“Sohna kinna hai (How good looking he is),” said a woman. “Mainu bye kar ke gaya (He waved a goodbye to me),” replied another before they burst out laughing, embracing each other.
The roadside conversation between the two in a village in the interiors of Dinanagar assembly constituency depicts the rage that Sunny Deol is among the voters of the area, especially women, who thronged the roadsides Wednesday to catch a glimpse of him and capture him in their smartphones.
Deol’s roadshow through nearly 40 villages of Dinanagar and Gurdaspur assembly segments saw a large number of villagers gathering on the roadsides to catch a glimpse of the actor and the BJP candidate from Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat and, if possible, to click selfies with him.
As the election campaign inches towards closure, Deol is likely to move out Thursday afternoon to Bathinda and Ferozepur to campaign for the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the BJP ally. The BJP is seeking to milk the actor’s star power.
He does not make any speeches but as he approaches a village, he gets out of the sunroof of the Range Rover he is travelling in and patiently shakes hands with those waiting for him.
The areas through, which he passed through Wednesday predominantly comprised of Hindu voters and the presence of BJP flags and poll material in large numbers showed that these were traditional BJP strongholds. The vehicles in Deol’s roadshow drove at a steady pace in order to allow everyone on roadside to have a proper glimpse of the actor.
However, the enthusiasm of the women in the villages was the highlight of the day with great numbers of them turning out to have a look at him. The villagers were informed in advance about the arrival of Deol through a loudspeaker carrying jeep.
Elaborate arrangements for refreshments were made by the local BJP units at each village from where Deol passed through. Local youth joined his 30-vehicle strong cavalcade, which would often increase in length as motorcycle borne youth and those on tractors joined it.
Sanjiv Salaria, a first time voter on board a tractor in village Kunde Lalowal, said he would vote for Deol. When asked if he had seen any movie of his, he said he had seen a few after his name was announced as the BJP candidate. Tractors fitted with stereo systems and blaring “main nikla gaddi le ke” – a song from a Deol blockbuster – joined his convoy in most villages.
Stopping for a few minutes at each village, Deol asked locals for support and assured them that he would work hard for them. That was the maximum that he would do by way of speech but he would patiently oblige everyone wanting a photograph.
BJP leaders who are managing Deol’s campaign said that since speech-making was not a strong point of the actor, it was decided to encash on his star value. “You have yourself seen how people are attracted to him. He has a fan following across age groups and he is going to sweep the polls,” said one leader who did not want to be named.
The Congress candidate, Sunil Jakhar, is, however, dismissive of the ‘roadshow path’ taken by his opponent. “These roadshows will burst like a balloon. These are just gimmicks, which attract people because he is a former star and will not translate into votes,” Jakhar said in Gurdaspur.
For the present, however, the sleepy villages in the interiors of Gurdaspur have come alive albeit for a short duration. The festive atmosphere due to a movie star passing through is hard to miss. “Jitt jaayega, badiyaan votaan paingiyaan (He will win. He will get lot of votes),” said a 20-something Sarita in a village near Dinanagar. She and her friends eagerly check their mobile phones to see if they have managed to get good photographs of the 59-year-old.
The Congress may say that Deol is unaware of the issues concerning the constituency and will go back to Mumbai after the polls, yet the charisma of a movie star is demonstrative of his core strength, which may pose a problem for the Congress.
As his convoy passes through Jhangi Saroop Dass village, scores of school kids, barely 10-11 years old, rush after Deol’s car shouting, “Sunny Deol ki Jai, Hema Malini ki Jai”. He smiles and waives.