After a misreading of Savita Bhatti’s personality led to some egg on the Aam Aadmi Party’s face — it appears the lifelong sidekick found the election too tough for her style, so returned the ticket — the candidature of actress Gul Panag from the Chandigarh Lok Sabha seat was a smart move by the learning-on-the-go party.
Opting for a higher-rung celebrity — more importantly, someone who is seen as representative of a self-made GenX at least among Twittering classes — was the safest bet for the AAP, considering fissures within its local unit and an apparently decreasing interest of its core, middle-class base.
Gul shared the photo on Twitter with a ‘Thank You’, winning some hearts in the process and burning many that can’t handle a feisty woman who has the wits to match a pretty face.
The BJP’s lampooning of Gul for her being a celebrity dampened, as the party gave the ticket to actress Kirron Kher, whose oddly-spelt name sounds Bengali, though she’s been crying hoarse that she is as Punjabi as any Punjabi can be, as if her movie roles weren’t enough proof. Kirron was seen as a compromise to douse factionalism in the BJP. Perhaps they thought her loud demeanour would silence others.
In the background, working his political levers and gathering support the old-fashioned way, is sitting MP Pawan Kumar Bansal of the Congress. Wave or no wave, corruption or no corruption, he must be breathing easy, and has the lovely ladies to thank for it.
It is nice that two of the main three contenders for the seat are women (unless you are taking the Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) Jannat Jahan seriously). But even if there is a vast difference between their age and
career trajectories, both face challenges that are similar, though not exactly same.
The election here, despite the UT’s urban moorings, is won in the villages and slums. Stereotypes are brutally reinforced, and the math-management of V-day holds key. These areas house over half the voting population, and get a greater say as the turnout is higher than that in ‘sectors’. In urban areas, there are hardly any civic issues, and voting patterns favour status quo.
In the key rural-slum belt, Bansal has little challenge from the anglicised Gul, even if she suddenly discovers that she must call herself Gulkirat Kaur and tries to be as ‘aam’ as possible through her sartorial picks and anecdotes.
Gul will have to somehow get wholesale support of the Twitter-Facebook generation, which has lately been questioning the AAP so much that it seems India’s new voter prefers murderers and thieves than voting for a newbie who seems a tad confused. Her Twitter turns on Kirron — a welcome message, then some alleged bitterness, but also some odd sharing of Kirron’s anti-Congress rants — are confusing further.
Is she on Kirron’s side, are they the same type?
Kirron, on her part, looks to have placated Harmohan Dhawan, earlier frontrunner for the BJP ticket. But the wily old leader is known to leverage his vote-bank in a manner that keeps him relevant. As a BSP candidate the last time, he got a third of the slum vote and a fifth of rural vote.
Dhawan may not be trustworthy, so Kirron would bank also on the Modi wave, which had little effect late last year when the Congress retained its hold over the UT’s panchayats. Of the two ladies, she’s the one facing a blatantly political challenge — ‘I am fighting for Modi as PM,’ she has repeatedly said — while Gul, like AAP, fights more on the plank of ideology and perception.
As its stands two weeks before voting, Gul is ahead of the times, fighting a losing battle against our inherent hypocrisy. Kirron, the quintessential ‘mummy’, represents an old order that is not irrelevant in a season when hating the AAP is in fashion. Both, however, remain victims of their images, and Bansal so far has the upper hand in an election that should ideally have been a referendum on his deeds.
P.S. There’s this Hindi proverb about two cats and a monkey. It goes well with the current scene in Chandigarh. But I’ve been accused of adding unnecessary shock value in this column, so I’d skip using it.