A Deeper Look At The BJP’s Celebrity Driven Election Campaign
A look at BJP’s political machine this election has reflected the party’s propensity to field celebrities. While this is not a new practice in India’s elections and most of the parties do field celebrities from time to time, the BJP has adopted this practice in the most enthusiastic way.
Election season has roughly reached its halfway point with phase four of the election set to take place on April 29th. The seven phase election process, spread over two months, has seen several controversies, and some trends have definitely become clear. One of them has been the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) reliance on celebrities to draw voters.
It should be said here that this not a new phenomenon, as the BJP have had a number of celebrity representatives in the Parliament. However, this year, it seems to have reached new heights. It should be pointed out here that the BJP is hardly the only political party to use celebrities for electoral gain. Other parties have also done it from time to time and they have a smattering of celebrities in the fray as well. But, the BJP has adopted the practice in the most enthusiastic way.
The BJP has inducted a number of celebrities during this election season. The most prominent among them are actor Sunny Deol, cricketer Gautam Gambhir, Punjabi singer Hans Raj Hans, and Bhojpuri superstar Ravi Kishan. Deol’s entry was announced with great fanfare by the party and he will be contesting from the Gurdaspur constituency in Punjab. Incidentally, the constituency has been represented by another actor on a BJP ticket, the late Vinod Khanna. Meanwhile, both Gambhir and Hans will contest the elections from Delhi, namely, from East Delhi constituency and North West Delhi constituency, respectively. Last but not least, Kishan is contesting from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh.
The other celebrities in the poll fray from the party include Bhojpuri film actor Dinesh Lal Yadav ‘Nirahua’ who is contesting against the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav from Azamgarh, UP. Yesteryear Bollywood actress Jaya Prada is also in the mix from Rampur against Azam Khan of the SP, a party she represented in the past. The party is trying to broaden its base in south India as well, and has roped in Malayalam film personality Suresh Gopi who is contesting from the Trissur constituency in Kerala on a BJP ticket. Then, there are celebrities who have been inducted in the party but have not been given tickets. These include Punjabi singer Daler Mehndi and celebrity hair stylist Jawed Habib.
Then there are celebrities that already ‘veterans’ of the party. These include Kirron Kher, another actor, who has been given the ticket from Chandigarh by the party. She had represented the seat in 2014 as well. Then there is Deol’s stepmother, “dreamgirl” Hema Malini who is fighting to retain the Mathura constituency, which she represented in the previous Lok Sabha. Apart from them, another celebrity on the BJP rolls is Bhojpuri singer Manoj Tiwari, who is also the chief of the party’s Delhi unit. He is representing North East Delhi, a seat which he won last time around. He is up against former chief minister Sheila Dikshit of the Congress this election.
Special mention also has to be given to former actor Smriti Irani and Olympic silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. Irani has generated much controversy in the past five years and is set to continue her feud with the Congress president in Amethi, UP. She fought against him from here in 2014 as well. Rathore is a minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet and is fighting to retain the Jaipur Rural constituency for the second time.
This is just a continuation of the BJP’s policy. The party has been cashing in on the popularity of fading stars in elections. Khanna represented Gurdaspur for the party for multiple terms prior to his death. Apart from him, Shatrughan Sinha also won elections on a BJP ticket. They were both ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Sinha got two terms each in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. He is now contesting on a Congress ticket from the Patliputra seat, a constituency which he represented the BJP in the past but has switched over to the Congress for this election.
For every hit of the BJP, there have been misses as well. Famed actor Dharmendra had won the Bikaner Lok Sabha seat in 2004 on a BJP ticket, but was an absentee MP. Posters had come up in Bikaner about their “missing MP” and the BJP did not field him again. The only time he was mentioned for anything positive for the party was when he turned up in the Parliament in 2008 to participate in the trust vote in the wake of the Indo-US Civil Nuclear deal, despite a knee surgery.
While celebrities can draw crowds, how much do they help a party electorally is debatable. Furthermore, they do reflect weakness in a political party. In many cases, it reflects that the party is not confident about a particular unit that they can’t find a local leader to represent the seat. This was seen the case of Gorakhpur, considered to be a BJP bastion and was represented by UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. But, after he vacated the seat, the BJP lost the by-election. There was much speculation that the BJP couldn’t find a suitable candidate for the seat before they named Kishan. Similarly, the seats given to Gambhir and Hans in Delhi were represented by the BJP in the previous Lok Sabha, reflecting a party that looks like it is nervous about anti-incumbency.