Do actors take money to campaign for political parties?
"What is the harm if they take money?" asks Aman Verma, a popular television actor and anchor for television shows like Khul Jaa Sim Sim and Jadoo. He recently appeared in a couple of films, Baghban and Pran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaaye.
"Actors have a very short span of fame. I don't feel there is anything wrong in taking money from politicians if they think their [the stars'] popularity can convert into votes for a particular party," says Verma, who claims he has not been contacted for campaigning by any political party.
"After all, actors too need to secure their future. They can make money only when they are famous. Nobody bothers about their wellbeing when they disappear from the limelight," he says.
The controversy over actors being paid for campaigning erupted when Mumbai tabloid Mid-day frontpaged a report detailing the rates they claimed actors were paid for campaigning for various political parties.
The paper claimed Sharad Kapoor (Josh, Jaani Dushman) was paid Rs 100,000 per day of the campaign by the Congress. Former Miss World Yukta Mookhey, it said, was paid Rs 150,000 by the BJP to campaign for the party.
The tabloid claimed television star Smriti Irani (who plays the hugely popular Tulsi in one of India's most watched soaps, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi ) was paid Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million) to join the BJP just before the assembly election in November.
An angry Irani denies the charge.
"The basic journalistic courtesy is to call me for my version before publishing any news. Mid-day did not do that. I was one of the first to join the party last year when there were no television stars in the BJP. I have been taking part in every activity and attending meetings since then," she told rediff.com
"I am a party worker and not a campaigner. I am very hurt and depressed by this kind of false reportage," says Irani, who campaigned for the BJP during the Delhi assembly election in 2003. On January 8, 2004, she was appointed vice-president of the Maharashtra unit of the BJP Yuva Morcha, the party's youth wing.
Asked if she knew if actors were taking money to campaign, Irani replies, "I don't know who is taking money and who is not. I can only speak for myself. And I have joined BJP with commitment."
Ashutosh Rana (LoC: Kargil, Haasil, Dushman) told rediff.com, "I was offered various kind of favours to join or campaign for political parties, but I categorically refused. I told them politics was not my cup of tea. Many times, politicians ask actors to contest elections or call them for inaugurations. This is the other kind of favour they expect."
Rana campaigned during the 2003 assembly election in Madhya Pradesh, but says he did so because the BSP candidate, Surendra Suhane, was his brother-in-law. "It like if there is a Satyanarayan pooja in the family, you have to be there," he says.
The BJP has been far more successful than the Congress when it comes to attracting the stars. Jeetendra, Hema Malini, Manoj Kumar, Poonam Dhillon, Bhupen Hazarika, Smriti Irani, Sudha Chandran, Suresh Oberoi, Apara Mehta and Yukta Mookhey have joined the BJP, while Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna are members of the Vajpayee government.
India's oldest party, meanwhile, has managed to enlist Celina Jaitley, Sharad Kapoor, Asrani, Zeenat Aman, Namrata Shirodkar and Shakti Kapoor. The party's most well-known filmi face is actor-filmmaker Sunil Dutt who will contest the coming election from his traditional Mumbai North-West constituency.
Sometimes movie hero, sometimes villain Suniel Shetty says he makes it a point to campaign only for friends and has never taken money to do so.
"If someone comes with money to me and says I should campaign for them, I will categorically say no. I don't believe in taking money to campaign for someone," he says.
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar says, "This is the worst kind of accusations against film stars. Our party has never offered money to any film star or television actor to campaign for the party. People from all walks of life are joining our party. Even scientists have joined our party because they believe the BJP is the party of future and they can make a difference in India."