It’s a mix of theatrics and political experience that’s directing actor-politician Jayaprada to bond freely with her electorate, notes Ziya Us Salam
During the last General Elections, a photograph of Jayaprada drinking water from a hand pump during her campaign in Rampur attracted a lot of attention. It instantly sent across a message of the film star being like the rest of us — no starry airs, no arrogance. She was the Samajwadi Party candidate then, locked in an intense battle to retain her Lok Sabha seat. Jayaprada’s ability to mingle with the faceless women of Rampur stood her in good stead, helping her win. Little however, did she realise then that the same photograph of drinking water from a hand pump would come in useful in the elections in 2014. This is exactly, however, as it has transpired.
Now, she is a candidate of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, a party whose election symbol is, yes, the hand pump. Contesting from Bijnor, a constituency, she hastens to inform us, which has a sizeable population of Muslims, just like in Rampur. That experience stands her in good stead in Bijnor. When the muezzin from a neighbouring mosque pronounces azaan, calling the faithful to prayer, she stops in the middle of her speech, waiting for the azaan to be over. Then she resumes, “It is time for prayers. Pray for Bijnor, pray for me.” Tacitly, she ties her fate with that of the township. The men nod, the women smile.
“That is the least I can do for the people here. I don’t lose anything by stopping at the time of azaan. I have instructed my volunteers to stop music whenever we pass by a mosque or a dargah. I have offered prayers at local temples on my birthday and offered chadar at the dargah. I have always worked for social harmony and intend to continue doing the same here. If we don’t show respect for people’s way of worshipping, can we expect them to respect us,” she half asks, actually answering her own question. Then she adds, “We have to guard against those politicians who divide us in the name of religion and caste.” It is a not-so-veiled reference to her political opponents from the BJP and the BSP. Incidentally, she is locked in a close contest for a seat where voters often exercise their franchise on caste lines. She is hoping her star charisma and her ability to mingle with all will help her. “I have been to the houses of those who have recently lost their loved ones. My mere presence will not get their loved ones back but I can try to share their sorrow. Even after the Muzaffarnagar riots, I went there and worked for the displaced families.”
Incidentally, the hand pump photo has made it to Jayaprada’s online advertisement spree as well. It has become a symbol for the film star’s way of conducting herself during the election campaign. Unlike Hema Malini who prefers to campaign from her car in Mathura, and Nagma, who has not felt entirely secure with her own party men in neighbouring Meerut, Jayaprada freely merges with the commoners. The idea being to project herself as one of their own, somebody who will be with them through thick and thin and not a film star who will disappear post-elections. On her campaign trail, she has embraced women, prepared chapattis on one occasion, been gifted bangles and sindoor on another. Rather than addressing big rallies, she opts for small, street-corner style meetings, preferring closer interaction with her possible voters. “Before she came here, I was certain of voting for the BSP. Now, I will vote for her,” a young man says, won over by the star’s down-to-earth ways. Incidentally, all through her campaign, Jayaprada has been dressed in non-star ways, almost like a middle class woman, her salwar-kameez highlighted with bright colours, laces and occasionally floral prints.
“I stayed in Rampur for 10 years. I used to visit the constituency every month, spending about a week on every tour. I intend to do the same in Bijnor post-elections. There is a plan for development of the town that I intend to take up after the elections.”
Does it mean she is confident of her victory?
“I am doing my best. I have had very limited time to meet the local people here but I am getting very positive response. Some people do come to see me as a film star but many are aware of the development I have done in Rampur. I connect at that level with people. Then women identify with some of the roles I have done in Hindi films. As far as problems are concerned, it is the same. There is lack of development, need for proper roads, better schools for girls, and a long term policy for the welfare of the farmers is needed.” She also points out the need for better pricing of sugarcane.
On the anvil is group insurance for women crafts-persons, a primary school for girls and a women’s only police station. “Women need to feel safe. Only then can girls go to schools and colleges,” Jayaprada says, her ear tuned to the ground realities.
Now if only the hand pump can find enough takers on April 10!