some conclusions from an analysis of this trend.
With the declaration of the dates for the elections to the 16th Lok Sabha, the political parties began the process of fielding candidates. In West Bengal, this revealed an interesting scenario – out of the 42 candidates the Trinamool Congress has fielded in West Bengal, at least seven are celebrities in different fields having little to do with politics. These include film personalities, sportspersons and musicians, such as the film star Dev and former captain of the Indian football team Baichung Bhutia. This is not the first instance of famous personalities entering the political arena as representatives of different parties. Bollywood stars such as Amitabh Bachhan, Shatrughan Sinha and Raj Babbar, as well as film stars in the South such as Jayaprada and N.T. Rama Rao have contested elections at different times, and have performed rather well. Sportspersons like the former captain of the Indian cricket team, Mohammad Azharuddin, and former captain of the Indian hockey team, Pargat Singh, have also contested and have won elections. So, there is no lack of precedent for establishing the fact that celeb power wins.
But when political parties field candidates based solely on their stardom, it begs certain questions of us as a politically aware society. I contend that India must be a politically aware society because we are proud of our democratic traditions, which require all of society to participate, directly or indirectly, in the political process. Despite many problems that India’s democracy has faced, the country has always seen a respectable turnout of voters in elections.
Ideally, we must know the programmes of each party before we can make an informed choice regarding the party to be trusted with power. However, in a situation where people flock to political rallies just to catch a glimpse of certain celebrities, the entire process is undermined. Manifestoes and programmes are trampled underfoot as people fall over themselves to see their favourite film star wave at them, or hear their favourite cricketer reminisce about Lord’s. Of course, I’m not saying that film stars or sportspersons can’t have any political acumen. I’m just saying that the fact that political parties field celebrity candidates and feel that it is a sound strategy for contesting elections is a testimony to the sad condition of our ADD-afflicted society which has been given a privilege that people are fighting for and dying for even today.