The Telegraph
Monday , April 14 , 2014
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Celebrity meets dynasty

- Parties in Karnataka are packing double-barrelled power

Celebrity has been at play in politics in south India long before Mamata Banerjee discovered its utility in the east. So has dynasty that has found the soil fertile in almost every topographical segment in the country.

Karnataka, home to Bangalore and its new-age enterprises, has combined celebrity and dynasty to come up with a hybrid whose trial runs are being conducted during the Lok Sabha elections this time.

Viveik Oberoi, the Bollywood actor who appears to have turned a corner after the villain’s role in the blockbuster Krrish3, has been spotted on the campaign trail in Bangalore.

He was campaigning for his mother-in-law Nandini Alva, the Janata Dal (Secular) candidate from Bangalore Central. Viveik is married to her daughter, Priyanka Alva.

Celeb quotient taken care of, over to bloodline. Nandini is the widow of Jeevraj Alva, a socialist and close associate of former chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde and a former state minister.

Nandini is a well-known classical dancer and social worker in her own right but traces her political roots to her husband, a doctor who refused to practise medicine after getting drawn to Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement against the Emergency.

Viveik had tried to do something most sons-in-law avoid when it comes to mothers-in-law: offer career counselling. “Yes, I was very hesitant in the beginning and tried to persuade her out of politics,” the actor said, explaining his initial reluctance to drum up support for Nandini.

But he changed his mind, bringing himself back to the straight and narrow and preserving the time-honoured wisdom that the mother-in-law is always right. “I was convinced when she said good politics will happen only when good people step out of their living rooms,” Viveik said.

At the hustings, Nandini is taking on state Youth Congress president Rizwan Arshad and V. Balakrishnan, the former Infosys chief financial officer who is contesting on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket.

In Shimoga, where the contest is between B.S. Yeddyurappa and the rest, the Janata Dal (Secular) has taken a huge gamble by fielding Geetha.

Geetha packs the double-barrelled power of celebrity and dynasty like few others.

Her celebrity credentials: her husband Shivrajkumar is one of the biggest film stars in Sandalwood — as the Kannada film industry is known, drawing its name from the fragrant trees associated with the region.

If you ask “Shivrajkumar who?”, you will not be forgiven. Especially because he also happens to be the son of Rajkumar, the late thespian who was kidnapped and held hostage by bandit Veerappan in 2000.

Now the political roots: Geetha is the daughter of S. Bangarappa, the late former chief minister who had managed the feat of getting elected on tickets of the Congress, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party at various stages in his long public life.

Needless to say, Geetha is trying to cash in on the popularity of her husband and the name of her late father.

“People respect and love my father who has worked hard for Shimoga. The names of my father-in-law (Rajkumar) and my husband evoke much affection among the people here,” said Geetha, explaining why she had agreed to take on Yeddyurappa.

As Shivrajkumar’s father had always stayed away from politics, the decision to field Geetha had perplexed many. “Of course, my father was against joining politics. But he didn’t impose anything on us,” said Shivrajkumar.

Actress Ramya is the Congress nominee trying to retain Mandya, her seat in the Vokkaliga heartland. Having dislodged C.S. Puttaraju of the Dal (S) in the Mandya bypoll last August, she is the front runner there. She is again pitted against Puttaraju, who is working hard to avenge his defeat.

Ramya does not represent any political dynasty but she does have an “uncle” who has one foot in filmdom and the other in politics. Ambareesh, a top star in the era ruled by Rajkumar and still a force to reckon with in Mandya, is her mentor.

A minister in the Congress government in Karnataka, Ambareesh has been ill for a while and is just back from a Singapore hospital. He campaigned for Nandan Nilekani in Bangalore South on Sunday, but is unlikely to be able to travel much outside the city.

But that has not deterred Ramya from going full steam ahead with “blessings from Amby uncle”.

She is a big draw among the youngsters. “I had no politics until Ramya came to the scene. Like last time (the 2013 bypoll), I’ll vote for her,” said Ravichandra, a waiter at Subbanna’s Mess in Melukote in Mandya district, some 130km from here.

Close to 50 per cent of the state’s electorate is between 20 and 39 years of age, a large number of them in villages.

One celebrity has embellished his political credentials because of a role he had played. Veteran theatre actor “Mukhyamantri” Chandru is a former legislator who has been tapped by the Congress.

His role in the Kannada play, Mukhyamantri, stuck on as a prefix and Chandru is now busy campaigning for Nilekani. Writer and actor Girish Karnad, too, is helping Nilekani.

The BJP is not too far behind in glamour quotient although the party has not yet combined dynasty and celebrity. The actors doubling as vote-catchers for the BJP include Malavika, Shruti and Tara, apart from Suneel Puranik and comedian Jaggesh.

Karnataka’s campaign trail is also tinged with tragedy. In April 2004, Soundarya, who acted in Sooryavansham with Amitabh Bachchan, died when her chartered Cessna 180 crashed. A star campaigner for the BJP, she had been headed to Andhra for some roadshows.

● Karnataka votes on April 17