The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Go-back gaffe, but Hema keeps job

Mumbai/New Delhi, Jan. 25: Hema Malini last evening deepened the BJP’s disappointment with its celeb brigade with a spectacular self-goal, but the party still plans to field her to woo voters in poll-bound Punjab and Uttarakhand.

The campaign invite would, however, come with a rider — she has to stick to the script.

The star blooper came at a campaign rally for next month’s civic polls in Mumbai when Hema was told that migrants were not happy with the way they were treated in the metropolis.

“If they have a problem, they should go back,” the one-time Bollywood dream girl, who herself is not from Maharashtra, replied.

The comment has angered not only the north Indian voters the BJP is desperately wooing, but the south Indian community as well. BJP sources feared it could drive a large section of the city’s 20 lakh south Indian population — 15 lakh of them Tamils, like Hema — into the arms of the Tamil Nadu-based ADMK, which has fielded three candidates for the local body elections.

“With the civic elections around the corner, our political rivals will take advantage of such comments,” a top Maharashtra BJP leader rued today.

The BJP had recently warned Hema and three fellow actors — her husband Dharmendra, Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna — for neglecting their duties in their Houses or constituencies. But party leaders in Delhi leapt to her defence today.

“Her remarks are being misrepresented,” party spokesperson Prakash Javdekar told The Telegraph. “She made a very good speech. Later, she was cornered by all kinds of questions. To a specific question about north Indians, she made a statement. What she really meant was that she was comfortable in Mumbai despite the fact that she is not from Maharashtra.”

Senior leader Ravi Shankar Prasad, who is in charge of elections in Uttarakhand, also came out in Hema’s support. Despite his earlier resolve to keep Bollywood stars out of the campaign, he said the actress would be invited to campaign in Uttarakhand. “She is being vilified unnecessarily.”

Prasad said Hema would be “briefed properly” before she hits the campaign trail. “Naturally, she needs to be educated about the issues that concern the people in Uttarakhand. She has campaigned successfully earlier for us and is much respected,” he added.

Party MP Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who heads the BJP’s central election management and campaign committee, said Hema would be asked to campaign in both Punjab and Uttarakhand. “There is no controversy.”

Although Hema’s comment was seen to be directed more at the city’s north Indian population, those from the south, a target of intimidation in the ’60s and ’70s by the Shiv Sena, are as put off.

“The times are changing. The narrow regionalism of the Shiv Sena doesn’t work in a fiercely cosmopolitan city like Mumbai,” said Shyamsunder, the Maharashtra state secretary of the ADMK, a BJP ally in Tamil Nadu.

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