|(Top) Hema Malini holds a lotus while campaigning in Mathura; Independent candidate Hema Malini with her husband Kishen Singh at Nagla village. (PTI and Rajesh Kumar)
The young schoolteacher’s parents had paid Hema Malini a tribute by naming their daughter after her. Their favourite film star would sure be wishing they hadn’t.
For Hema, 25, Independent candidate from Mathura, has become a thorn in the side of her famous namesake, the BJP nominee from the same constituency. What if the voters mix the two Hema Malinis up?
The BJP is particularly worried by schoolteacher Hema’s election symbol: a cauliflower. The party feels it’s too similar to its own symbol —the lotus — for comfort.
So, actress Hema has been carrying a lotus in her hand while campaigning, so that there’s no room for confusion.
Making matters even more annoying for the celeb, a coincidence has ensured that the two Hemas’ names will be displayed side by side on the voting machines, increasing the possibility of confusion in the voter’s mind.
Actress Hema’s name comes at serial number 4 and the schoolteacher’s at 20. Since one voting machine can display only 16 names (arranged from above below), the younger Hema’s name will be on a second machine attached to the first — also fourth from above and, therefore, cheek by jowl with that of the celebrity candidate.
“It’s irritating. These are the cruel games of politics. My voters will not only have to discern my name but also the party symbol,” sighed the elder Hema.
“Nowadays, I hold a lotus aloft in my hand while campaigning and tell the people to vote for Lakshmi (the goddess sits on a lotus).”
The other Hema, a feisty schoolteacher from Greater Noida who is now camping in her sasural in Mathura’s Nagla village, pooh-poohs what she sees as the actress’s “unnecessary” quip about her.
“Hema Malini thinks the voters are stupid. Everyone knows the difference between a cauliflower and a lotus,” she says.
Independents and new parties have to choose their symbol from a list prepared by the Election Commission; Hema picked the cauliflower over the likes of the air conditioner, a loaf of bread, the carrot and the frock.
The Mathura University graduate says she decided to contest because she wants so bring toilets and a school to her village, about 150km from Delhi and with no primary health centre within miles.
BJP poll managers scoff at such claims. They claim she is a “dummy” fielded by the Congress, which is supporting ally Rashtriya Lok Dal’s nominee Jayant Chaudhary, to befuddle people and cut into their candidate’s vote.
“Of course, it’s a conspiracy. How is it that she waited for Hemaji to file her papers before she filed her own?” asked the screen diva’s election team member, Vikramaditya Narayan.
“At one point, we had toyed with the idea of going with ‘Hema Dharmendra Malini’ but eventually decided to stick to ‘Hema Malini’ because she is more popular by that name.”
Narayan believes that schoolteacher Hema can take away “3,000 to 4,000 of our votes”.
Fielding candidates with a similar name, or the same name, as a rival to misguide voters is a common practice in Indian elections.
In Vadodara, a Narendra Babulal Modi has joined the fray as an Independent against BJP mascot Narendra Modi. Kannur in Kerala has three K. Sudhakarans, one from the Congress and two Independents.
It took four hours to locate Nagla, a decrepit village in Baldev block that rings a filthy, algae-covered, mosquito-infested pond dumped with mounds of waste. Its sole landmark is a ramshackle cowshed at the main street corner.
“The pond is a health hazard. None of those we elected all these years has come and addressed the problem,” said village elder and farmer Udayvir Singh, 70.
“Hema isn’t a dummy candidate: she’s one of us. We decided that this time, we won’t vote for anyone else Hopefully, people in this entire block will vote for her.”
Villagers say Hema has been campaigning in neighbourhood villages for months.
What seems to have gladdened the seniors is that Hema, who’s like any other smart and independent working woman in Delhi or Noida, draws a pallu over her head and rarely speaks in front of elders when she visits her in-laws’ Jat-dominated village.
However, it’s her education and her fearlessness that have led the villagers to pick her as their candidate. “She’s no pushover; she can speak her mind when needed,” said farmer Ramdayal Singh, 65.
The younger villagers too believe in Hema, and many of them have taken leave from their city jobs to help her campaign.
“I have been on leave for the past one month to help her out,” said Dinesh Singh, 30, a driver with Jet Airways in Delhi.
“At least 50 others too have done so. We villagers have collected funds for her campaign. Till now, we have spent Rs 40,000.”
Hema, married off at 16 and now the mother of an eight-year-old girl, continued her studies after marriage. According to her affidavit, she and husband Kishen Singh, who has a transport business in Greater Noida, are worth Rs 1 lakh.
“I want to see children go to school. I want to ensure that midday meals reach the schools. I want to ensure that women don’t have to defecate in the open,” the candidate said.
“I’m not fighting these elections to travel the country. I’m doing this so that my people have someone to speak for them, so that the big parties realise they can’t expect votes if they don’t do anything for us.”
How does it feel taking on a Bollywood stalwart?
“My parents were Hema Malini fans. As a young girl, I used to get teased over my name and felt very embarrassed. I too am her fan but this is a war; and in a war there’s no room for love,” the other Hema said.
“I know some are calling me a ‘dummy candidate’, out to cut into Hema Malini’s votes. Why should I do that? I have been Hema Malini all my life, though I’m not so glamorous as the other one,” she laughed.
Mathura votes on April 24