Lights, camera, action

| Updated on April 17, 2014 Published on March 14, 2014

Make up star: Toned and tanned Chirag Paswan is sure to bring his histrionics from Bollywood to Parliament. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar

Gym-trained Chirag Paswan might be a failed actor but he is now proving to be a wily neta

Buried behind the gaudy candlesticks, colourful posters and guilt-edged furniture in Ramvilas Paswan’s ornate sitting room is a beautiful sketch. Understated in its delicate pencil-strokes, it brings out the subaltern origins of a once charismatic Dalit leader. “ Mein us ghar mein diya jalane chala hoon, jahan sadiyon se andhera hai (My dream is to light a lamp in a home darkened by centuries of oppression),” read two lines etched as a prescribed motto for the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader.

But the artist clearly misread the leader’s goal. The lamp, Chirag, was not exactly a metaphor for social justice. Behind his grand claims of annihilating caste by seizing political power lay very mundane, pedestrian ambitions of promoting a mediocre progeny. Chirag is not a lamp that lights a poor home. He is a gym-trained, light-eyed entertainer whose only claim to people’s affections till February, this year, was a dud at the box office.

Katto gilehri chhamak chhallo rani, ashik ko aise na tadpao jaani (Do not torment a lover, my beautiful temptress),” he crooned in the item number that failed to fire the fortune of his 2011 Bollywood entry, Miley Naa Miley Hum. This was, however, not for want of trying. What the film lacked in merit, the son-father made up with aggressive promotion. On the occasion of Diwali that year, the Paswan family crossed their picket fence on 12 Janpath to greet their neighbour at 10 Janpath — Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

“We invited Soniaji, Rahulji and Manmohan Singhji for a screening of my son’s film,” Paswan said during the film’s promo. Rahul Gandhi even turned up for the screening. “He said Chirag is very talented,” the father gushed. But for once, the critics proved right and the film sank without a trace.

But temporary failures clearly do not daunt ambitious aspirants in any profession. Especially when they have a resourceful father who left his past life, and first wife Raj Kumari, in the backyard of Bihar, to reap the harvest of his youthful struggles. In his heyday, Paswan was a fiery orator and convincing champion of Dalit rights. The dividends of those youthful struggles have been equally rewarding — Paswan has been a minister in some of the most lucrative departments in the Union Government over the years i.e. Chemical and Fertilisers, Coal, Railways et al.

However, his party has been flailing since its humiliating defeat in the last Lok Sabha as well as the assembly elections in Bihar in 2010. The time was ripe to introduce the handsome son who, during various promotional events for his films, described politics as being “quite similar to films”. “In both professions, we deal with the masses,” he declared. The son has been charming the masses in most public functions that the LJP and its various fronts like Dalit Sena have been holding in Bihar.

But nowhere else in the political spectrum has a dynastic shift presented a more significant political transition than LJP. The sole reason given for Ramvilas Paswan to quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was Narendra Modi and the Gujarat riots in 2002. Since then, the BJP has been his target. The son’s arrival has, however, reversed the father’s logic.

In his second act as Chairman of the LJP’s parliamentary board, the smooth-talking actor was not about to suffer the Congress’s characteristic big brother treatment. His father, a shrewd judge of the shifting political landscape after Modi’s projection as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, was still hesitant in making the first move. At a luncheon hosted last month by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader DP Tripathi, Paswan was visibly exasperated by the Congress’ indifference.

“Who do I call? Lalu is refusing to give us any seats. Rahul Gandhi is never available and Soniaji is invisible. Elections are around the corner. What do they expect us to do,” Paswan said. He still may have been willing to wait at the Gandhis’ doorstep but ideology is not an excuse for failure. Nor is being treated as untouchables by the Congress in the name of secularism. In any case, Chirag had already decided that Modi was “innocent”.

Thence started secret parleys with Modi’s party. Shahnawaz Hussain, the lone Muslim BJP MP in the Lok Sabha, was deputed by party president Rajnath Singh to broker peace. “I told them I am a Muslim too. When I am comfortable with the BJP, what is your problem,” Hussain told me. They held secret meetings in empty houses, five star hotels and finally Chirag and his uncle Ramchandra Paswan were escorted to Rajnath Singh’s official residence at Ashoka Road through a back alley. From 12 seats, which is what Chirag demanded in exchange for LJP’s about-face, the negotiation came to seven and a deal was struck.

On February 27, BJP leaders Shahnawaz Hussain, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Ravi Shankar Prasad reached Paswan’s residence. In a snazzy grey suit, Chirag beamed at the cameras and shook hands with the BJP team. “We have to move on. You can’t be trapped in 2002,” he said.

Before a militant herd of cameramen pushed me behind a pillar, the sight signalled the arrival of a showman. Politics has traditionally been kind to superstars from the world of cinema. But for reducing social justice and secularism to a caricature, a failed actor is perhaps just the right choice.

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Published on March 14, 2014
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