Some days ago, the Aam Aadmi Party candidate in Chandigarh, Gul Panag, tweeted: “Doubt if I’ll have the energy to run around like this and serve my people when I’m 60. I guess that’s why there’s normally a retirement age.”
This was immediately picked up by the 60-year-old Kirron Kher, Gul’s colleague in Bollywood and BJP rival, to hit back at her: “My father is 101 years old and still happening. He said, ‘good luck puttar. You have always been a winner.’ For me, Life starts at 60.”
As the nomination of the two women from Bollywood electrified the poll scene in sleepy Chandigarh, the obvious contrast in their campaigns has fuelled the debate on youth over experience. Ms. Panag goes round the city with youthful energy, doing roadshows in open jeeps and readily posing for selfies with star-struck people in the famous Rose Garden and sector markets.
The older Ms. Kher, on the other hand, is acutely conscious of her ‘star value’ and prefers to maintain a starry mystique, restricting her media interactions and public meetings.
Unlike Gul, who has a horde of family members and friends managing her campaign, Ms. Kher was greeted with rotten egg and stones by angry workers when she first went to the BJP office in the city on March 18. The hostility over her nomination, in preference to senior BJP politicians, has not abated yet. Ms. Kher has spent the better part of the last few days at worker meetings, placating grass-roots cadre.
On Tuesday, a posse of policemen guarded the party office in Sector 33, following a violent clash there the previous evening between two groups. Party workers say the buzz around the office will pick up only after Narendra Modi’s rally in the city on March 29. Indeed, not only the workers but also senior BJP leaders are banking on their prime ministerial candidate to give a boost to Ms. Kher’s campaign, which has been desultory. The façade of unity seen in the Chandigarh BJP, which had three major contenders for ticket, is largely the result of the ‘Modi effect.’
As if the “outsider” tag given to Mr. Kher by party workers was not enough, her widowed sister-in-law Gurindesh Sandhu has, in a written complaint to the returning officer, accused the actor of wrongfully claiming that she is a resident of a house in Sector 8 when the property is disputed and the matter is sub judice.
Cut to the 35-year-old Gulkirat Panag, now the most visible contender. In brown suede shoes, jeans and top, she is sticking to a punishing schedule, set by her cousin and campaign manager, which starts at 6 a.m. and ends late at night. She is usually accompanied by a couple of retired army officer colleagues of her father, Lt. Gen. (retd.) H.S. Panag, or relatives.
After her twitter spat with Ms. Kher, she is careful about what she says about her opponents.
“Please vote for a clean candidate like me,” she tells shopkeepers in Sector 20. “Does that mean your opponents are corrupt?” we ask.
“Oh, no! I am not saying that at all,” she replies. The cheerleaders, accompanying her, are raising slogans against Congress candidate Pawan Kumar Bansal, and nothing against Ms. Kher.
Asked whether she is now more careful not to attack Ms. Kher, Ms. Panag tactfully deflects the question: “Ms. Kher will do what she has to, and I am doing what I have to. All we are saying is that the AAP offers a fresh, alternative ideology, and people should join this movement for change.”
With Mr. Bansal, former Railway Minister, finding the going tough thanks to the railway scam involving his family members, Chandigarh is wondering which of the two Bollywood beauties will walk away with the crown.