Over the last 10 days or so, since she kicked off her poll campaign in Mathura, actor-MP Hema Malini has made more news on social media than amidst her voters. She has been seen posing with a sickle in the fields, on a tractor with mist fans in place, and getting herself photographed with a woman carrying firewood. Hema Malini says accusations of “acting” and being a “drama girl” don’t bother her, that she is an artiste and “people want me to pose a certain way”. And adds, “What’s wrong in being comfortable while campaigning?”
The Indian Express on her campaign trail through 10 villages in Mathura:
The office of Farah Nagar panchayat chairman Krishnakant Murari works as a makeshift BJP office where Hema Malini’s first nukkad sabha of the day will be held. Farah is a small town in her constituency, of which RSS icon Deendayal Upadhyay’s village Nagla Chandrabhan is a part. With just a few minutes for the MP’s arrival, there is anticipation in the air. “It’s only her second time to Farah,” says Sunil Kumar, a local jeweller.
However, in this primarily BJP-leaning town, they don’t hold it against her. The crowd says Hema Malini doesn’t even need to campaign, nor do they need “any vikas” to vote for the BJP. “Modiji has our votes anyway,” says Kumar.
Mathura, a mostly rural belt with around 18 lakh votes, goes to polls on April 18. Hema Malini is pitted against Narendra Singh of the RLD, which is a part of the alliance with the SP and BSP, and Mahesh Pathak of the Congress. Last time, Hema Malini had dealt then incumbent MP, the RLD’s Jayant Chaudhary, a massive defeat, getting 53 per cent of the votes. The SP and BSP had got just 3 per cent and 16 per cent, respectively.
Forty minutes later, Hema Malini arrives in a cavalcade of dozen-odd vehicles. Her car is right in the middle — a black Mercedes SUV. As soon as it halts, her spotboy, who is accompanying her from Mumbai, lunges towards it from another car holding a huge umbrella. He perches on the SUV’s footrest and holds out the umbrella as the car’s sunroof opens and out emerges Hema Malini, 70, clad in a dark pink sari and wearing shades.
“Her face glows more than a 20-year-old’s,” remarks an elderly woman. “But standing in the sun will take away her beauty,” quips another. “She will go for a facial every evening,” counters the first one.
Hema Malini starts her brief address with “Radhe Radhe”, in a greeting typical of this Braj bhoomi. “Hamne bahut saare vikas kiye hain… please wait till elections for the rest of your demands to be fulfilled,” she says.
She then turns to the issue of national security. “How Modiji tackled terrorists, no other PM could have done,” she says, waving a huge thermocol lotus. As the crowds shower rose petals on her, she tries her best to duck them.
The SUV starts moving, and with it, the crowd, through the 500-metre-long Main Bazaar of Farah. Hema Malini stops almost every 200 m to repeat the same message.
At the end of the bazaar is a college ground where a small sabha has been planned. But the people waiting are disappointed as word spreads that Hema Malini has cancelled the meeting. One of the organisers says, “She sees no point saying the same thing again.”
Reaching the end of the bazaar, Hema Malini gets back inside the car, the sunroof shuts. The cavalcade leaves.
The next stop is Raipura Jaat village, 10 km away. The cars stop under a flyover on the way, where a group has assembled with garlands. The umbrella-sunroof drill, Hema Malini’s speech follow. As the women rush to meet her, the actor appears to drive away, then stops. The car window is rolled down a bit and her staff accepts the garlands, as she listens to their complaints about water scarcity.
Raipura Jaat village’s lanes are narrow and the convoy slowly comes to a halt under a tent dangling between two roofs, where 60-70 people wait. Under the tent, Hema Malini emerges and warns the villagers “to not waste their vote”. Two minutes later, she is off.
On way to Piprauth village, 40 minutes away, the convoy makes a sudden halt. Hema Malini disembarks, as does her spotboy. She has a brief chat with her elder brother, Jagannath, following her in another car. Her brother and sister-in-law Prabha are with her in the campaign. Around half an hour later, the convoy comes to a stop, with a few tractors and some 50 people perched atop them blocking the way. Hema Malini obliges with a brief speech, amid slogans of “Modiji ki jai, Bharat Mata ki jai”.
For the next two hours, the cars keep moving, ignoring crowds lined along the roads but looking on impassively. As the convoy slows down in Koh village, an elderly women taps at Hema Malini’s window. When she doesn’t stop, the woman taps on the window of the next car. As the window rolls down, she mutters something angrily. She says she told them, “Khud to AC car mein ghoom rahe hain, hamare yahan bijli nahin hai, paani nahin hai (You are moving in AC cars, we don’t have power, water).”
In Parkham, Hema Malini drives up to the house of the village head, but stays in the car. A man with his children says, “We were told about the heroine’s roadshow. But we can’t even see her.” However, he acknowledges, other candidates are still to even visit. As a small child comes running, he chides her, “Modi nahin aaya, Basanti aayi hai (it’s Basanti, not Modi).”
Fifteen minutes later, the convoy makes a halt at Deendayal Dham building in Farah for lunch. Hema Malini gets out of the car for the second time in the day, to pay tribute to a statue of Deendayal Upadhyay. Amid a flurry of photos, she heads to the first floor to eat along with a select group. Others, waiting in the mainhall, discuss the angst they saw in Koh and Parkham.
As Hema Malini descends down the stairs an hour later, leaders urge her to return to Parkham for a nukkad sabha. Local leaders say she is “disturbed” over the angst at Koh and Parkham. Now only seven cars remain in her convoy.
At the Parkham meeting again, Hema Malini doesn’t get out of the car. But as the thermocol lotus draws chants of “Modi, Modi”, her spirits seem revived.
With the heat abating a bit, in Ole village, she gets out of the car for the first time to address people, while instructing them not to interrupt. Amidst a road strewn with garbage, Malini promises “a clean and safe Mathura”.
Done in 10 minutes, and back in the car, she agrees for an interview on the go. She lists roads, water as priority, but adds “my job is not to do small roads and nullahs, my idea is to develop in a big way”. “So, when these women say I have not done this or that, I don’t want to talk to them much because they don’t understand much… It is a pradhan’s job. You can write and we can get it done.” About her rivals, she says, “If others seek votes in the name of caste, I tell people, ‘You are all Brajwasi’.”
Asked what the BJP manifesto offered Mathura, she admits she hasn’t fully read the document, released a day earlier. Then she pulls out a paper and reads out certain points: banking facilities every 5 km, women empowerment, medical colleges. “There are so many things, baba. These people ask for banks, they don’t even know how to use a bank. Now, Modiji has installed all of this in their heads.”
One thing she does talk about in detail is how tiring her days are. “I don’t know how I wake up at 6:30 every morning. I carry some water and lassi, mostly surviving on fruits.”
But, Hema Malini adds, she is coping better than in 2014. “Last time, I suffered so much. The roads were so bad, I would get aches. I have built so many roads now… The opposition candidates should thank me… I have built a beautiful railway station here, and bus stand.”
The convoy has now reached Dharampura. Again addressing a crowd through the sunroof, she comments as she drives off, “Three more villages to go.” By 6.45 pm, Beri, Sanaura and Hathiavali villages are done — dot on schedule.
Her campaign organiser says that’s a constant. “She wants to go home and relax. Unke jaisi star ko itni dhool-mitti ki aadat nahin (A star like her is not used to all this dust).”