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The Rediff Special / George Iype

April 19, 2004

Last week, Kartar Singh Bhadana, the Bharatiya Janata Party's candidate from Dausa in Rajasthan, put in a request with the party central election office to assign him a star campaigner to take on young Congress candidate Sachin Pilot.

"You want Hema Malini or Suresh Oberoi?" asked a BJP election manager.

"No film stars please," replied Bhadana. "I need Sushma Swaraj or Venkaiah Naidu."

Over the past month the BJP and Congress have been recruiting a number of Bollywood stars to add fizz to their campaign.

But as the first phase of the campaign for the 14th Lok Sabha ends, BJP leaders admit that their star recruits are in poor demand.

Many BJP candidates simply refuse to take stars as campaigners.

Instead, every BJP candidate has put in a request for rallies to be addressed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, party president M Venkaiah Naidu, general secretaries Pramod Mahajan and Sushma Swaraj.

"Our senior leaders are in great demand compared to film stars," says party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar. "You cannot compare the campaign value of leaders like Vajpayee and Advani with those of film stars."

One BJP official puts it bluntly: "The stars are beauties without brains. They don't help us to get more votes. We didn't hope to win elections by adding star value to the campaign."

The BJP's election strategy team has come up with the assessment that voters do not connect with many stars, and their presence in the campaign may not translate into votes. 

Some of the major BJP and Congress star recruits include:

BJP: Hema Malini, Gajendra Chauhan, Sudha Chandran, Yukta Mookhey, Manoj Kumar, Kunal Goswami, Apara Mehta, Jeetendra, Suresh Oberoi, Hema Malini, Poonam Dhillon, Smriti Malhotra Irani and Pankaj Dheer.

Congress: Govinda, Shakti Kapoor, Asrani, Zeenat Aman, Sharad Kapoor, Namrata Shirodkar, Moushumi Chatterjee, Om Puri and Celina Jaitley.

Aren't the BJP's star recruits campaigning for party candidates these days?

According to BJP election managers, not a single request has come in for any of these stars except Hema Malini.

But the former 'dream girl' has embarrassed the BJP leadership with loose talk.

At one meeting in the Mumbai North Central constituency from where Shiv Sena candidate and former Lok Sabha speaker Manohar Joshi is the NDA nominee, Hema Malini told voters: 'I ask the rich people in India to have more kids.'

On Saturday, Dharmendra, Hema Malini's husband, advocated dictatorship as the solution for the ills plaguing the country.

He was angry after Rajasthan Congress leader Naval Kishore Sharma alleged he had not mentioned the assets owned by Hema Malini. Dharmendra had declared the property owned by his first wife Prakash Kaur in the affidavit that he needed to submit with his nomination papers.

'I wanted to make a soft entry into politics, but now someone has put his foot on the tail of a lion and I would now make my entry with full force. Make me a dictator for five years and I would remove all the dirt from Indian politics and make it clean,' he had said.

In Delhi, BJP spokesman Javdekar defended Dharmendra's statement: "What is wrong with this statement? Balasaheb Thackeray has been making similar statements for several years. He has merely made a statement. Don't take it seriously," he told

BJP leaders believe most of the stars are unfamiliar with the realities of Indian politics.

"Most of them just know two parties -- the BJP and Congress. They do not know local candidates, the realities on the ground and they do not know what issues to take to the people. It is better to keep these stars from campaigning," a senior BJP leader said.

But he said stars, who are dedicated BJP workers and have a proven track record, are "great hits on the campaign trail."

"Take Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna. They have been in the party for long and articulate well the party's position to the electorate. Both of them are in great demand for campaigning," he added.

Congress leaders agree that the stardust and tinsel pales into insignificance before the party's star campaigners -- Sonia Gandhi, and her children Priyanka and Rahul.

"We were not keen to recruit the film stars. But when the BJP began roping in them, we were compelled to take them," admits Congress strategist Jairam Ramesh.

"Stars add colour to the campaign. They do not add to the votes," he adds.

Leaders like Ramesh have been startled by the 'political knowledge' of some of the stars.

One actor -- the father of a young actor -- was first scheduled to join the Congress and sat with Congress strategists in New Delhi last month.

"But he insisted he wanted to know where he would be given a seat to contest the Rajya Sabha election," revealed a Congress leader. The actor later joined the BJP.

"Most of our stars do not know the difference between the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. So if they campaign for our candidates, it would be an embarrassment for the party," the Congress leader felt.

Image: Rahil Shaikh

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