In a widely circulated letter on Tuesday morning, the Member of Parliament from Gurdaspur, Punjab, and Bollywood actor Sunny Deol announced that he is appointing a ‘representative’ to ‘attend meetings and follow important matters’ in his constituency. Sunny, who is just barely a month-and-a-half into politics, named his personal assistant (PA) Gurpreet Singh Palheri as his representative. Gurpreet is a Punjabi writer and line producer.
Naturally, the actor-politician from the BJP has received flak for his move, with the Opposition calling it a ‘betrayal’ of the people who voted for him. The move, however, also poses the question, yet again, of how adept the Bollywood celebrities actually are when they enter politics. In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the current Minister of Home Affairs, and the then Party President of BJP, Amit Shah had personally flown down to meet Sunny and convince him to run for the elections. A great opportunity given to the actor! And yet, Sunny, after winning the elections, makes a silly move by announcing “his man will represent him in the constituency!”
Apart from the success guaranteed with having a famous face, the real test is played out in the execution of the roles and responsibilities that come along with the illustrious title. Having no prior expertise or interest, and juggling their political duties and professional engagements, most celebs are unable to cope. “I don’t think they have much interest in politics. Look at when Sachin Tendulkar was an MP, his representation in Rajya Sabha or his contribution in the debate was very less. Their representation is presented just as a token. Politics is not a part-time job. You have to be there. You have a responsibility,” says political analyst Abhay Deshpande.
Social activist and advocate Sudha Ramalingam concurs. “If a person doesn’t have the time to represent the people, they have no business standing for elections. You can have people to aid and assist you in your electoral work, but having a proxy is plain and simple dishonesty to the people’s mandate,” Sudha says.
That being said, some celebrities have enjoyed and continue to enjoy a successful political stint. The late NTR and Jayalalitha in the past, and most recently Smriti Irani are examples of actors who succeeded where their contemporaries failed. Their success formula: giving their all to their political careers!
“Look at Smriti Irani! She was also a celebrity, but she gave herself completely into a political career and became a full-time member of the cabinet. If people are ready to sacrifice their celebrity ‘halo’, then they will be successful. Otherwise, they are just coming for the sake of the clout,” adds Abhay.
While parliamentarian Hema Malini, who is Sunny Deol’s stepmother, understandably refuses to comment on the controversy around Sunny’s representational politics, Hema did comment on her own schedules. “I am more in my constituency in Mathura than at home in Mumbai. When I was elected for the second term in Parliament, I made a pledge that I needed to fulfil all my promises to the people of Mathura and then quit politics.”
However singer-MP-cabinet minister Baabul Supriyo defends Sunny Deol’s unorthodox politicking. He says, “An MP cannot practically be present in his parliamentary constituency all the time. So Sunny has made sure that there is someone present all the time. That’s called appointing an Office Representative. As long as the MP makes frequent trips to his constituency and remains on the same page in-sync with his representative, I see it as a very positive intent.”...