Lok Sabha polls: Meet corporate honchos, actors, sportsmen who are set to make a splash

The academic and corporate honcho bring along intense strategies and analyses. The activist and ex-cop arrive armed with steely resolve. And a magician?

The actor and the sportsman’s calling card is their star appeal. The academic and corporate honcho bring along intense strategies and analyses. The activist and ex-cop arrive armed with steely resolve.
The actor and the sportsman’s calling card is their star appeal. The academic and corporate honcho bring along intense strategies and analyses. The activist and ex-cop arrive armed with steely resolve. And a magician?

“If I can make a speeding train full of passengers vanish, you could argue that I will be able to make corruption vanish from politics,” ponders PC Sorcar Jr, the BJP’s 67-year-old candidate from the Barasat Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal. India’s Houdini, however, is under no illusion about the enormity of that task. “I will have to work harder to fight corruption, which is almost everywhere in our society,” shrugs the conjurer who’s known for once making the Taj Mahal disappear. To be sure Sorcar will need more than his magical prowess to earn his spurs as a politician, if he does go on to become one.

The rash of ‘non-political’ candidates in the fray going by the candidate lists announced so far — think actors, models, singers, cricketers, hockey players, professors, former CEOs, entrepreneurs, journalists, cops — is perhaps unprecedented. Doubtless, political parties routinely place their bets on a motley mix of oddballs to win elections. This time around, though, the list seems longer, and the mix even more eclectic. “Many people who thought politics is not their cup of tea are now fighting elections. I appreciate this trend. Let’s welcome the change,” says Raj Babbar, an actor-turned-Congress MP who will contest from Ghaziabad in UP in the coming general elections.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this change, reckon analysts, is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) effect. The Arvind Kejriwalled political party that is starting from scratch has been aggressively fielding journalists, professors, activists and ex-cops — a move that fits well with its positioning as an anti-corruption crusader. The mainstream parties have had little choice but to keep up with the AAP strategy and sprinkle their candidate lists with a generous dose of personalities that are new to the world of politics.

“It’s clearly an AAP effect,” claims Rajmohan Gandhi, the AAP candidate from East Delhi. “Many people who thought that the political doors are closed for them have plunged into elections this time,” adds the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi who unsuccessfully contested a Lok Sabha election against Rajiv Gandhi 25 years ago, and then largely stayed away from active politics. Gandhi says it’s AAP’s determination to inject “honesty into politics” that ensured his comeback bid.

Babbar insists that famous non-political personalities are not fielded to just fill a gap that remains; there’s a sound strategy for them being chosen. He backs this up with his own example — he’s been given a Ghaziabad ticket this time (in the last general election he contested from Firozabad in UP) because of the pro-farmer agitations he took out against the Dadri power project in that region.

Of course, caste and community cards are liberally played, like they have been in the past. Matchindra Chate, an education entrepreneur from Mumbai, says he doesn’t believe in casteism but chose to contest on a BSP ticket because of the party’s support to Dalits, OBCs and Muslims; Chate is an OBC. And the Congress is hoping that Mohammed Kaif does a Mohammad Azharuddin — who sprang a surprise in 2009 when he won from Moradabad in UP — by giving him a ticket to Phulpur, a constituency of Jawaharlal Nehru in the ’50s and ’60s.

West Bengal, meantime, resembles an entertainer’s gallery. And it’s not just the Trinamool Congress that has a star-studded candidate list, from Moon Moon Sen to Baichung Bhutia; the BJP too has roped in three film stars and Sorcar and, for good measure, a former babu and four ex-Indian Police Service officers in a state that sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha. In contrast, the BJP has only one non-political candidate in Maharashtra in cancer surgeon Subhash Bhamre.

In the past the south was renowned for voting silver screen heroes and heroines into power — from NT Rama Rao in Andhra to J Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu. Tinsel town’s exploits in the north are perhaps best remembered for the dramatic entry, and equally spectacular exit, of Amitabh Bachchan. This election may have a few surprises in store. Read on to find out more about the mavericks in the Great Indian Election Circus.

- Shantanu Nandan Sharma

Nandan Nilekani: Fresh Identity


NAME: Nandan Nilekani, 58 BACKGROUND: Co-founder of Infosys, architect of Aadhaar programme PARTY: Congress CONSTITUENCY: Bangalore South FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: Yes

One of the most high-profile and keenly watched contests in the general elections will be the showdown in Bangalore between a seasoned corporate honcho and a weathered BJP hand. Nandan Nilekani, a cofounder of IT services bellwether Infosys and till a few days ago the face of the government’s Aadhaar programme, will add much colour and zest to the battle for the Bangalore South seat where he takes on HN Ananth Kumar, who has ensured that the constituency remains a BJP bastion for almost two decades now.

To those Bangaloreans who thought the newly anointed Congressman came from the north Karnataka region, Nilekani has provided a clarification that he was born in Bangalore — at the government Vanivilas Hospital to be precise, and lived in the city till he was 12. So how does it feel to now formally be a Congressman? “I am ready to adapt like I have always adapted. And I am very confident that I am going to win,” he said after signing up the party membership form last Sunday.

Nilekani worked with Infosys for 28 years, and it was during this tenure, some 14 years ago, that he began rubbing shoulders with politicians as the head of the Bangalore Agenda Task Force. Then chief minister SM Krishna, who brought him into this role, unveiled the world of public life to him. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh was his college-mate at IIT-Bombay. In 2009, Nilekani quit Infosys as its co-chairman and moved into the Unique Identification Authority of India as its chairman. To those who wonder why Nilekani chose politics, of all the fields, here comes his reply: “If you want to get rid of corruption, poor governance, poverty and all other ills plaguing the country, then the only way is to enter politics, become a lawmaker and do your best to change things for the better.”

- KR Balasubramanyam

PC Sorcar Jr: No Illusion, This


When a conjurer takes the political plunge, the jokes will inevitably follow — he’ll make his opponents disappear is just one of them. PC Sorcar is conscious of what he brings to the table. “If I can make a speeding train full of passengers vanish, you could argue I would be able to make corruption vanish from politics,” he offers. But even he knows it won’t be that easy. “I will have to work harder to fight corruption,” acknowledges the magician who was once dropped from a helicopter into the Bay of Bengal after being locked in a box.

“Twelve other magicians had tried this earlier, but all of them failed,” he says. When Sorcar first shot into the limelight many decades ago “my father greeted me and told my mother that he can now die in peace”. His father died a few days later, and Sorcar says “that was the unhappiest moment in my life”.

Much water has flown under the Howrah bridge since then, and Sorcar went on to become a global star. Today, however, he is in uncharted waters. “My success as a magician is well-established but my success as a politician has not yet been established. I have just entered a new world.” He believes the BJP has selected him because the party leaders consider him true to the party ideology and one who will be able to work efficiently for the people.

Sorcar is clear he will not oblige members of his audience during his campaigns — on which he plans to take his daughters, especially Maneka, who performs along with her father — who want to see some magic. “I am fighting the election for a specific political reason,” he says, sternly. “I want to see my country and its leaders free from corruption and I will work sincerely towards this goal and I don’t think I need to entertain my electors to get their votes.” Sorcar, for his part, seems to have few illusions of the enormity of the task ahead.

- Tamal Sengupta

Gul Panag: Miss AAP



Gul Panag’s Twitter account describes her as “actor, activist, aviator, animal lover, adrenaline junkie, adventurer, avid traveller, automobile & fitness enthusiast, biker, entrepreneur, student, writer.” Phew! Now the modelturned-actor can add another label to this long list of self description: politician. The former Miss India, who has almost 8 lakh followers on Twitter, will contest Lok Sabha elections on an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ticket from Chandigarh.

Panag replaces Savita Bhatti, wife of popular satirist-cum-actor late Jaspal Bhatti, who pulled out of the race earlier this week. “Anything which is new is daunting to begin with,” says Panag. “But if one perseveres and adapts, then one can have a fair shot at elections. Life in itself is a pressure game, and the sooner one masters the art to handle pressure, the better.”

A relentless Twitter and fitness freak, this political greenhorn is fast learning the tricks of the trade if one goes by her tweets after joining AAP. Here’s what she tweeted on Friday, a day after taking the plunge: Also, must learn from @ShashiTharoor animal husbandry experience. Satire, humour has little place here. #holycow #cattleclass.

Those who have been following her over the years, however, can’t forget her ‘NaMo for PM’ tweets a couple of years ago, a phase in which she put out a string of tweets pledging her support for Narendra Modi. Panag’s justification is that at that time there was no alternative, and there was no AAP. Now she has both.

- Rajiv Singh

Bhaichung Bhutia: Moving the Goalposts

NAME: Bhaichung Bhutia, 37 BACKGROUND: Footballer PARTY: Trinamool Congress CONSTITUENCY: Darjeeling FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: Yes

“I personally think I have a weak opponent in Darjeeling,” says Bhaichung Bhutia about the BJP’s decision to field SS Ahluwalia against him. It would, he says, take Ahluwalia three days to recover from a trip to the hills from Delhi.

Bhutia, the former captain of the Indian football team, clearly believes his roots — he hails from Sikkim, and represented for many years Kolkata clubs — will be the trump card against a challenger he considers an outsider. “One needs to be from this place, love this place to change this place,” he says.

The BJP has got its strategy wrong by pitting an ‘outsider’ against him, according to Bhutia. “I wouldn’t contest from Kerala or Goa, simply because I wouldn’t understand those regions’ problems.” To buttress his point, he says Jaswant Singh, the BJP’s incumbent MP from Darjeeling, was hardly a visible face in the region.

Bhutia says he was always interested in politics because one cannot effect change by sitting before the television. Still, he was uncertain about timing his entry. That changed when the Trinamool Congress approached him. He says his decision was made easy by his admiration for its leader, Mamata Banerjee. “Her story and her simplicity are inspiring.” Bhutia says he will not make tall promises during the campaign, adding that all that he will promise is honesty and transparency. If BJP is hoping to ride a Narendra Modi wave, Bhutia says he is yet to see it in his constituency. “It is a different reality in the hills.”

- Binoy Prabhakar

Mahesh Manjrekar: Konkan Comfort

NAME: Mahesh Manjrekar, 55 BACKGROUND: Actor/director PARTY: Maharashtra Navnirman Sena CONSTITUENCY: Mumbai Northwest FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: Yes

Mahesh Manjrekar earned his chops as a director with Vaastav, the 1999 gangster drama that revived Sanjay Dutt’s career, and the Tabu-starrer Astitva the following year. Later, however, he came to be known more as an actor in Hindi and Marathi films, including Salman Khan’s Wanted and the Marathi film Me Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy, in which he played the title role. In 2011, he joined Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and has now been given a ticket to contest from Mumbai Northwest in the general elections.

MNS unsuccessfully contested in 11 of the 48 seats in Maharashtra in 2009 and came second in two, with a 4.1% share of the total votes polled in the state. Congress leader Gurudas Kamat defeated Shiv Sena’s Gajanan Kirtikar by 38,000 votes in the constituency and MNS’s Shalini Thakare came third with half as many votes as Kirtikar.

The MNS is expected to better its 2009 performance this time but it may not be substantial. While Manjrekar could not be reached for comment, MNS’s Akhilesh Chaubey says about 30% of the population in the constituency, which includes the western suburbs of Andheri, Goregaon and Jogeshwari, are from the Konkan region. “Since Manjrekar is a Konkani and has made effective movies like Shivajiraje and connected with people, we expect them to vote for him,” he adds.

- G Seetharaman

Rajmohan Gandhi: The Other Gandhi

NAME: Rajmohan Gandhi, 79 BACKGROUND: Author, professor PARTY: Aam Aadmi Party CONSTITUENCY: East Delhi FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: No, he unsuccessfully contested from Amethi in 1989 on a Janata Dal ticket.

Mahatma Gandhi’s biographer and grandson Rajmohan Gandhi calls his electoral battle in 1989 with then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi a metaphorical fight. “He was exceedingly powerful then. No one thought realistically I would win. The Bofors debate was at its peak and Janata Dal put me up largely for a symbolic fight. But this time I have a fair chance — no, a good chance — to win,” he insists.

Gandhi, who will contest from East Delhi constituency, is following a simple arithmetic to argue his case. In the recent Delhi assembly poll, debutant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won five out of 10 assembly segments falling under the East Delhi seat, currently held by Sandeep Dikshit. That would give Gandhi a head start of sorts, assuming there is no radical swing in voting patterns.

For the past 25-odd years, since losing his first electoral battle, Gandhi has kept away from politics. So what’s dragged him back? “I am attracted by AAP’s agenda of bringing honesty into politics. It actually started with the Anna movement which changed the national discourse. I won’t say that AAP can remove corruption but it can definitely reduce it,” Gandhi adds.

AAP spin-doctors, however, are realizing that mere anti-corruption slogans may not do the magic this time around, particularly when some of its flip-flops during its 49-day-long rule in Delhi are still fresh in voters’ minds. Also the party, short both on funds and experience, can’t easily deploy the same tactics such as door-to-door campaigns which paved the way for its victory at the assembly poll. What’s more, Dikshit – son of former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit — has not faced any major corruption charge despite an FIR being lodged against his mother in a 2010 Commonwealth Games case. But then, from Rajmohan Gandhi’s point of view, at least this time he isn’t pitted against a prime minister.

- Shantanu Nandan Sharma

Mohammed Kaif: Second Innings


History books tell us India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was elected thrice from Phulpur constituency; so was Nehru’s sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit; and also VP Singh. But that’s history. The recent past shows that the seat has been returning non-Congress candidates.

The Congress is hoping that choosing a cricketer as a candidate in a cricket-mad country might be the winning stroke. Plus the fact that the constituency has 2 lakh-plus Muslim voters.

Mohammed Kaif may be in the national cricketing wilderness today, but he’s still remembered for being the captain of an under-19 World Cup winning team and for helping India win the 2002 NatWest final.

Today, however, it’s a new ballgame for Kaif, who has been in touch with Rahul Gandhi since 2004. “I was called to Delhi a few weeks back and met Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders after which I was selected as the Congress candidate. The fact that they chose me to contest from Phulpur, which was Jawaharlal Nehru’s seat, has humbled me,” he says.

Given that he is still an active cricketer, Kaif says it wasn’t an easy choice to decide jumping into the electoral fray. “I also had to factor in my cricket career. But after discussing with friends and family I decided to take the plunge. I’ll now devote all my time to politics. I am here for the long run,” he says. The fielder par excellence is getting ready for a second innings.

- Man Mohan Rai

V Balakrishnan: Lending Scale to a Start-AAP

NAME: V Balakrishnan, 49 BACKGROUND: Former Infosys board member PARTY: Aam Aadmi Party CONSTITUENCY: Bangalore Central FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: Yes

Way back in 1991 when V Balakrishnan or Bala got a job offer from Infosys, his mother advised him not to quit a comfortable job at Amco Batteries in Bangalore. Bala, however, had to persuade her to let him switch. This time, however, he faced no such resistance when Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) offered him the party ticket to contest from Bangalore Central.

“My family has backed my decision,” says the 49-year old chartered accountant who served his last day at Infosys on December 31 as a member of the board of directors. “AAP is the most successful start-up by an IIT-ian ever,” turned out to be his famous quote about the young political party. The man is handling some responsibilities for AAP, and provides his inputs on the party’s economic policy.

What drove him toward AAP were the stunning results of the Delhi assembly elections. That was evidence of the people’s anger against corruption. “Seventyfive per cent of funding to political parties comes from unknown sources,” says the high-profile AAP member. As for his campaign expenses, Bala says he will use the money raised from AAP’s Sponsor Your Candidate campaign and, if need be, will also dip into his personal savings.

Bala was born in Vellore, Tamil Nadu where he also studied up to class XII. His childhood was one of hardship — he lost his father when he was 17. In the mid-1980s, he shifted to Bangalore where he did his CA, ACA and ICWA. Bala currently runs a venture fund for tech start-ups, Exfinity, in Bangalore. The days ahead will be spent in lending scale to a start-up of a different kind.

- KR Balasubramanyam

Christy Leon Fernandes: A Bureaucrat’s Left turn

NAME: Christy Leon Fernandes, 64

BACKGROUND: Former IAS officer PARTY: Independent, supported by LDF CONSTITUENCY: Ernakulam FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: Yes

Christy Leon Fernandez, a former IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre, is entering public life as an independent candidate supported by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the Ernakulam constituency. While he was in the administrative service, Fernandez often found time for academic pursuits. After earning a PG diploma in development economics from Cambridge and a doctoral degree in fisheries development and management, Fernandez, 64, was easing into retirement to focus on his pet topic ‘business with a humane face’ when the Left Front approached him with the offer of the Ernakulam seat. With the elections (on April 10) fast approaching, Fernandez has his task cut out.

“I know that I will not be able to do anything if I am organizing the campaign on my own,” he says. So he told his new friends in the Left Front to mobilize their people to steer the campaign. “I told them to consider the Ernakulam constituency as their prestige seat and mobilize their people for an effective campaign,” he says. The Left has organized a programme called “Meet Christy” to introduce the candidate to the people of Kochi.

Fernandez is up against a veteran politician — Union food minister KV Thomas, who has won from the constituency in the assembly and parliament elections. Still he is confident of his chances. “I could feel an undercurrent of sentiment against the sitting MP.” Fernandez, a former secretary to the President, says that, if elected, he would love to bring every one together on one platform for the sake of development. “I would like to make a small attempt in my own way to bring about change.”

- S Sanandakumar

George Baker: Act II


No one can forget Berkeley Saab, a British planter who fell in love with a tea garden worker and married her only to be accused of her murder. Anglo-Indian actor George Baker had played Berkeley Saab in Assamese film Chameli Memsaab, which won a National film award and the President’s medal in 1976.

“After I played the British planter’s role, everyone in Assam and Bengal used to call me Berkeley Saab,” reminisces Baker, letting on that at that time he was a “hardcore Congress supporter” and that Hiteswar Saikia (a former Assam chief minister for two terms in the ’80s and ’90s) was “my political guru”. Current chief minister Tarun Gogoi is “also a nice person who I like very much”.

So what then explains Baker’s flip-flop — and not just one. In the early ’90s, he worked for Mamata Banerjee and points out that he played “an active role to campaign for Congress-Trinamool candidates during assembly and Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal”.

Today, he’s disillusioned with both Congress and Trinamool. “Now I consider Mamata a traitor, who betrayed the Congress by snapping ties with them after winning 19 Lok Sabha seats with their support, and the Congress a political party full of corrupt and unscrupulous people.”

Baker is now a BJP party member — something he never was in the Congress despite his “love” for them — and declares that he has developed “some sort of honour and love for Narendra Modi. I believe Modi and his party will be able to gift India a very sensitive and transparent government.”

Baker claims that after joining the BJP he has travelled extensively to places like Krishnanagar, Nadia and Diamond Harbour. “I am not boasting, but the BJP’s vote has increased in those places which I had visited as an ordinary party worker. If the BJP is considered to be a huge banyan tree, I consider myself as a leaf of that tree which provides shelter to many.” Lights, camera.

- Tamal Sengupta

Dilip Tirkey: Fresh Flick

NAME: Dilip Tirkey, 36 BACKGROUND: Hockey player PARTY: BJD CONSTITUENCY: Sundargarh (Odisha) FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: In Lok Sabha, yes; in 2012 was elected unopposed to Rajya Sabha on a BJD ticket.
Odisha’s ruling party has fielded Dilip Tirkey in a match that’s expected to be a tight one. For the 36-year-old Tirkey Sundargarh is home turf for sure, but he’s fighting two heavyweights — former Congress chief minister Hemanand Biswal and BJP candidate and former Central minister Jual Oram. The penalty-corner specialist will bank on his youth and the fact that he’s a Christian from a tribal family to improve his chances.

Tirkey captained the India hockey team from 2002-06. “My interactions as a national-level player made me realize that the only way to do something lasting for society was through politics.” He would love to head the sports ministry, and has plans for the sport that’s been a life changer for many young boys and girls of Odisha’s tribal areas.

Tirkey already has had some political experience. In 2012 he was elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha on a BJD ticket. But fighting for a Lok Sabha seat is a different ballgame; the challenges are new and tricky. Oram has already announced that he is against Posco’s plans for a captive mining lease in Sundargarh.

The long-awaited, mega steel plant could do a lot to bolster BJD chief Naveen Patnaik’s vision for industrializing mineral-rich Odisha. Tirkey will have to tackle this one with the same dexterity he had shown while taking on opponents on the hockey field.

Showing glimpses of a politician-in-the-making, he says: “I will have to talk to the people and see what they want and what’s in the best interest of my people.”

- Meera Mohanty

Sugata Bose: Going by the Book

NAME: Sugata Bose, 57 BACKGROUND: Harvard professor PARTY: Trinamool Congress CONSTITUENCY: Jadavpur (West Bengal) FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: Yes

He’s the great-nephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the Gardiner professor of history at Harvard University and is now contesting a Lok Sabha constituency that his mother, Krishna, represented for three consecutive terms from 1996. Krishna Bose became MP for the first time on a Congress ticket, later joined the Trinamool Congress and represented Jadavpur as Trinamool MP till 2004. Sugata’s father, Sisir Bose, a paediatrician, was also a Congress MLA in West Bengal.

If elections were won on the basis of academic achievements, Bose would be home and dry — he completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge before being named a fellow of St. Catharine’s College at Cambridge. The 58-year-old scholar feels that “the 2014 Lok Sabha polls is no ordinary election; it is a battle for the soul of India. At this crossroads of Indian political history, I felt I had to accept the invitation to contest for a seat in parliament.

If people who have earned respect in different walks of life stay away from elections, we will not be able to cleanse our politics that reeks of corruption.” Not unpredictably, Bose says he would like to place education of our young population at the top of the political agenda. And there’s more. “In Bengal, I will focus on education, health and infrastructure, and help fashion the state as the economic gateway to the dynamic economies of Southeast and East Asia.”

The agenda in parliament will consider the bigger picture. “In parliament I will work towards a fundamental renegotiation of the federal equation in our country to build a strong and united India. Our Central government must be a government at the centre of a circle of state governments.” If a vision statement was enough to win elections, Bose would be a clear winner.

- Tamal Sengupta

Matchindra Chate: The Die is Caste

NAME: Matchindra Chate, 49 BACKGROUND: Entrepreneur PARTY: Bahujan Samaj Party CONSTITUENCY: Mumbai Northeast FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: Yes

Matchindra Chate says he doesn’t like specifying his caste. “I have never followed casteism but I have to accept I belong to OBC and I’m from the Vanjari caste,” says the founder of the Aurangabad-headquartered Chate Classes, a chain of coaching centres, who is contesting on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket from Mumbai Northeast in the general elections. Chate notes that when he was mulling his entry into politics, he looked at various parties but settled on Mayawati-led BSP because of its support for the cause of Dalits, OBCs and Muslims.

Chate has a tough battle on his hands. Besides the sitting MP from the Nationalist Congress Party, Sanjay Dina Patil, and the BJP’s Kirit Somaiya, whom the former defeated by less than 3,000 votes in 2009, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is fielding activist Medha Patkar. “I have strong respect for Medhaji but politics is different. AAP is very new and the quarrelsome nature of its cadres is creating problems for them,” says the 49-year-old, who is confident of winning thanks to a large Dalit and OBC population in the constituency. That may be a tall order considering BSP got just 3.7% of the 6.68 lakh votes cast in Mumbai Northeast.

Moreover, he has a molestation case hanging over his head and was accused of threatening a student’s family in 2000. But Chate rubbishes the charges which he calls politically motivated. “Whenever Dalits or Muslims or OBCs try to rise, we always get highest resistance from others,” says Chate.

- G Seetharaman

Ravi Kishan: Bhojpuri Brio

NAME: Ravi Kishan, 42 BACKGROUND: Bhojpuri actor PARTY: Congress CONSTITUENCY: Jaunpur (UP) FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: Yes

Ravi Kishan may be making his political debut but he surely knows how people in India’s interiors vote. Contesting from a largely rural constituency which votes according to caste lines he tells ET Magazine, “Please ensure that my full name is mentioned as Ravi Kishan Shukla.”

The reigning king of Bhojpuri films comes from Bisuin, a village in Jaunpur district. His father was a priest in the village temple. Kishan ran away from home to become a film star in Mumbai, acting in a number of Hindi films.

Kishan says the ticket is a reward for his and his family’s long association with the Congress: “I come from a Congress family. I had campaigned for the party in 2009 and 2012. I think it is a reward for my services to the party and my family’s Congress credentials.”

India’s grand old party is banking on Kishan’s huge popularity as the leading man of Bhojpuri films to draw in the votes. And Kishan has promised more star power during the hustings: “I shall ask my film star friends to campaign for me.”

Among the promises he’s made is the construction of a road to his village Bisuin. May 16 will decide if his political journey has begun.

- Man Mohan Rai

Innocent Tekkethala: His First Serious Role

NAME: Innocent Tekkethala, 66 BACKGROUND: Film producer/actor PARTY: Independent with LDF support CONSTITUENCY: Chalakkudy (Kerala) FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: No, he had won a municipal election 35 years ago

Malayalam film producer and actor Innocent Thekkethala says he “doesn’t know” how he became a candidate in the Lok Sabha elections. Say that’s hard to believe, he again has a repartee: “It is the truth. I never told anyone that I would like to be a candidate.”

But candidate he is, as an independent with the support of Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the Chalakkudy constituency. Innocent, who has done a zillion roles as a comedian, decided to accept the offer by the Left parties after they had sought his consent through common friends. But the actor is hardly a novice in the electoral field. He actually contested in an election 35 years ago in a municipality. Innocent won the election in Irinjalakuda to become a councillor. That apart, he has done many turns as a politician in reel life.

Yet, the new role is entirely different. As a result, Innocent has not made any plans for his election campaign. “I will interact with the people freely,” he says, adding that he will not make any unrealistic promises. “I would like to do something for the people first and then talk,” he adds. The Left Front in Kerala has faced brickbats for fielding many independents in the current Lok Sabha polls. Innocent offers a ready answer.

He says his father was a communist and he grew up “respecting communist values”. A cancer survivor, Innocent plays down speculations regarding his health. He has already completed five days of campaigning. He says he couldn’t be happier with the response from people. “This is my home town. And they treat me like a member of their house.”

- S Sanandakumar

Babul Supriyo: On Song


He is the grandson of the famous Bengali vocalist and composer NC Boral. Supriyo Boral, Babul’s original name, is now a famous singer who will contest his first election on a BJP ticket from Bengal’s industrial zone of Asansol.

“Contesting this election is not my personal decision. I have agreed to fight this election after some top BJP leaders approached me. I agreed to face the polls because I feel regional political parties can’t provide a stable government at the Centre,” says Supriyo who believes that only national political parties can give the country a stable government and calls alliance politics “the country’s biggest curse”.

Supriyo reckons that people from outside the world of politics can do better than those who are in politics as they can start with a clean — quite literally — slate. “My present role is to entertain people through my songs and I receive many requests from many people to sing their favourite songs.” He doesn’t see any major difference in his role as a political leader. “If I become a member of parliament, people may come to me with requests for setting up a school or hospital in their localities instead of requesting me to sing a song.”

In the same vein he adds that he will be able to make his voice heard in parliament “and I consider this no less important than my role as a singer.” Supriyo, who has performed numerous cultural shows in the state, including in Asansol, says that familiarity with the people via those performances will help him on his campaign rallies. Clearly, for Supriyo, all the world’s a stage, and he’s playing his part — a new one.

- Tamal Sengupta

Moon Moon Sen: Curtain Call

NAME: Moon Moon Sen, 65 BACKGROUND: Actor PARTY: Trinamool Congress CONSTITUENCY: Bankura (West Bengal) FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: Yes
One of the top attractions on Trinamool’s list is Moon Moon Sen, the yesteryear-heartthrob of millions across India and daughter of Suchitra Sen, who was arguably the most popular woman actor in Bengal.

Sen, Trinamool’s candidate from Bankura, says she didn’t expect to be on the list. “I had traveled with the Bengal CM to Coochbehar and Tripura. But this decision to be a candidate was out of the blue. Now that Mamata Banerjee has asked me to contest from Bankura Lok Sabha constituency, there is no looking back.”

Admitting that she is carrying the legacy of her mother and family, Sen says: “It is not just me alone in the elections. I am representing my mother and my family.” Her daughters Riya and Raima will join her in campaigning.

Sen is unfazed by the fact that she has to campaign in the scorching heat of Bankura. “I have taken the plunge in politics now. Everything else is immaterial.” She also isn’t worried about her main opponent: CPI(M)’s nine-time MP from Bankura, Basudeb Acharia. “I will focus on my campaign and not focus on who is the opponent.”

- Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury

MR Vasudeva: Son of the Soil


NAME: MR Vasudeva, 61 BACKGROUND: Former director, Mangalore International Airport PARTY: Aam Aadmi Party CONSTITUENCY: Mangalore FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: Yes

As a young boy he worked as a cleaner, and later as a supplier in his father’s small hotel at Chilakadrihalli village in Chikmagalur district in Karnataka’s Western Ghats region. While studying in the 12th standard, he worked as a newspaper hawker and, later as a post-graduate student in Mysore, he used to rely on vaaranna – an old system in southern Karnataka where a household provided a day’s meal to a student on a particular day in the week.

The man we’re talking about is MR Vasudeva, who later acquired post-graduate degrees in statistics and management and went on to become director of the Mangalore International Airport. He led the airport expansion project and building of a spacious terminal.

Vasudeva has now taken a plunge into electoral politics. The Aam Admi Party (AAP) has fielded him from Mangalore Lok Sabha seat. Having spent 17 years in the coastal town, where he is also the president of Mangalore Management Association, he does not have to tell his voters who he is, but what his ideas are. He joined AAP, he says, influenced by its anti-corruption campaign, and resolve to clean up the system. He is an infrastructure expert, and if elected, he says he will fight for due importance for the Mangalore region in allocation of funds for improvement of infrastructure.

- KR Balasubramanyam

Sujit Kumar Ghosh: Still on Duty

NAME: Sujit Kumar Ghosh, 72


During the Emergency, Ghosh was superintendent of police in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district, playing a critical role in maintaining peace in the area. The officer of the Indian Police Service (IPS), who later became a joint director in the Central Bureau of Investigation and then director general of police in West Bengal, claims that many in Murshidabad fondly remember him for his actions in 1975.

So, when the BJP needed to handpick a candidate for a constituency where two out of three voters are Muslims, Ghosh, and not a hardcore Hindu activist, emerged as the first choice. Choosing a non-Muslim is a contrarian strategy of sorts, as three other prominent opponents of Ghosh belong to the minority community, which may result in polarization of votes.

Ghosh, who along with many other Hindu families migrated to India during Partition, expects consolidation of the Hindu vote to work to his advantage. “I am sure many Muslims too will vote for me,” says Ghosh who for the past few years has been heading an NGO called Society for Public Interventions, which works for upholding transparency in public dealings.

So why then wasn’t this cop-turned anti-corruption activist attracted to AAP? “There are many flaws in AAP’s thinking pattern. Narendra Modi’s vision is clearer,” he says.

- Shantanu Nandan Sharma

Prathap Simha: New Script

NAME: Prathap Simha, 37 BACKGROUND: Journalist & columnist PARTY: BJP CONSTITUENCY: Mysore FIRST TIME CANDIDATE: Yes

Of all the candidates announced by political parties this election season in Karnataka, one of the more surprising was of Prathap Simha, a 37-year-old Kannada journalist. Until he formally joined the BJP on March 14, he worked for Kannada Prabha, the Kannada daily controlled by entrepreneur Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

The BJP has named him as its nominee for the Mysore seat, held currently by the Congress. Simha comes from a village in the Western Ghats region of Hassan district, did his post-graduation in journalism from Mangalore University, and began his career in Vijaya Karnataka, the leading Kannada daily currently owned by the Times group. What endeared Simha to BJP, analysts say, were his Kannada weekly columns expressing strong anti-left and pro-right wing views, some of which even provoked protest demonstrations.

He has published 22 books, some of which are collection of his columns and two of which are on Narendra Modi. “Simha is a writer with strong nationalist views, not necessarily those of RSS,” says his mentor and journalist Vishweshwar Bhat.

- KR Balasubramanyam

On Second Thoughts…

While Bollywood has always added glamour to politics and India has had a fair share of actors who have donned the political cap, there are a few this time around who have backed out after a second thought. Stand-up comedian Raju Srivastava recently returned the Samajwadi Party Lok Sabha ticket to contest from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. While the party blamed him for not being serious, Srivastava says he lacked support from the local cadres.

“Just because I am a comedian, it doesn’t mean that I am not serious,” says Srivastava. “I have pursued everything in my life very seriously, whether it’s comedy or politics.” Srivastava claims that he wasn’t having it easy with local leaders who disrupted his meetings, “and even threatened me over phone to give up the ticket”.

On being asked whether he was able to do justice to his constituency because of his hectic shooting schedule, the actor said he had been devoting a fair share of his time to Kanpur, where he was born and brought up. “I got the ticket last year, and it has been more than a year since I have been meeting people, listening and understanding their problems and trying to solve them.”

Earlier he used to come to Kanpur for three days in a week, he says, adding that from this year onwards he was in Kanpur for more than four days every week. “And still SP says I am not serious! They must be joking.” Savita Bhatti, wife of popular satirist-cum-actor late Jaspal Bhatti, also pulled out of the race earlier this week. Bhatti shot off an e-mail to the AAP office in Delhi saying that she is ‘not interested’ in contesting. Media reports mention that she was not getting enough support from the local party leaders. When contacted, Bhatti’s media manager declined to comment.

While withdrawing from elections may have taken the party and supporters of the celebrities by surprise, political analysts say it’s quite expected. “Ideally tickets should be given to those who have some kind of political experience or exposure,” says Sanjay Kumar, a New Delhi-based political analyst. “But that’s an ideal situation. It doesn’t happen.”

- Rajiv Singh

Sucharita Mohanty

Age: 51, Party: Congress, Parliamentary Constituency: Puri, Odisha, First time candidate: Yes

Background: A former journalist and communications specialist, who has spent close to three decades in media and communication, holding senior editorial positions in leading national media organisations such as The Economic Times, Financial Express, The National Herald and Indo-Asian News Service.

Why was she chosen: Though this is her first foray into politics, as the youngest child of the Late Braja Mohan Mohanty, freedom fighter and veteran Congress leader, Mohanty doesn’t consider herself to be a newbie in public life. Her father had served as the speaker of the legislative assembly of Odisha, the president of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee, cabinet minister in the state and and a Union minister. The fact that he was elected to the Lok Sabha twice from Puri is likely to be an advantage, despite the current MP being from the Biju Janata Dal. A strong commitment to the core Congress values with honest intentions of being a voice for empowerment of youth and women, is what she believes she is bringing to the table.

"I was born and brought up in a Congress family in Puri and have genuine sentimental reasons for being attached to the people whom my father represented in the state assembly and Parliament for three decades," she told ET Magazine. About Pinaki Misra, the current BJD MP from Puri, Mohanty feels that he has made little difference to people’s lives in the area. "One-and-half-a- decades after he passed away, people still remember my father as an honest and effective leader," she says. If she wins the elections she plans to engage in lifelong service towards the people of her constituency. "I have had a career in journalism and communication. I am here in politics for the long-haul," she says.
- Ishani Duttagupta
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