Posts Tagged ‘Shatrughan Sinha

The time has come for all good men — and women — to come to the aid of the party. But celebrities are often treated as outsiders by political parties. Parties want them to win election but not rise.

  • Poll call: Krishna Poonia

Elections are in the air. Hoardings line the roads, prime ministerial candidates hop across the country to address the masses and recorded messages on the phone canvass for votes.

There’s another sign of the 2014 parliamentary elections. Political parties are looking at well-known men and women — and vice versa — as possible candidates for the polls.

Consider this: Information technology (IT) honcho Nandan Nilekani is likely to fight an election from Bangalore. General V.K. Singh, the just retired army chief, recently shared the dais with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Athlete Krishna Poonia may fight an election as a Congress candidate. And Olympian Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has resigned from the army to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Excellence in sports is limited to personal achievement but it doesn’t excite me anymore. Politics will complete my life,” Rathore, 43, stresses.

  • Diya Kumari

Alliances between celebrities and political parties are not new. Over the years, a great many icons have joined politics. The list includes Sunil Dutt, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Raj Babbar, Shatrughan Sinha, Govinda, Kirti Azad and Mohammed Azharuddin. People have come in from other fields too — such as the army (B.C. Khanduri and J.F.R. Jacob), diplomacy (Shashi Tharoor) and science (Raja Ramanna). “It is a marriage of convenience,” says Shatrughan Sinha of the BJP.

At the core of this arrangement is a political party’s desire to rake in more seats, and a well-known personality’s wish to make a mark — usually when on the verge of retirement.

“Celebrities are already seen as heroes in the public eye, so this makes the seat winnable for political parties. For celebrities, it is a shortcut to more fame and the unlimited power that come along with politics,” explains Dhirubhai Sheth, senior fellow at the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Indeed, in these cynical times, when politicians are being roundly castigated for corruption, crime and communalism, the outsiders are often seen as whiffs of fresh air. “We need them to give a boost to politics. They have both visibility and credibility, which politicians often lack,” Congress spokesperson P.C. Chacko states.

  • Nandan Nilekani

That could be the reason the Congress plans to offer the south Bangalore seat to Nilekani, chief of the Unique Identification Development Authority of India.

“South Bangalore is a constituency of technocrats and for them, Nilekani needs no introduction. We wanted someone like him to fight the BJP’s candidate, Ananth Kumar, who has been winning the seat,” Chacko adds.

Like the Congress, which fielded actors Rajesh Khanna and Sunil Dutt, the BJP has a long history of showcasing candidates with no political backgrounds but immense public appeal. During the Ram Janmabhoomi wave — when Ramayan and Mahabharat aired on Doordarshan — its pantheon included Deepika “Sita” Chikhalia, Arun “Ram” Govil and Arvind “Ravan” Trivedi. Among the many Bollywood stars it has successfully — or not so unsuccessfully — projected are, apart from Sinha, Hema Malini and Dharmendra.

  • Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore

“We welcome them because they have already proved their calibre in certain fields,” says BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman.

Not many, however, have had memorable stints in politics. Chikhalia, who faded out soon after her debut, describes her move as an “accidental jump” into politics. “I was seen as the perfect candidate to promote the ideology of the party then,” Chikhalia, who won from Vadodra in 1991, says.

Smriti Irani of the BJP — who made her mark on television as Tulsi — is among the few who segued into politics effortlessly. Though she lost to Kapil Sibal of the Congress from Delhi in 2004, she is the articulate face of her party.

  • General V.K. Singh

“It’s all about the meeting of minds,” Rathore maintains. “I chose the BJP because I believe in its philosophy of nationalism, cadre-based politics and good leadership.”

For political parties, celebrity endorsement is important. “Celebrities are in demand because of their ability to communicate with the people,” explains Chakshu Roy, head of the outreach team of the Delhi-based PRS Legislative Research.

But popularity doesn’t always translate into votes. Actor and Union tourism minister K. Chiranjeevi, who contested the Andhra election in 2009, had lakhs of people attending his rallies. But his erstwhile Praja Rajyam Party could win only 18 of 294 Assembly seats.

Often, once the election is over, the newcomers find that they have no place in the party hierarchy. They face resentment from party members who’ve worked hard over the years in the hope of contesting from a particular constituency.

“Politicians want stars to get the crowd but they don’t really want them to rise,” Sinha says.

Shooter and Asian Games gold medalist Jaspal Rana agrees. “I was 19 and wanted to be a youth leader when I joined the BJP. But seasoned politicians don’t let others grow,” says Rana, who is now with the Congress.

This, a source close to Poonia says, worries her too. Though overtures have been made by the Congress, she is not clear about the offer. “She would leave her job in the railways and join the Congress only if it promised her a good role in the party,” says the source.

Chikhalia’s story may deter Poonia. The ex-actress recalls that her equation with the BJP changed soon after she won the seat. “Gradually, I realised that the party fielded me because it wanted the seat. Once the seat was won, its attitude towards me changed. I was always seen as an outsider.”

Some newbies, on the other hand, claim they have no expectations of the party. “I am here to serve the people in the manner my party would like me to,” holds Diya Kumari of the erstwhile royal family of Jaipur, who has just joined the BJP.

Politicians stress that in this dog-eat-dog world, only the fittest survive. “If the individual has acumen, he or she gets an opportunity (to rise),” Sitharaman holds. Sinha adds that newcomers need to understand the rules of the game. It took him many years to mature as a politician, he says.

Political leaders add that the so-called “outsiders” often don’t know how parties function. “Many of them think that if they have won a seat, they should get a ministerial berth. They don’t understand the dynamics of politics,” Chacko complains.

Some of them are hardly seen in Parliament. Sinha and Hema Malini, who asked 117 questions and participated in six debates over four years, are exceptions. Others — such as Dharmendra and Azharuddin — have contributed little to policy or polity.

PRS Legislative Research reports that Azharuddin asked five questions and participated in two debates between June 2009 and September 2013. Chiranjeevi neither participated in a debate nor asked a question.

The electorate has to wait to see how the season’s new politicians will perform.

Actors and politicians aren’t quite known for their sense of time. So I am taken aback when actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha starts apologising to me. He’s not late — I am early. But he is upset that I have had to wait.

The man oozes charm — all six feet, two inches of him, and clad as he is now in a grey shirt with a black jacket and a pair of black trousers. When I first met him in 2003, he was the Union minister of shipping and was great for a photo-op, but had little to say. Nine years later, he seems to have matured as a politician.

Sinha admits it too: the biggest lesson that he has learnt over these years, he says, is “speak only as much as required”.

And he truly means it. Otherwise candid, Sinha is today unusually reticent about the recent controversies that he has been drawn into.

Last week, he openly endorsed senior lawyer and BJP leader Ram Jethmalani who criticised BJP for questioning the appointment of new CBI director Ranjit Sinha.BJP has already sent a show cause notice to Jethmalani on this and he could be expelled too. There were heavy speculations that Sinha would meet the same fate too.

Is he worried about this, I ask him. “Are they still talking about it,” he retorts.

The political grapevine has it that Sinha’s proximity to BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley is delaying his suspension. But he dispels the rumours. “I always stand against injustice. But at the same time, I know that I have never crossed the line ofmaryada (decorum),” he says, fiddling idly with his red silk scarf.

Sinha, clearly, has decided that he is going to watch his words. Last month, he was among those who had demanded the ouster of party president Nitin Gadkari. Today he calls him a “dear friend”. I prod him a bit, and he says, “I am an honest politician and for me, no one is above the party and the nation.”

It’s this badge of honesty that he flaunts as he talks about his stint in BJP. Sinha is known to speak with courage and conviction “These are rare qualities in politics these days” boasts Sinha.

Hailing from Kadam Kuan in Patna, Sinha was inspired by the socialist leader Jayprakash Narayan. He came into politics at the peak of his film career.

“I intended to improve the lives of people and not to enjoy the unlimited glamour attached to power,” says Sinha whose oratorical prowess has contributed to his political success to a great extent.

Sixty-seven-year old Sinha, who was the Rajya Sabha member for two consecutive terms – 1996 and 2002, joined BJP in mid-80s, when the party was in opposition. “I always thought that the party will go a long way,” says the Lok Sabha member and former minister of health.

What does he think of the party now that it is being torn apart by corruption charges and dissidence? “It is just a phase that will pass. I see it as a form of churning.”

I try to provoke him, but he is now quite an astute politician. “Khamosh (silence),” he orders jokingly, recalling a popular expression from his 1974 film Badla.

But after a brief pause, he carries on, stressing that he has enormous respect for former party president L.K. Advani, whom he calls his political “guru”. Recently in Patna, he had announced that Advani would be the best candidate for the Prime Minister’s post. Does that mean he rejects the candidature of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi?

His answer is cryptic. “If Deve Gowda, who was not a popular leader, could be PM, then why not Narendra Modi? Nitish Kumar is also a good candidate as he is doing great work for his state. But then everything is decided by numbers. Advaniji may have the numbers,” Sinha says.

His association with Advani is an old one. It was Advani who coaxed him to fight a 1992 by-election against former superstar Rajesh Khanna after Advani had vacated his New Delhi constituency seat. But Sinha lost.

“Fighting the by-election was the biggest political blunder of my career, but then I couldn’t have said ‘no’ to Advani ji,” he says.

But does he regret the fact that his relationship with Khanna soured after the election? “He didn’t speak to me for years till I apologised to him,” says Sinha, who played second fiddle to Khanna in the 1982 film Dil-e-Nadaan.

Sinha’s career, actually, took off on second leads. The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) graduate got his first break in Dev Anand’s Prem Pujari in 1970. But the film that released first was Mohan Sehgal’s Sajan. Subsequently, his role as Chhainu, a rough-edged street don, in Gulzar’s Mere Apne, won him critical acclaim. “People thought that I was a villain with a heart,” he chuckles.

But the scar-faced newcomer tasted his major success in Subhash Ghai’s thrillerKalicharan in 1976 — which went on to establish him as hero in successive Bollywood films.

But one movie that he is really fond of is ‘Kalka’ that was based on the plight of Dhanbad’s coal mine labourers. “Nobody was willing to shoot in Dhanbad because of the fear of coal mafias in erstwhile Bihar,” shares Sinha, who is glad to know that I belong to Dhanbad.

Sinha was one of the earliest actors from Bihar to make it big in Bollywood. He became popular as ‘Bihari Babu’ in the film industry. His physique, his cock-a-hoop attitude, his baritone and his style of dialogue delivery made him look grand on screen. He added a bit of colour to his dialogues by weaving in rustic expressions like “ghonchu” and “chapar ganju” into them.

As he was attaining stardom, a man called Amitabh Bachchan was making his presence felt. The two were initially close, and acted together in Bombay to Goa in 1972.

“We even dated together; sometimes the same girl,” he says with a smile.

But their relationship turned bitter over the years. “Some people had told me that Bachchan didn’t want me as his co-star,” says Sinha. The two, however, patched up in July this year after Sinha underwent a bypass surgery. “It was really nice of him to come and see me in the hospital,” says Sinha, who has lost some nine kilos in the past two months.

His journey from Patna to Mumbai and now Delhi is the stuff dreams are made of. His educationist father and homemaker mother pampered him, even though Sinha — the youngest of four brothers, Ram, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan — was exceptionally naughty. A good mimic since childhood, he had a good sense of humour which made him popular. “But my father always complained because I wasn’t interested in studies,” he says.

He joined the Patna Science College, but soon dropped out to go to Calcutta, where he sat for his FTII entrance examination. “Calcutta is special because this is where I started my journey into films,” Sinha says. “I also love muri ghantor dal and begun bhaja.”

He reconnected with Bengal in 1987 when he was acting in Gautam Ghose’s Antarjali Jatra. He remembers the first day of shoot, “I had to cut my side locks and appear bare-chested. I was scared to do all this because I was a commercial hero. So I just left.”

But Ghose dissuaded him from doing so. “He told me, Tumi karte parbe (you will be able to do it),” says Sinha, speaking Bengali with ease. The role went on to win him critical acclaim.

But way back in 1965, when left his home to join FTII, Sinha had no idea what was in store for him. He vividly remembers his train journey from Patna to Pune. “I was crying because I’d parted from my family for the first time. But my mood lifted when I saw this extremely beautiful girl who was my co-passenger. While she was sleeping, I thought I’d touch her and see if she was real,” he says with a chuckle.

He befriended Poonam Chandiranami — who went on to become Miss India in 1968, a Hindi film actress, and then Mrs Sinha. “It was so filmy,” he laughs.

But Bollywood stars are never without their share of controversies. There was a time when cinema magazines whispered about his relationship with another actress, Reena Roy (who later married Pakistani cricketer Mohsin Khan).

“Reena is a very dear friend. I am a grown up man now, I don’t want to talk about it,” he says.

I take the liberty to ask him if he is amused when people mention the resemblance between Roy and his actress daughter Sonakshi. “It is stupid. Even when Dimple Kapadia came into films, many said she looked like Nargis. Sonakshi has traditional looks, so people compare her with many yesteryear heroines,” he says.

Though proud of Sonakshi’s success in films such as Dabangg and Rowdy Rathore, Sinha stresses that his twin sons — Luv, whose debut film Sadiyaan flopped in 2010, and Kush, an assistant director — are also promising. “Luv is to re-launch his acting career and Kush is ready for direction.”

And Sinha is getting ready for a session with his physiotherapist. The illness has taken a toll on him, and his worried wife has cajoled him into wearing a blue sapphire ring for good health. “Tandurust hoon. Chust hone mein thora time lagega (I am fit but I will take some time to be super-active),” he says.

He needs to be as chust as he can: to fight within the party and for it.

(The Telegraph, December 2, 2012)