Stars steal the shine Politicians’ script has gone

LIKE in most large-sized villages of the country, Ramlila is the most awaited annual event in my native place. But the boisterous menfolk there are not really interested in the narrative. To keep them engaged in the proceedings, a large number of dance items are somehow thrust into the narrative. It is not only "Ravana" who shouts "ab kisi nachne wali ko pesh kiya jaye" every five minutes or so. "Dasratha" and "Janaka" also make similar demands every now and then.

A similar farce is being played out on the national scene as well. Politics has been reduced to the numbers game of how many actors/TV personalities/ sportsmen/models and sundry other entertainers a party has managed to garner. The entry of every such crowd-puller is lustily cheered as if an international trophy has been won. What these Johnnies can actually achieve in terms of votes is yet to be fully tested, but they do have novelty value and the barometer of a party's electoral future for the present is the number of stars in its kitty.

This is not exactly a new phenomenon. Celebrities have been in demand right since Independence. But politically active actors of that era confined themselves to attracting crowds. They were, as they say in film parlance, "item numbers". After elections, they went back to their world of greasepaint and arclights. No longer. Actors of today have woken up to their intrinsic value and are eager to demand their pound of flesh. That bounty, in the prevailing circumstances, comes in the shape of a say in matters of state, besides MLA/MP-ship, if not ministership. It is as if those meant for side roles have appropriated lead roles, or sauce is being served as main course.

Theoretically, there is nothing wrong with handing over the reins of the country to these professional entertainers. After all, they are only as good or as bad as the current crop of politicians. Rather, they are any day better than the criminals and crooks, of both retired and active varieties, who have been making politics their last resort. But this kind of negative reasoning is telling upon the quality of governance. Most of these actors have no ideological depth whatsoever and intend to ham their way through politics the same way that they did in their films.

Cinema at least provides them a prepared script. Here, minus that prop, they are reduced to cardboard caricatures. Small wonder that most of them do not go much beyond mouthing popular dialogues from their films.

The most prominent of such square pegs in a round hole was Amitabh Bachchan. He was wise enough to realise and admit that he was a misfit in politics and beat a hasty retreat. Others have refused to be so sagacious.

Ironically, even those like Hema Malini who made it to the Rajya Sabha through the nomination route succumbed to party politics and have decided to jump into the electoral cesspool, throwing propriety to the winds. There is such an acute scarcity of leaders of stature that most of her ilk are not only being allowed but are also being cajoled to contest elections. While the Congress is dancing around the trees behind Govinda, the BJP is wooing the likes of Dara Singh.

No party admits it but leaders of substance who can also win elections are in short supply and film actors are only filling the vacuum. Such a situation has developed because of short-sighted policies followed by national parties during the past few decades. In the case of the Congress, the blame largely goes to Indira Gandhi who in her eagerness to perpetuate the Nehru-Gandhi stranglehold never let anyone outside the charmed circle to rise to his or her full potential. To make sure that no rival power centre developed, she systematically dug the ground from under the feet of many promising leaders. The result is that the party today has hardly any second or third rung leaders.

This crisis panned out slightly differently for the BJP. It was catapulted from a fringe party to a ruling dispensation all too suddenly. In its anxiety to have the numbers, it welcomed people of strange hues and colours into its ranks. They were wonderful for panchayat-level debates but like floats in a tank, they got elevated to the status of state or central-level leaders undeservedly. Even earlier it had taken the help of men for whom India was confined to temple construction, cow protection and communal exclusivism. Now it had to hand over the spoils of office to them, although that annoyed the larger, secular sections whose support was necessary for the party. It did have a core group of able administrators but outside that circle, there was chaos. The consequences were tragic-comic. If the Murli Manohar Joshis emulated the bull in China shop at the Centre, there were Narendra Modis and Uma Bharatis holding the fort in states. They were acceptable to a certain section but an embarrassment overall.

Film actors found the situation ripe for throwing their hats in the ring. They were popular, media savvy and articulate. So, instead of saying their set pieces and departing from the stage quickly, they decided to stay put.

Their lack of experience, immaturity and intellectual bankruptcy is not being commented on by regular politicians because they are themselves sailing in the same boat. The advent of coalition politics has made things worse. Leaders who ought to have been inconsequential back-benchers now occupy the centrestage. Such netas are more comfortable with moronic abhinetas than with leaders of stature and mass following.

Politics today is unabashedly propelled by money power. The deep pockets too relish rubbing shoulders with celebrities rather than with politicians of principles. The public on its part seems to have given up all hopes of finding honest, sincere leaders and is in such a resigned state of mind that it is happier off making do with actors than confirmed scamsters. In short, the situation has unfolded in such a way that abhinetas are ideally placed to dethrone netas.

To be sure, even America has allowed some actors to make it big, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger being the most shining examples. But that country never witnessed the same collapse of mainstream politics as India is facing. All parties are today virtually at the mercy of film and TV artistes.

The consequences of this general bankruptcy of leadership are already noticeable. Leave alone the States, where the Jayalalithaas behave in public life like characters straight out of Z-grade films, even the Central Government at times takes decisions which are amateur at best and immature at worse. It is not as if the charge of the film brigade is the only reason for it, but it is certainly a major contributory factor. While they are encroaching on the territory left unguarded by serious politicians, celebrities are bringing into the body politic a lot of their inexperience. The development spells trouble for the country.

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Copyright © 2013 Amar Chandel