The Tamil actor Khushbu Sundar joined the BJP on Monday, having constantly fought the same party on social media for several years. Previously in the Congress, she used to reply to every rival individually, and often tagged and named Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in her tweets. “She was an untiring fighter for Congress in social media, almost every minute and hour, and a star campaigner, a real crowd puller and powerful orator during polls in public rallies,” said a senior Congress leader.
So, what explains her move?
Born into a Muslim family in West Andheri in Mumbai, Khushbu started out as a child actor in the 1980s. Known as hardworking, she comes across to many as a rationalist who would call herself an atheist although she herself exhibits no rigidity against anyone’s beliefs.
An actor friend jokingly said “her problem is that she is a workaholic”. “She may be simple in her ideological arguments but she is aggressive towards her work.”
Even before she entered politics, she kicked up a controversy — in 2005 — with remarks about premarital sex in an interview in Tamil. Her remark that “our society should come out of the thinking that at the time of the marriage, the girls should be with virginity…” led to several cases being filed against her. It took a legal battle of about five years before she was cleared in two dozen cases by the Supreme Court in April 2010.
In DMK & Congress
In May 2010, she joined the DMK in Chennai, in the presence of the then party chief and Chief Minister, the late M Karunanidhi. This marked her entry in formal politics after a career that had made her one of the most popular female actors of South Indian cinema with over 100 prominent films. At one point, fans had even built a temple to her in Tamil Nadu.
When she joined DMK, Karunanidhi said Khushbu was known for her progressive views in films. She had also acted as Maniyammai, partner of social reformer Periyar, in a biopic on him.
But sidelined by M K Stalin, Karunanidhi’s son and the current party chief, she quit the DMK to join the Congress in November 2014.
This was at a time the Congress was facing a crisis within, and when not many career politicians would have been expected to join the party.
The then Congress chief in Tamil Nadu, E V K S Elangovan, tapped her political skills to the party’s benefit for over two years, until he himself was ousted from the post. She was the star campaigner of the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and in the 2016 Assembly polls as well. Even senior DMK leaders acknowledged her then for the successful campaign she led for Congress candidates in southern Tamil Nadu.
Why she has quit
What has made her quit the Congress is seemingly similar to the reasons for which she had quit the DMK. She was sidelined by top leaders of both parties, although she was more than just a celebrity-turned-politician.
The Congress did give her space to express her opinions in public, even if they were sometimes different from party stands. In the DMK, in contrast, her vocal nature prevented her from advancing her career. For instance, a statement she made about Karunanidhi’s successor upset Stalin.
What to expect in BJP
Her actor friend said: “The Congress was the best space for her, not even DMK… She may be hoping that the BJP will provide her a vibrant working space to do something in social life, however different her convictions and opinions were till yesterday. She needed a better platform,” she said.
The friend said both DMK and BJP have rigid disciplinary rules that prevent leaders and cadres from crossing the party line. “Even if her previous disagreements with BJP can be resolved now, Khushbu’s truthful and spontaneous reactions make her more vulnerable in BJP,” she said.
A senior BJP leader from Tamil Nadu, who had not known about Khushbu’s decision until Sunday night, now said she would be the party’s star campaigner in Tamil Nadu. “A winnable MLA seat can make her an MLA… or even a Rajya Sabha MP post when the time comes,” he said.
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A senior Congress leader, who felt that Khushbu was always efficient, ambitious and arrogant, said her presence would help BJP get two votes extra in Tamil Nadu. “Nothing more or less. Nothing happened when she worked with DMK and Congress, the platforms that suited her principles best. Nothing more will happen in BJP either,” he said.
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