Star Power Cuts Both Ways

By Sandeep Sahu

Come election time and suddenly, cine stars are in great demand. As per a well-established tradition, the most sought after among them invariably head for the party in power with the opposition having to make do with second and third rung stars and starlets from tinsel town. It was no different when yesteryear superstar Uttam Mohanty and the former Bad Man of Odia screen Asit Pati joined the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) at Naveen Nivas, the de facto party office, in the presence of party supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Friday morning.

But does it really help the parties? There is no empirical study that tells us whether – and to what extent – the entry of stars/starlets contributes to the electoral fortunes of a party. So, the best that one can do is to go by anecdotal evidence and diligent observation. Let us consider the case of the ruling party’s two latest recruits. Uttam Mohanty certainly ruled the Odia screens for years and retains some star power even now. But can he really sway a voter and make him vote for the BJD in the upcoming panchayat polls on the strength of his star power? The answer has to be an emphatic ‘No’. As for his fellow Baripada actor Asit Pati, his acting career – at least in films – is as good as over.

In the case of Uttam Mohanty, however, there are uncharitable suggestions that it was more a case of the star chasing the ruling party to get a respite from the investigation into Oscar chit fund scam than the other way round. His long association with the Congress apparently did not come in the way of his entry into the BJD. But having burnt its fingers with popular comic actor Papu Pom Pom, who has also been under the scanner for his links with the tainted company, why would the BJD welcome Uttam and present a handle to the Opposition to beat itself with? [And sure enough, the Congress and the BJP have done precisely that!]

Also read: Time to raid BJD leaders was two years back, not now

To return to the question that we began with: why do parties run after stars – present or past – especially on the eve of elections? What exactly do they bring on board in a party that has sailed through five successive Parliamentary elections and four consecutive Assembly elections on the sheer strength of Naveen Patnaik’s charisma? Precious little – except to provide some temporary excitement and talking to the people during campaigning – I dare say.

My guess is that in doing so, they basically seek to cash in on the stars’ glamour quotient which in itself may not win an election but can add to the overall appeal of a party or its candidate. It can prove to be a force multiplier, the proverbial icing on the cake. Perhaps that is why the ruling party has lined up a whole galaxy of stars: Siddhanta Mohapatra, Anubhav Mohanty, Prashanta Nanda (via the BJP and NCP), Akash Dasnayak, Arindam Ray and the like. The BJP boasts of Sritam Das, Pinki Pradhan and Pintu Nanda while the Congress has the likes of Bijay Mohanty and Aparajita Mohanty in its ranks.

Also read: Can the BJD outlive Naveen?

But then a distinction has to be made between stars who are roped in for their glamour and appeal to be used for electoral dividends and those who are actually fielded as candidates in elections. The considerations are entirely different in the two cases. Apart from star power, winnability is a major factor that influences decisions to field a star in the electoral fray. Election after election has proved that star power is never enough to ensure a win and crowd-pullers don’t necessarily emerge winners. Had that been the case, Papu Pom Pom would not have come a poor third in Champua in the last election despite a pan-Odisha Naveen wave in the 2014 Assembly polls. Conversely, it is doubtful if Siddhanta would have won his second successive Lok Sabha election from Berhampur had it not been for the ‘star power’ of the BJD supremo.

Then there are situations when the shenanigans of a star embarrass a party as in the case of Papu Pom Pom. As if the allegation of his involvement in the Oscar scam was not enough, the comedian was also accused of ‘casting couch’ by an underage wannabe actress. As the initial Opposition reaction to Uttam’s entry into BJD suggests, the party often has to answer charges on behalf of a star it has chosen to admit into the party fold. ‘Star power’ thus cuts both ways!