Samajwadi Party MP Naresh Agarwal raised a point about the 12 famous Rajya Sabha MPs who almost never grace the house with their presence. These include Sachin Tendulkar, actors Rekha and Rupa Ganguly, and Mary Kom. “If they have no interest they should resign, others will come,” said Agarwal, to the Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien. (The Indian Express, March 31). This issue has been reported several times, notably four months ago, when only 23 MPs showed up on a working day when a minimum of 25 out of 245 members are required to start proceedings.
It is worth noting that besides the immense prestige of being a Member of Parliament in the world’s largest democracy, these nominated candidates are very generously compensated. They get housing in central Delhi, 34 single air journeys for free anywhere within India, access to clubs, cars and medical allowances, not counting far more undefined areas of benefit, like proximity to some of the most powerful individuals in India. This is by virtue of being exceptional stars in their own chosen fields. The Rajya Sabha MP status for people in the arts is seen as a retirement reward after a distinguished career. Even if they don’t have the wherewithal to change legislation and remain mute spectators during proceedings, it’s not too much to expect them to show up occasionally in Parliament.
After all, could it happen that Tendulkar wouldn’t have gone to a stadium if he was scheduled to play cricket? According to reports, actor Mithun Chakraborty has attended Parliament for three days in two years. If a commitment has been made, disregarding it so completely is patently disrespectful to the House. Somewhere, it sends the message that celebrity is such an important idea, maybe even more so than running the nation.
Celebrities occupying different rungs on the scale of idolatry — the Twitter world, or Big Boss, TV and movie stars, or dotcom millionaires — are without a doubt the biggest influencers for young Indians. The professional making it to the business pages of newspapers has far greater capital among the youth than what a politician or religious leader can muster up. One may wonder if a PR-contrived lifestyle, conveying the right amount of melodrama via Instagram and Facebook justifies such adulation, but contemporary celebs receive a far more flattering reception than their counterparts holding government office. But the movie star MPs in any case fill our magazines and news feed for their wardrobes and their colourful personas. Let the hallowed halls of Parliament be reserved for people who are 100 per cent committed to treating politics like the serious business it is.
In the West, the stars who are in a position to make a real difference to public opinion take their roles seriously and are able to affect change. Leonardo DiCaprio brought the focus to climate change while Bono drew attention to famine in Africa. When Shah Rukh Khan says that the show Koffee with Karan has become boring because people are scared to say anything controversial since the atmosphere in India has changed, it should lead to a more thoughtful debate. These successful, alternate voices, hopefully immune to the murkier issues that arise with power are more important than ever, when political parties seem so radical and polarised. In these times, just to question the hand that feeds you is a big responsibility.
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