Relying overly on star candidates, parties also signal a loss of faith in themselves.
This election, vote your favourite celebrity to power. The AAP has made a full-fledged strategy of handing out tickets to luminaries from various walks of life, but political parties across the spectrum have also been feverishly dressing up their candidate lists with known and illustrious names, not just relying on regular politicians.
Medha Patkar and Soni Sori figure on the AAP list. Nagma and Mohammad Kaif make their debut on the Congress list. In West Bengal, the BJP seeks to counter the TMC’s Moon Moon Sen and Baichung Bhutia with Babul Supriyo and magician P.C. Sorcar Jr. Its answer to the AAP’s Gul Panag in Chandigarh: another actor, Kirron Kher.
Not that parties are new to requisitioning celebrities for electoral purposes. Such candidates bring their own fan base, which will feed into support for the party, or so the strategy goes. Newer entrants to political contests can use the star power. The TMC did it for the 2011 assembly elections in Bengal to breach the Left bastion. The AAP follows suit as it spreads out of its stronghold in Delhi.
It also comes in handy in areas where the party’s presence is thin on the ground — the BJP in Bengal, for instance. But the phenomenon of established parties enlisting outside help, large-scale, also points to a weakening of the party machinery. In the absence of inner-party democracy, credible new leaders cannot rise from the ranks. Parties that have lost confidence in their own ideologies and cadres to win elections must increasingly reach out for borrowed lustre.
Depending on the celebrity to win elections, however, is a gamble at best. Star campaigners may draw crowds, but a fan isn’t always a voter. The party floated by Chiranjeevi came a cropper in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and mustered only a few seats in the assembly elections that year. Parties, it seems, are far more willing than the voter to suspend disbelief.