Updated on Apr 28, 2004 11:28 AM IST

This impoverished constituency of Punjab is still a far cry from being another Paris - something actor-turned-minister Vinod Khanna had promised long ago.

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PTI | ByJaideep Sarin (Indo-Asian News Service)

This impoverished constituency of Punjab is still a far cry from being another Paris -- something actor-turned-minister Vinod Khanna had promised long ago.

So when he takes to the dusty, undulated terrain of this border area next week to campaign and get elected from here a third time, he will have to take things head on.

"I am a human being and want to be a good one," Khanna says.

His star power helped him scrape past his opponent here in the last Lok Sabha polls in 1999 with a slender margin of under 2,000 votes.

When Khanna begins electioneering next week, sans make-up and the retakes of his film world, he will have to forgo air-conditioned comforts and put in a lot of effort with the 1.1 million voters here.

In 1997, he joined Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and was nominated from Gurdaspur in the next year's Lok Sabha poll.

The star-factor helped him oust five time Lok Sabha member Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder. Bhinder's inability to bring development to the area overshadowed the "outsider" tag on Khanna. The latter became union minister for culture and tourism in July 2002.

Six months later he was moved to the more important ministry of external affairs (MEA) as minister of state.

Six years after he first appeared on Gurdaspur's political scene, Khanna is yet to have a permanent residence here - a promise he made in 1998.

The star has faced numerous insinuations since his political baptism - keeping shirt buttons open, chain smoking in a Sikh-dominated area, lacking political knowledge, not coming here frequently and being inaccessible.

But he has since quit smoking - at least in this area.

"Which politician remains in his constituency forever?" he argues justifying his Delhi-Mumbai stay. "Getting things done for people is more important."

People say he goes for shoots to Mumbai more frequently than coming to Gurdaspur.

A couple of important bridges, which have changed the lives of people in areas cut off by the Ravi river, during his tenure are among his important achievements.

Controversy on who should get the credit for a bridge near Sri Hargobindpur between him and the ruling Congress in Punjab is of little concern to people who benefited.

Both sides were locked in a bitter struggle to inaugurate the bridge. The union minister was physically prevented from doing so though he managed a symbolic takeover. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh did the formal ceremony.

His statement to convert one of Punjab's most backward areas into Paris has not borne fruit. But Khanna went back on the statement in typical political fashion. "I have been misquoted."

His dreams to have amusement parks and other fancy facilities here have not materialised.

Khanna vouches for his Punjabi roots though. Born Oct 6, 1946, in Peshawar - now in northwest Pakistan - his family settled in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar after partition and later Ludhiana.

An undergraduate, Khanna went to leading schools and colleges in New Delhi and Mumbai before taking to acting and building a macho image.

He was the highest taxpayer in Mumbai in 1990-91. Having peaked in Bollywood, he became a follower of "Osho" Rajneesh and left the film industry.

Today people in remote Gurdaspur villages still come to see the star.

In Gurdaspur, his wife Kavita ably supports Khanna. She is neither a film personality nor a politician but takes good care of his campaign.

Only a handful of stars have so far campaigned for Khanna. "I don't want to win on their popularity," he said.

Those who have come in the past include Jeetendra, Ranjeet and Mukesh Khanna. His sons, Akshaye and Rahul, have not campaigned for him here.

--Indo-Asian News Service


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