Vinod Khanna, the favourite to win the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat, has been building bridges to cement ties with its electorate for a long time. And the actor, who started with playing villain before switching to do good guy roles, is a hero to the people of this constituency, which like Amritsar borders Pakistan.
His electorate adores him, and forgives him his misdeamenours, including the fact that he has a penchant to do a Houdini on them everytime he won, which to date has been twice. One more and he
will be thrice MP from Gurdaspur.
VK walks his age today; the handsome profile has sagged a little and he shuffles to reach a point.
On Saturday Khanna stepped out of an SUV and shuffled into a banquet hall converted to a meeting place. Vociferously welcomed, he smiled, said nothing, and won the hearts of the crowd, A hundred 'thank you' were thrown at him, for serving people selflessly.
But with the 'thank you' came the admonition. "Even if absent for most of the two terms he represented us, he served us. He's our Badshah of Bridges," said a Punjaban, given a chance to speak. "He wasn't there with us physically but he was there for us. He worked for us. He ensured that Gurdaspur broke its shackles."
Badshah of Bridges! How, why? "He's famous here because he's mostly not been here. In fact, the only way to get a glimpse of him was to go watch a VK movie. But his absence didn't matter because he worked to fulfill promises he made to the electorate," says Ravinder Manhar, co-convenor of the BJP's district education cell.
And what and how did he work to build bridges with the electorate? Simple, he ensured bridges were made in Gurdaspur, a constiuency which felt cut off from the rest of Punjab and by extension India, and which lagged behind because of a lack of transportation lines. VK filled that gap, not once but twice.
"We credit him for the bridge on river Beas and for the bridge on river Ravi. He had promised to get them in place and he kept the promise even without his presence here. I wish more men like him became MP," said Virender Singh, a retired school teacher, now committed to 'bring in Modi sarkar, ab ki baar'.
The two bridges have made life easier for the people of Gurdaspur, and ensure a cakewalk for Khanna. "I am overwhelmed by the reception people give me when I pass by any of the bridges.
They spot me and literally fall flat on their belly to touch my feet. So many of them."
Khanna narrates a recent incident when his three sons and daughter were on stage in Pathankot and one of the sons was asked to speak on his father.
"I was flabbergasted at what he said. He told those gathered that I was not a father of four but the father of five! Before I could shout 'what's that?'
I heard him say 'Four of us, and the fifth Gurdaspur'. Phew! For a while there, I was sweating," Khanna told dna.
Vinod Khanna says he will be less of a truant MP if elected this time, too. To hit the point home, he adds: "I'm not going to be far and away from home.
I've built a house in Pathankot and I will in hearing distance. Take my word, I'll be very much the present MP."
Pathankot is part of the Gurdaspur LS constituency, and, therefore, Khanna wasn't speaking through his hat, an item that used to be part of his paraphernalia in his heydays as an actor. Khanna's competition is the Congress and AAP. But both his rivals lack the elan he brings with him, along with the bridges, of course. Badshah of Bridges, indeed... Vinod Khanna.