In the recent past, political parties have become excessively dependent on celebrities as campaigners. Unlike the 80s when Amitabh Bachchan and only a handful of other actors and sports personnel focused on a political career, the present epoch is witnessing a surge in celebrity participation. Some of them became victims of receding interest in the daily rigmarole and political slug fest. Be it Mohammad Azharuddin or Navjot Singh Sidhu, their presence in the Parliament as honorary members are far from satisfactory. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has always placed its bet high on the sports celebrities. Eminent sports personalities including wrestling champions Babita Phogat, Yogeshwar Dutt and former India hockey captain Sandeep Singh have been joined BJP during Haryana assembly elections. A glorious career in the film industry or sports guarantees you a head start in politics if you want to pursue it, given the fact that you’ve earned a place in people’s heart with your work. But, there’s no way one can determine that a successful film star or a sportsperson can repeat the same magic in politics as well.
From Hema Malini to Smriti Irani there is a long list of film industry personnel, actors and actress coming to politics, some made it huge for themselves and many just flopped. We’ve seen many cases where some of the biggest celebrities fell flat on their face during elections, but that hasn’t stopped renowned artists, actors, and sportspersons from trying their luck in politics. Now whether or not the public accepts them as their leaders is a different thing, but we’ve seen that these celebrities leave no stone unturned in campaigning for their respective political parties. With Delhi Assembly elections going on this year, Saina Nehwal joined the BJP. She would be campaigning for BJP against Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) in Delhi. We’ve seen many people from sports, as well as Bollywood, joining BJP and other national parties.
There are many sports personalities who join politics and soon got forgotten. Deepa Malik, a para-athlete who represented India in Shot Put in Paralympics, is first Indian woman to win a medal in the games. Malik recently joined BJP and may be contesting elections for Lok Sabha. A three-time Olympic participant, Krishna Poonia represented the country in disc throw. She joined Congress in 2013 and contested elections against Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore from Sadulpur constituency in Rajasthan. Celebrated boxing champion Vijender Singh, who won a bronze medal in the Beijing Olympic Games, is now a Congress candidate from South Delhi and is extremely active in his political campaign. Pargat Singh was a former captain of the Indian Hockey team who has played in three world cups and Olympics. He entered politics after his retirement. Pargat Singh was suspended by Shiromani Akali Dal in 2016 after which he joined the Indian National Congress. Former cricketer Mohammad Kaif, who was known for his excellent fielding, joined Congress in 2009. He contested 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh which he lost to BJP’s Keshav Prasad Maurya. Ex-cricketer Chetan Chauhan, who has played 40 test matches for India and had most of his international cricket career in the 1970s, is now an active member of the BJP. Former Indian cricketer Kirti Azad is currently serving his fourth term in the Lok Sabha and is a part of BJP. After a bumpy career in sports, Navjot Singh Sidhu retired and took a shot at politics. He joined the BJP in 2004 and also went on to win the elections. His alliance with BJP, however, didn’t last for long when he left the right-wing party to join Congress. After making the country proud by winning India’s first ever individual silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore joined politics. Currently, he’s a member of BJP and an MP from Jaipur (Rural).The middle distance runner, who won several medals for India in 800 meters, joined the Communist Party of India and was an MP from Krishnagar constituency of West Bengal.
One of the most sought-after players, Mohammad Azharuddin’s image was marred after the match-fixing scandal of 2000. In 2009, the former captain of Indian cricket team joined Congress and was also elected the member of the Parliament from Moradabad, UP. The former cricketer is one of the latest additions to politics from sports. Gambhir contested elections on BJP’s ticket from East Delhi. Babita Phogat has been a vocal supporter of the BJP. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre scrapped Article 370, which provided special status to Jammu and Kashmir, she had voiced her support on microblogging site Twitter. BJP in Kerala got five champions in its hand, as five prominent personalities joined the party, including former ISRO chief G Madhavan Nair and former president of the Travancore Devaswom Board — the governing body of the Sabarimala temple — G Raman Nair. The other prominent individuals from God’s own country who embraced saffron are former women’s commission member; Dr Prameela Devi, Janata Dal (Secular) Trivandrum district vice-president; Karakulam Divakaran Nair and Malankara Church functionary; C Thomas John. The induction of these five prominent individuals especially ex-ISRO chief Nair comes amidst the unprecedented Hindu unity in Kerala, in the wake of protest against the Sabarimala verdict.
In Southern India, the BJP has been on a consolidation mode. Recently, Sri Peetham Seer Swami Paripoornananda had joined BJP in poll bound Telangana. Swami Paripoornananda is also called as the Yogi of South. He is very popular among Hindus and the tribal communities of the region. Swami Paripoornananda is a well-known Hindu figure in almost all southern states with millions of followers. His devotion to country is admired by many people, his entry into the BJP would improve party’s prospects in the state of Telangana as well as in other southern states. Except for Karnataka, BJP doesn’t have many credible faces in the South. What BJP needs in South, are crowd pullers and popular faces. Induction of prominent personalities like Swami Paripoornananda would fulfill that void in the region. They have their own fan base and mass support, so their entry gives mass acceptance to the party, in southern states. Against all odds the BJP has managed to gradually increase its vote share in the state of Kerala, but is yet to make a major impact on a political note.
With the popular sentiment in BJP’s favour and now with the induction of new, prominent leaders, the party is on a firm ground and looks well prepared for upcoming elections. Let’s see how Saina is going to bring back the lost sheen to BJP. Political parties need to pull in more voters in their booty and one of the tried and tested ways is to field celebrities and let them cast a spell on the target audience (even if its effect is temporary). It is argued that since celebrities come from non-political background and most of them are a success in their chosen profession, the chances of them engaging with the prospective voters remain high. On the flip side, there has been a scramble for popularity and national visibility among the celebrities themselves. Those who are well over their prime, have all the leisure to focus on something as demanding as politics. Moreover, they stand a chance to get special privileges if their endorsements prove lucky for the party.
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