CHURUMURI POLL: Will you vote for Hema Malini?

The BJP’s decision to nominate the former dancer-actor Hema Malini as the party’s nominee for the Rajya Sabha polls from Karnataka is now a fait accompli. In itself, appointing an “outsider” is neither unprecedented, unconstitutional nor unwelcome. Parties and politicians have their own requirements (seemingly political, but usually financial) and there are other institutional and individual dynamics at play.

The lawyer Ram Jethmalani has represented the Janata Dal, Shiv Sena and BJP from three different States, because his legal eye was required by parties and personalities in them. Moneybags like the stud farm owner M.A. M. Ramaswamy and the mobile phone operator turned media baron Rajeev Chandrasekhar get in because, well, they can afford to. The Kannadiga owner of Garuda mall (Uday Garudachar) tried Bihar but failed.

Another reason is that many politicians stand no hope in hell of being elected given the role cash, caste, community and other imponderables play in our politics. Prime minister Manmohan Singh represents Assam because South Delhi, a prime beneficiary of his reforms, didn’t think the great reformer was worthy of their vote. The Kannadiga Jairam Ramesh represents Andhra Pradesh; Venkaiah Naidu, a Telugu, represents Karnataka.

However, Hema Malini’s candidature doesn’t sit so easily in such silos. Au contraire, it raises some fundamental questions about the kind of candidates parties push through the back door; about the track record of candidates and their ability or lack thereof to shoulder the expectations of the people they represent; about how the hands of legislators are tied by the whip in what is supposed to be a democratic setup. Etcetera.

For starters, is a rich dancer-actor, who has previously represented the party in the RS, the only “artiste” the BJP could think of for the State? The playwright Girish Karnad says the ‘Dream Girlhadn’t asked a single question in her earlier term. Words like “dud, daddi, buddi illa, inefficient” have been freely used by Kannada “buddhijeevis” to describe the BJP candidate. Plus there are murmurs that her candidature doesn’t have the backing of all BJP legislators and that has she been imposed on them to quell the dissidence.

To be sure, Karnataka has been through this debate before, when businessman Rajeev Chandrasekhar was pitted against the literatteur U.R. Anantha Murthy. Then, too, similar questions had flowed forth. But it tells us something about the worldview of Basanti of Sholay when she promises to take special interest to develop Ramanagaram. Was the BJP incapable of finding a writer, dancer, intellectual who could earn the legislators’ vote other than Ayesha Bi?

It’s easy to blame our woes our legislators, the party whip, and the system, for these infirmities.

Here’s a straightforward, counterfactual question: If you could take part in a Rajya Sabha election, if you weren’t bound by the party whip, would you vote for an outsider, “dud, daddi, buddi illa, inefficient” celebrity like Hema Malini, party affiliation notwithstanding? Or would you back a home-grown intellectual, a drama and theatre expert with his ear to the ground like Dr K. Maralusiddappa, party affiliation notwithstanding?