Stars cast a spell on Bengal's poll war (Election Special)
Jive to the peppy songs of Disco King Bappi Lahiri and Bollywood crooner Babul Supriyo, enjoy free live performances of Bengali cinestar Deb and yesteryear's glamour queen Moon Moon Sen, or come under the spell of magician P.C. Sorcar (Junior) -- welcome to the colourful political landscape of Bengal.
It is literally raining celebrities in the poll season.
Reigning Bengali matinee idol Dev, Lahiri, Supriyo and Sen are among the large number of celeb candidates who will be trying out their electoral fortunes in the coming Lok Sabha elections. From sporting icons to theatre personalities, actors and singers, politics in Bengal - long associated with blood and violence - is now daubed in glamour and glitz.
The ruling Trinamool Congress, which has stolen a march over the others in the sheer number of celebrities it has fielded at the hustings, is banking heavily on star power.
The likes of Sen, actors Sandhya Roy, Shatabdi Roy and Tapas Pal besides Dev as well as country's soccer greats Bhaichung Bhutia and Prasun Banerjee are seeking the people's blessings on the Trinamool's "twin flowers in grass" symbol.
Not much behind is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Besides opting for Lahiri and Supriyo, it too has a fair share of star power - eminent actors George Baker and Nimu Bhowmick besides celebrated magician Sorcar.
The Congress and Left Front, though, are found lagging on this front. The CPI-M however, has Subhashini Ali who designed period costumes for 1981 classic, "Umrao Jaan", besides dabbling in amateur acting, appearing in the Shah Rukh Khan starrer "Asoka" and the critically acclaimed "Amu".
Formerly married to filmmaker Muzaffar Ali, her son Shaad Ali, of "Saathiya" and "Bunty aur Babli" fame, too is film director. But compared to the Trinamool and BJP celeb candidates, Ali has been a political leader and women's rights activist of long standing.
Not surprisingly, the advent of the stars has created a buzz among the voters. Accustomed to watching seasoned politicos making mundane speeches, they are now making a beeline to watch the icons in flesh and blood.
With the celebrities set to call upon their brethren for canvassing and endorsing them, people are in anticipation of a glitzy electoral affair this time around. The prospect of seeing their role models within grasping distance has created a flutter among the masses especially in rural areas.
While the common man is ecstatic seeing the stars descend on their backyards as they hit the campaign trail, politicians and analysts are not amused.
The Congress, which has named a celebrity candidate in famed painter Samir Aich, accuses the Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool of defrauding the people by preferring celebrities and non-politicos.
"The move to nominate celebrities shows the immaturity and insensitivity of the Trinamool. In fact, the Trinamool has chosen them to defraud the people, it knows it cannot win by fielding political personalities," state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said.
Political analyst Anil Kumar Jana feels putting up celeb candidates may not always yield the desired result.
"This is the first time so many celebs are contesting the polls in Bengal. While celebrity status may enable a few to win, it can be counterproductive. There will always be question regarding their availability, whether they will be able to contribute enough time for politics leaving behind their respective jobs," Jana told IANS.
Opinions are also divided among the electorates, while some feel stars - always conscious of their public image - will not indulge in scams or corruptions, others are of the view that they are unaware of ground realities and may not be able to raise pertinent issues.
"Stars like Dev are flush with money. And they have to be careful about the public perception about them, as that affects their box office appeal. Naturally, they will always try to steer clear of unholy deals," said college student Sudip Banerjee.
But housewife Mithu Sen has a different take.
"These celebrities live in ivory towers. What do they know about the pain and sufferings of the toiling millions? The problems of the peasants, workers, the rickshaw-pullers on the roads? How can one expect them to raise the pitch in Lok Sabha about these marginal sections?" she said.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 29-03-2014)