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Are film stars a failure as Parliamentarians?


Sagarika Ghose,CNN-IBN
May 17, 2012 at 12:26pm IST

Bollywood actress Rekha took oath as a Rajya Sabha MP. Film personalities, with a few exceptions, have in recent times failed to make a mark in Parliament. Another controversy erupted in Parliament when Jaya Bachchan objected to being shown on TV when Rekha took oath.

CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose discussed the question and the issue with a distinguished panel on her show Face The Nation.

Following is the transcript of the discussion on Face The Nation:

Sagarika Ghose: Hi! Actor Rekha took oath as a Rajya Sabha MP, but why is it that film personalities, with a few exceptions have in recent times failed to make a mark in Parliament. That's our focus tonight. First let's bring you a rather unseemly controversy that erupted in Parliament concerning film stars and Parliament.

Jaya Bachchan has objected to being shown on TV when Rekha took oath. She has complained to Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari against Doordarshan. Jaya Bachchan is believed to have requested for a seat change after Rekha was nominated. Doordarshan technicians have reportedly been pulled up for constantly panning to Jaya Bachchan during Rekha's oath ceremony.

So that's just one controversy but we're taking a broader view of film stars in politics and asking if increasingly film actors are failing to make a mark in Parliament and politics.

Joining us is Nagma, actor and member of AICC Maharashtra. She is someone who has been with Congress since 2003, actively campaigning for Congress. She considers herself politically active. Film star Kirron Kher, actor and member of the BJP, is also joining us. Dilip Cherian, Founder & Consulting Partner, Perfect Relations and Madhu Kishwar, Senior Fellow of CSDS. Let's get into our discussion straight away.

Kirron Kher just to get your comments in the outset on the controversy today, would you like to comment or do you feel it is this kind of sensationalism and mischief making by the media that further reduces the image of film stars in Parliament.

Kirron Kher: I don't think I would really like to comment on this controversy because I am very close to some of the people involved in the controversy. Though I do say that, I don't think that it was a very right thing to do, to keep panning to Jayaji's face when somebody else was taking oath. Well the media does it all the time. In all the award functions they do it. I wish they would let it die a natural death because that story has been over a long time now. And I think the whole thing was handled, the way these people have been inducted into the Rajya Sabha leaves a lot of questions to be answered.

Sagarika Ghose: But you know Kirron Kher just on this point, when Jaya Bachchan herself lodges a complaint with the chairman of the Rajya Sabha then are you not asking for media sensationalism and for it to become a talking point, for it to become an issue.

Kirron Kher: Well I think it already was being made into an issue. I mean, the entire media was going ballistic about it. All the newspapers were carrying pictures and it is rather ungraceful, let me say to do something like that. And especially in the Rajya Sabha, you don't expect that. It is not exactly the Filmfare Awards or the Screen Awards where you have all kinds of media and you have a television show being telecasted and people are playing on this. I don't expect it in the Rajya Sabha, and watching it, I myself was a little disturbed.

Sagarika Ghose: That is a very good point you have made that in fact it was completely the wrong kind of footage to have shown. But let us get to the broader issue of our discussion, which is the record number of film stars in Parliament today. Now there has been an instance where Hema Malini raised a question for example on water purifiers when she in fact has a direct commercial link with Kent RO Water Purifier. Now could it be that film stars increasingly don't know the protocol. They don't know that when they have commercial links they are not suppose to raise those issues in Parliament. Are the film stars who are coming into the Rajya Sabha simply unaware of the kind of politics or the kind of positions that they are suppose to take?

Kirron Kher: Well you know there are so many people who are owners of large business houses, corporate heads who are now in the Rajya Sabha. They are all going to be asking or asking people to ask for them certain questions which they are interested in, let me put it that way. And I don't think Hemaji is unaware of that at all. Hemaji has been a campaigner with the BJP, a star campaigner much before the NDA came to power. So I think people seem to think that Hema Malini has come into the Rajya Sabha only because she is a film star. No, she and her mother have been huge supporter of the BJP from a very long time. So has been Mr Shatrughan Sinha. So these are people who have been there supporting the BJP and I thing it was only natural that they came in. Mr Shatrughan Sinha has been a minister; Mr Vinod Khanna has been a minister. And Mr Vinod Khanna has done excellent work in his constituency in Gurdaspur. So there are a lot of people who do good work. I think someone like Shyam Benegal, Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi have been very erudite and people of understanding of life beyond just films. And I think they enriched the debate in the Rajya Sabha. I think if you belong to films you need not to be necessarily patronised or kept our or people look down at you as just being a glamour person. There are some very bright people. The thing is when government nominates people to the Rajya Sabha, should realise that they are worthy people there and don't fall for just glamorous people, but get in people who are actually going to contribute.

Sagarika Ghose: That is a very good point. Let me put that to Nagma. Nagma let to put the names that Kirron Kher has raised, Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Shyam Benegal. In fact Jayaji has said that these are good parliamentarians. They speak, they raise issues, they are involved in public service but there are many other politicians whether it is Shekhar Suman, whether it's Govinda who are simply failing to make a mark not only in Parliament but in politics. Now why is that? Is it because the politicians are not letting them function or is it hard for actors to work in politics or are politicians threatened by actors?

Nagma: I think to a certain extent it is correct that lot of actors have been participating in Parliament and I think it is unfair to say that couple of them have not been participating or working up to their capacity as the member of Parliament. But I think it is unfair to categorise only actors in that league because I think there are lot of industrialists, lot of politicians also who are not performing as to what they should be performing. So it is unfair to say that actors are the ones… some of them are performing. I think most of the actors who have been conferred the honour or who have been in the Rajya Sabha or who are even in the Lok Sabha have been performing pretty well. So it's a few here and there… and I think it will be unfair to the others.

Sagarika Ghose: But you do believe politicians make life easy for actors. They don't make life very easy for actors? They try to stop the actors if the actors happen to be doing politically well.

Nagma: Yes, I believe to a certain extent this could be true because actors have a very good connect with the people and they instantly can strike a cord with the people. They are very sensitive people and you know they are very frank in their approach. And they instantly get up and they are hard working, sincere, determined, dedicated, committed and once they are given a responsibility most of them tend to take it very seriously and then they get on to their jobs. And a lot of politicians do get nervous about it. So yes to a certain extent but in my personal opinion, I think that actors should be given Rajya Sabha because basically Rajya Sabha is for those people who have achieved something in their respective fields. And they too should have a voice because actors are human being and they too are representing the country. And this is a direct opportunity for them to participate in the role that the country is shaping. They have a direct connect. So definitely they should be given that opportunity. And of course when they are given a constituency to fight and to contest then it limits them to a certain constituency, when they have that national appeal. So it's kind of limiting them to do something which they are capable of doing much more.

Sagarika Ghose: So they should not contest in Lok Sabha, they should all come to Rajya Sabha.

Nagma: I think that is a better deal because even people like Sachin Tendulkar… I think it is a very good sign that Sachin has got this because lot of people say that Rajya Sabha is a place for elders.

Sagarika Ghose: Ok, so actors should be brought into the Rajya Sabha. Let me just bring in Madhu Kishwar. There is a long tradition in our country of the film personalities getting involved in politics. Towering figures like MGR, like Jayalalithaa are from the film world. But increasingly are we finding, you know, here has been a Nargis Dutt who was known for her social work, who was then brought into Rajya Sabha. Are we finding that people who are getting nominated in the Rajya Sabha are not known for their public work, they are not known for their public service? They are just there to add glamour. And is that doing a disservice actually to many personalities who are actually involved in public service.

Madhu Kishwar Let me divide film stars into two categories. One category takes the job after they had their innings in the film industry or even in their mid career but they take the parliamentarian job seriously, like Sunil Dutt. He actually took his constituency work very seriously and his children are reaping the fruits. But also took interest in larger national issues, his Bharat Jodo Yatra, to bring people together after the riots. He played a very stellar role. But that is because he took to politics as deep as some of the best of politicians. There are another kind, take Govinda, you know, for him it was a side show. And I think that's where he does not do justice either to his own stature as an actor or the responsibility that it imposes. But having said that, the best of them and the worst of them, none of them have done the kind of harm that many of our main stream politicians do.

Sagarika Ghose: That's actually a good point. Are parliamentarian making their mark in Parliament? Here we are talking about film stars. But let's put to you the kind of interest that file personalities take in the Rajya Sabha. Now Hema Malini 50 of 127 sittings in 2004-2005. Lata Mangeshkar, god bless her, attended only 6 out of 170 sittings in 2000-2001. Shabana Azmi has attended an impressive 115 out of 170. They don't attend Parliament. Why then are they nominated to the Rajya Sabha, if they are disinterested in Parliament, disinterested in the Rajya Sabha? Then why bring them in the Rajya Sabha in the first place.

Dilip Cherian:I think we have to look this in the context of the current Parliament. This Parliament will go down in the history, as Parliament which focused on the red light and cartoon and thinks like that, let's be very clear on that. I addition when you start throwing into this melting pot of disinterested parliamentarians who are interested in all kinds of issues to do with their pay hikes. You also throw in people who are showing scant regard for either performance or attendance, what is the image of Parliament before the nation. My anxiety is while it is important to treat actors, as so many of them have said as human beings. The fact is that they are there simply because they are in the public eye, they are noticed and therefore government or parties think it is worth cooping them up. But if they don't perform surely the public is equally entitled to ask what are they doing in there? And given their job is not politics, why are these interlopers not doing what they are expected to do.

Sagarika Ghose: Kirron Kher the same question. Are the wrong people being given the Rajya Sabha nominations. I mean are like you, for example, you are politically very articulate. You are a member of the BJP, you are a political activist. Do feel people like you who are active in politics are actually too much of a threat to the political class. They just want to bring in pretty faces; they just want to bring in glamour quotient. Not that you are not glamorous. But they don't really want serious political thinkers like yourself.

Kirron Kher: That could be true. Unfortunately no body is going to say it to my face but it could be true. But at the same time for political parties like the BJP or even the Congress there are so many people as part of the organisation, who have been doing a great work over the years and been very loyal to the party. Now when the Rajya Sabha seats come up, I think they get to be nominated first. Now this is the presidential nomination, the party in the power does, which is what has happened with Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha. I think over there also they could have… they have so many actors who have been working so much like Farooq Sheikh. I have seen Farooq Sheikh working for the HRD ministry over the years. He is such a brilliant man, he is focused. I mean how come they pass him over every time. What happens if someone like Waheeda Rahman, who is being doing so much of social work? I mean people who are connected with the causes of today. People who voice in opinion on issues today, I mean, those are the people who will enrich Rajya Sabha. How come even they don't get a chance.

Sagarika Ghose: What you are not saying Kirron Kher that why on earth Rekha gets a Rajya Sabha nomination when it hasn't gone to Farooq Sheikh and Waheeda Rahman.

Madhu Kishwar Also I think the reasons being speculated about… the reason for Rekha's nomination is such a bad taste. I mean it's only a party that has sunk really low, would do it to embarrass a fellow Parliamentarian. And I would wish the media would leave the two women alone. That is what everybody is saying. I wish it is not true. And I wish there were better reasons. Coming back to the original issue that you raised. I think the film actors, the best as well as the worst of them are better then the corporate who are purchasing seats. Vijay Mallya, who actually buys MLAs and their seats. I mean not MLAs, Rajya Sabha voters. And it's known what they paid each person who voted for them.

Sagarika Ghose: That is your personal view.

Madhu Kishwar That is not my personal view. It is all over in the rumour network. And I am saying that it is a fact that kind of corporate honcho. Who is corrupt, not the Bajajs and the Ratan Tatas.

Sagarika Ghose: There is a greater evil than the file stars.

Kirron Kher, do you feel a certain kind of resentment against the political class that film actors are brought in as star campaigner. They are brought in for events; they are brought in for certain sought of ceremonial purposes. They are not given the kind of importance that political parties should give them?

Kirron Kher: I think political parties should realise that they need to use people for their abilities and for their mind and their dedication. And how much work an interested person can put in regardless of whether they are from films, sports or purely from political background. And I think many people from a political background are threatened by people are already known because of their films. They are threatened and they do not want them to come ahead. But as far as campaigning goes or giving a Lok Sabha goes, I think the parties know that they can get them the seat. And you know it's the numbers games. So if they use them. Like Dharamji's clip you showed. Now if you know Dharamji he is a warm, wonderful and simple man. I don't think he is interested or knows about the problems faced by the country or the kind of debates that take place in the Lok Sabha. So he is bound to be bored by it. To sit for so many hours and feel awkward in that situation. But he got them a Lok Sabha seat. So did Govinda for the Congress.

Sagarika Ghose: So you can't deny star power, even though they many not be performers. Let me get in Nagma. Nagma, why don't film stars do well in politics increasingly like Chiranjeevi for example in 2008 had that huge mega launch in Tirupathi. That high-tech launch, it was a big show of strength but Chiranjeevi's Prajarajyam party has been decimated in polls. He had to merge with the Congress party. Are film stars failing to contest in electoral politics? Shekhar Suman also lost when he contested.

Nagma: No, I personally feel that politics is very different from acting. And as much hard work one has to put into politics, one has also to put into acting. It is equally a different area of work, you can't compare the two. Two entirely different places to be in. So one has to do a lot of hard work, that initial charisma may pay off, but it is a lot of hard work. I agree what Kirronji has to say, there has to keen interest in wanting to be a part of shaping the country and playing a direct role in that. And not just giving people who are not interested in that area and that aspect. But giving those who can matter, who can make a difference.

Sagarika Ghose: Well you have been working long for the Congress, hopefully we will see Nagma you in the Rajya Sabha and Kirron in Rajya Sabha as well. Let me put to you the point that someone like Kirron Kher would perhaps be a much more asset in the Rajya Sabha than Rekha. We don't know, let's not misjudge her. But don't you think she would never get the political nod.

Madhu Kishwar See I think people with a proven track record are better picks then people with a clean slate. You could end up in a Dharmendra like situation, total innocent. And I think Kirron put it very well. And so is Hema. She may be actually campaigning but I don't think she is a political animal. And Chiranjeevi for example, you have raised this issue; it is because star power is failing. See it's one thing to have millions of fan clubs but to convert your fans into a party organisations, a well oiled party organisation... Congress party is not able to do it.

Sagarika Ghose: Then how did MGR do it?

Madhu Kishwar Preciously that is where political sense comes in. That is where you have to work at the grassroots level day in and day out. With your party workers, selecting the best from your film club.

Sagarika Ghose: Because Karunanidhi is also from the film world.

Madhu Kishwar Yes but they built an organisation. Even movement doesn't mean… we have seen Anna but no organisation. Rustling up a movement is not per say building up an organisation. And politics requires having an organisational genius.

Sagarika Ghose: Let me bring you to the actor who is playing the most political role in politics which is Aamir Khan you know, his Satyameva Jayate is literally sweeping the nation. Now do you feel someone like an Aamir Khan is where a number of film personalities could play a much more effective role than simply sitting in Rajya Sabha? Raising female foeticide or raising issues like sexual molestation, these are the issue file personalities must raise.

Dilip Cherian: That is the kind of example where you are actually bridging two roles. You are using your star power for public good instead of having people like Dharmendra, lovable as they may be they don't deserve anywhere near Parliament, even if they manage to get a seat.

Sagarika Ghose: Aamir Khan is more in tune with Angelina Jolie's international example of public conscience keeping.

Dilip Cherian: And also the other thing is that a vast number of incompetent, who are getting elected. So at least in these nominated categories you have got to choose people with competence, with the ability to ask the right questions.

Madhu Kishwar But instead the parties will take glamour dolls who will not ask any incontinent question, will do the biddings

Sagarika Ghose: They are not taking the articulate people who can actually make a difference. We have two stars in our panel one day hopefully they too are elected in the Rajya Sabha. Thank you very much Kirron Kher, Nagma, Madhu Kishwar, Dilip Cherian.

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