“For the last few weeks, the crowd puller on the streets of New Delhi’s official and diplomatic quarter has been Rajesh Khanna, a former film star in a country wild about movies and a Congress candidate for Parliament in nationwide elections that begin Monday,” Barbara Crossette wrote in The New York Times in May of 1991.
Mr. Khanna was pulled in to counter the star power of the “sobersided, meticulously articulate, scrupulously courtly” Lal Krishna Advani, leader of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, she wrote, who was giving Rajiv Gandhi stiff competition.
“Mr. Khanna is equally renowned for once having been married to an Indian Marilyn Monroe called Dimple Kapadia. When she agreed to show up on the hustings for old times’ sake, the crowds were ecstatic,” she wrote.
Not all of them, though.
Khushwant Singh, a columnist, author and former newspaper editor, says that the appearance on the Congress Party ticket of Mr. Khanna, whom he describes as “some kind of buffoon,” has made him decide to boycott the election, the first time he has done so since he began voting.
Rajiv Desai, who runs a public affairs consultancy in New Delhi and occasionally writes on politics and the evolution of political campaigning in India, thinks the celebrity candidate is a sign of political maturity.
In an interview, he said that the attraction to politics of public figures of any kind is a sign that the base of the candidate pool is widening and campaigns are becoming more sophisticated. In South Asia — certainly in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh — opposing parties have tended to regard each other as ideological if not mortal enemies, and have found it hard to work together after elections.
“These celebrity politicians don’t treat politics as deathly serious,” Mr. Desai said. “They can look at the other parties as rivals, not enemies.”
“In this election, although Congress is likely to get the largest number of seats, there is a chance that it may have to work in coalition with other parties. It will have to tread warily.This article appeared on The New York Times on July 18, 2012.
When Rajesh Khanna Dabbled in Politics