India need to reject the ‘politics of ‘brand’.

(Asian Independent)- Delhi Metro’s chief ‘architect’ E Shreedharan has decided to join BJP in Kerala and said that he was ‘ready’ to accept the’ Chief Ministerial post if it comes to him. He said that he was determined to bring people to BJP and that it was the only party that India needed at the moment. Shreedharan also gave his ‘expert’ ‘opinion’ on ‘farmers issue’ as well as on ‘Love Jihad’ and supported the official line of the BJP. As Kerala will go to state elections with in next couple of months and BJP was in desperate need to get some ‘celebrity’ Shreedharan came handy and I can bet, tomorrow onwards, you will see ‘political commentator’ and ‘expert’ Shreedharan on every TV channel who will ‘declare’ a big ‘victory ‘ for BJP in advance. Shreedharan also said that he does not see any ‘intolerance’ in the country and it is the people who are just defaming Prime minister Narendra Modi.
Many ‘liberals’ are shocked while the Hindutva sympathisers are elated at Shreedharan’s keenness to be part of the saffron agenda. He has already started speaking their language and is looking ‘younger’ to take a lead.
There is nothing unusual in Shreedharan’s approach. We have seen celebrities in India who mostly join hands with the power as they need pampering and as long as they are in service the power makes them feudal and after retirement it becomes difficult for them to manage without those luxuries. I do not say everyone is like that but a majority are like that and remain aloof once retired and look for messages by those in power.
A few days back, we were disturbed with Sachin Tendulkar and other Bambai cinema stars for tweeting in support of India’s ‘sovereignty’ as if it has been questioned by any one who was tweeting. None of these celebrities ever spoke on violence against women, atrocities on Dalits and other marginalised. Leave aside the so called ‘political issues’, the shamelessness of these is reflected in their conspicuous silence of not speaking to defend their own fellow cricketer. Waseem Jafar was harassed and accused of communalism and fellow Mumbaikar Sachin Tendlukar, remained silent. Even the otherwise loud Saurav Ganguly too remained mute.
The ‘Star of Century’ in the commercial profit making cinema recently posted a video of the wife of former chief minister of Maharashtra. Nobody would have cared if she were not the wife of the former chief minister and we have seen in the past how this overhyped superstar just spineless promoted her.
In the last two decades, celebrities have been roped in by various political parties at the cost of their loyal workers and those who have been dedicating their time fully for the cause of the people. Politics became ‘art of managing contradictions’ and those who could afford to contest elections as well as bring the ‘youths’. It actually looked as if it depoliticised the polity but frankly speaking it strengthened the Status quo as most of the ‘celebrities’ in India have represented the values of the caste supremacists and will not utter a single word on caste discrimination and untouchability. However, it is these celebrities who will jump on the issue of racism if it comes to the fore in the Western world and pretend to be the ‘victims’ of racial prejudices. Indians that way are experts that even the ‘powerful’ love to look like ‘powerless’ with a sense of ‘betrayal’ and ‘discrimination’.
The trend was started by Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 when he brought film stars, cricketers and ‘popular figures’ into ‘politics’ and we all were in awe with that. Most of them failed miserably as they were not made to speak to the people. They won because of their popularity from the films and have nothing to do with the work in the region or any political understanding. Surprisingly, they continue to win elections while people cry that their MPs are not visible. Whether Amitabh Bachchan, Govinda, Sunny Deol, Hema Malini, Kiron Kher as well as several Bhojpuri brands whose songs and films even the same people won’t be able to watch along with their children.
Slowly, this disease also went to other parties. BJP was quick to take it. Samajwadi party had Jayaprada and Jaya Bachchan. She is one of the most prominent faces of the party in Rajya Sabha. We all know she has nothing to do with socialism or social justice but then these are realities of our time. If she is not given a ticket the BJP will take the catch and our film stars are not like Mohammad Ali or Maradona who were ideological strong and took on the establishment. Our film stars want glorification and publicity all the time.
My point is Shreedhran, Abdul Kalam, Sachin Tendulkar, Lata Mangeshkar are ‘brand’ because they dominated their ‘fields’. Now, their brand is being used for politics. Now, I might like Lata Mangeshkar’s voice and songs but it is not necessary for me to ‘accept’ her political view. That is why, we must stand clearly that we have respected these brands for their work and we will not take their ‘endorsement’ to any ideology on their face value. In fact, it is better they keep quiet and enjoy their retirement.
In the last so many years after his retirement, I never heard Dr E Shreedharan speak on any of the issues concerning the nation. I can understand during the job he could not have done so. But I am surprised the way he spoke on various ‘political issues’ and was ‘ready’ to become CM of Kerala shows how people over hype themselves. He might be a great engineer or manager but it is not necessary that he will succeed. Important is whose side is he going and the track record of the party. Shreedharan says farmers’ protests are wrong. He justifies laws against love jihad and says there is a conspiracy against Hindus. He says there is no intolerance in the country and that reflects his understanding.
Indians are habituated with brands whether politics or anything else. On facebook, people are competing with each other to make a brand rather than debating an issue. We need strong autonomous institutions and each and every brand should be judged by their public work and ideology they are siding with. It is very important because most of these stars will not work. They are popular for their films and songs or for other work. E Shreedharan could have done a lot of work without power. There are so many of us who can do work without being in limelight. Why do we need power and publicity all the time ?
I hope people of Kerala will not fall to this ‘brand trap’. They should vote for politicians and political parties which speak of their issues , social justice, socialism, secularism and democracy. It is time we develop a collective approach and reject the brand culture as it is the recipe to disaster. when power revolves around one individual who is made as a macho man, a kind of Shaktiman or super hero like Spiderman, then democracy and its institutions will become submissive to the individual. As we compromise our institutions because a ‘strong’ leader always weakens the institutions and ultimately brings disaster to democracy.
For a strong democracy, we must stop hero worshipping as Baba Saheb Ambedkar said long back. Strengthen the institutions and protect their autonomy. Not every strong individual is an Ambedkar or Nehru who respects individual liberty and democrats to the core of their heart as most of the time powerful individuals demolish institutions which are vital for the health of a vibrant democracy. Let us shun these brands who have been compromising. Let us also take a pledge not to make anybody a brand. It is time, we start from ourselves. Build collective leadership, develop alliances and before voting please look at the work done by the individual in public life and their political philosophy. We hope people will be mature enough to understand the dangers of these brands to our democracy. Let us hope Kerala will provide a way out to the rest of India to strengthen our secular democracy.
– Vidya Bhushan Rawat
February 19th,2021