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Celebrity millionaires get into 'people politics'

Deepshikha Ghosh, IANS

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From film stars to cricketers, the millionaires are chipping in for the cause of Indian democracy, heading mainly to the two leading parties, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.

Though the BJP claims its star is Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, several celebrities are endorsing Brand BJP, with the party becoming a thoroughfare for VIP recruits ahead of the parliamentary elections.

Age-defying actress Hema Malini, music composer Bhupen Hazarika, cricket commentator Navjot Sidhu, former cricket captain Krishanamachari Srikkanth and former Miss World Yukta Mookhey are among those who have paid up Rs.5 to enrol into the ruling party.

In contrast, the Congress, which started poaching into Bollywood in the 1980s and bagged top stars like Dilip Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, appeared to face a drought of contemporary stars until it managed to arrange a sprinkling of stardust with six stars joining last week.

Celebrated crossover actor Om Puri and industrialist Naveen Jindal have also joined the party.

The bubbly Moushumi Chatterjee preceded him, while former beauty queens turned actresses Zeenat Aman, Namrata Shirodkar and Celina Jaitley declared they would campaign for it.

Another versatile actress, Jayaprada, has dumped the Telugu Desam Party that rules her home state of Andhra Pradesh and switched over to the Samajwadi Party in the distant north.

Although many of the film stars do not seem to be strictly at home with politicians or their ideology, they seem to be enjoying their newfound status that has seen them grab front-page space.

Most film stars and cricketers make more money in a year than ordinary Indians would make in their entire lifetime.

Some actors are obviously not comfortable in their new role.

Yukta Mookhey fumbled when she was asked about the ideology of the party she had decided to support: "I am new to this and I have a lot of homework to do."

But critically acclaimed actor Om Puri appeared clear about what he was doing in the Congress, which he described as the best choice for a secular India.

"I was born into a family that supported the Congress," added Moushumi Chatterjee. "How can you forget the sacrifices made by the party of India's independence?"

That ideology is not always the driving force is evident from the fact that two years after joining the Congress with much fanfare, film actress turned TV star Poonam Dhillon has thrown in her lot with the BJP.

"I was hasty in joining the Congress," said the actress.

This can naturally result in confusion.

Keen to avoid any gaffes that could embarrass it, the BJP has decided to depute a subject to each star and attach a "mentor" to guide them during the campaign that has already got under way.

However, it is just not the movie industry that is flirting with politics in an unprecedented way.

Even artists, journalists and businessmen are flocking to them.

The BJP sought to boost its intellectual profile by inviting one-time critic and Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul to the party office.

Not everyone is finding his political initiation a cakewalk.

Hazarika, known as the "bard of the river Brahmaputra", has drawn flak in his home state of Assam for joining the BJP.

Sidhu, the beloved blabbermouth of the cricketing world, has also been criticised by some fans for lending his formidable gift of the gab to the cause of the BJP.

He defends himself: "I have very lucrative commentary assignments, so it is not fair to say that since I was out-of-work I came to the BJP."


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