Bharatiya Janata Party’s Mathura candidate Hema Malini got married to actor Dharmendra and they both got converted to Islam to validate the union as per Islamic rules. The conversion was necessary for them as Dharmendra didn’t want to divorce his first wife Prakash Kaur while marrying twice was impossible as per the Hindu Marriage Act. Although Tamil-speaking Chakravarthy household girl Hema Malini and Dharmendra changed their names to Aisha Bi R. Chakravarty and Dilawar Khan Kewal Krishn respectively, they both adhered well to their Hindu identity. BJP leader and 2019 Lok Sabha election candidate from Amethi Smriti Irani is Hindu by birth and her name was Smriti Malhotra before she got married to a Parsi businessman Zubin Irani; although she didn’t change her religion, her children are practicing Parsi.
The recently declared Congress’ Mumbai North Lok Sabha candidate popular actor-turned-politician Urmila Matondkar, who stepped into the party on Wednesday, got married to a younger Muslim Mohsin Akhtar Mir and as per viral posts on social media claims, she changed her name to Mariam Akhtar Mir though the couple denied of her being converted to Islam. The social media started witnessing a real-time drama soon after Urmila’s joining. Gossips around her religion and how she is making fool of the Hindus by hiding her Islamic name went viral in no time forgetting the fact that the Indian Constitution does not sanction the concept of a woman’s religion getting merged with her husband’s faith after an inter-religion marriage. An adult woman, born in whatsoever religion, can very well adhere to her own religion denying accepting her husband’s.
Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, born as Indira Priyadarshini Nehru in a Kashmiri Pandit family on November 19, 1917, in Allahabad is still under attack because of her marriage. Her husband was Feroze Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi), whom she knew from Allahabad, and who was studying at the London School of Economics. The marriage took place in Allahabad according to Adi Dharm rituals though Feroze belonged to a Zoroastrian Parsi family of Gujarat, same as Smriti Irani.
National President of Women’s Wing, Nationalist Mahila Congress, Dr. Fauzia Khan spoke to Afternoon Voice and stated, “Creating an unconstitutional rift within communities on religious grounds is BJP’s political strategy. Indian people have faith in secular values. Marriage is your choice and faith is your choice. Do you require efficient religious leaders to run the country? Finally, people will only see who has run the country properly. How can they give the opportunity to a Chowkidar who has been fooling people?”
Having so many instances of inter-religion marriages in Bollywood and especially beforehand in the political corridor where the individuals followed their mind in terms of following their own religion or name without converting, why such futile and unnecessary fuss is created attacking Urmila? If BJP and his supporters were all comfortable with Hema Malini and Smriti Irani, why is it hard to accept Urmila her way?
In the ripe election season, such soft Hindutva attacks on Urmila Matondkar are expected to continue. The Rangeela actor, who belongs to a family of academicians, will contest against sitting BJP Lok Sabha member Gopal Shetty. However, moving ahead of these controversies around her religion, it is widely being considered that it will be difficult for her to secure a winning majority from the Mumbai North constituency which is known to be a BJP stronghold.
Senior BJP leader Ram Naik used to represent the Mumbai North constituency until 2004 when Congress candidate another actor-turned-politician Govinda defeated the Union Minister of Petroleum. Later, in 2009, Congress leader and former Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam again defeated Naik from the same seat. However, in 2014, BJP candidate Gopal Shetty overpowered Nirupam by a huge margin.
Urmila joined Congress after meeting the party President Rahul Gandhi and said that she felt the need to join the Congress party as the freedom to express was under attack in the country and there are numerous examples in this regard in the last five years. She also expressed that she is “here to stay”.
Congress MLA Aslam Shaikh expressed, “I welcome Urmila Matondkar in the party. Citizens have their right to choose religion and life partner as per the Indian Constitution. Elections are held for the country’s prosperity and it is not meant for any religion. The Modi government has not done any work in the past five years and the upcoming election must be fought on development and employment issues. Congress has fulfilled the loan waiver promise in three states within one month after coming to power. People will decide whether they should vote for a party that speaks lies or they should support Congress.”
Political analysts believe that while Nirupam has got the ticket from the Mumbai North-West seat, fielding newcomer Urmila Matondkar from the Mumbai North constituency is wasting a ticket prior to such a crucial national election. Experts believe that Nirupam or late Congress leader Gurudas Kamat managed to garner voters’ confidence as a favourite candidate more than Congress being the chosen party. Highlighting that the country’s oldest political party missed the narrative of the favourite candidate and favourite party, it is believed that the seat shuffle has high possibility to cost Congress two of the major seats.
BJP MLA Manisha Choudhary asserted, “As a women legislator, I welcome Urmila Matondkar. However, I oppose the party from which she is nominated to contest the election. This is not a fight between Gopal Shetty and Urmila Matondkar but between ideologies of BJP and Congress.”
She further added, “We are contesting the election on development agenda and what work our government has done under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership in the past five years. The states will be secure only if the country is safe. Gopal Shetty has started his political career from being a Corporator, later he got elected as an MLA and finally as an MP. I am confident that he will emerge victorious.”
BJP’s ally in state Shiv Sena’s MLA Prakash Surve said, “What religion Urmila has embraced doesn’t matter. Her entry into politics won’t make any difference to us. Voters are aware of BJP’s performances; even if they vote for Urmila, it will be favouring her stardom and not Congress. Congress lacks efficient leaders. If everything was fair in Congress, what led Sanjay Nirupam quit the Mumbai Congress Chief’s post?”
By Vijay Salgaonkar