It's too good to be true for the Indian voters. Stars that they have admired on screen for years are suddenly within touching distance, canvassing on the streets for their votes. It presents the ordinary citizen an opportunity to get close to their icons and even to touch or hug them. But for the stars, especially women, this is a Catch-22 situation. While they have to connect with the voters to gain their votes, they also have to shield themselves from preying and licentious mobs. The problem is more acute in rural belts where actresses are perceived as objects of fantasy.
In Meerut last month, Congress candidate Nagma was molested by a party MLA during a public rally. The incident prompted her to maintain distance from the crowd and start walking with her security guards. Nagma told dna that a woman could land in such a situation at any point. "I am quite used to handling such crowds. But I move with the desired security now," she said.
Some years ago, a socialite-turned-politician faced a scary situation while campaigning in a semi-literate colony in the heart of Delhi. After the elections, she narrated her ordeal during a private conversation in which she confessed to men wearing burqas attending her rallies and touching and hugging her. "Initially I thought the locality was filled with lesbians craving female touch," she told dna. The actor-turned-politician then stopped hugging people, but continued to shake hands to demonstrate her proximity with the voters.
Actress are now better prepared to deal with such star-struck voters. Bollywood's dream girl and BJP candidate from Mathura, Hema Malini, has bouncers flanking her car to keep the overenthusiastic crowd at bay. She prefers not to step out of the car and only waves at people. As a woman, it is important to maintain distance, according to her. "People get excited, but then safe distance has to be maintained," she said. "This is not the first time I have campaigned. The crowd swells when I am around, but I am a woman first."
Others feel it is time for women to wear a politician's hat while campaigning. "As a politician, you cannot behave like an actor and stay away from the crowd. But your body language should be such that the other person gets the message that you are a no-nonsense person," said Kirron Kher, BJP's candidate from Chandigarh. Kher said she stepped out of her car at all possible places to meet people. "There is a distance that you have to maintain and ensure that you are protected. But I had no problems in shaking hands with everybody," she said.
Kher's Aam Aadmi Party rival from the same constituency, Gul Panag, also did not face any problem while interacting with the crowd. "I have been an activist and have been working with people on ground for four years," she said, adding that security is not an issue just for actors and politicians. "In our society, which is patriarchal in nature, every woman should be concerned about her safety. As a woman, I have always been cautious," Panag said.
Experts believe it is natural for people to get excited on seeing their stars so close to them. "For the crowd, it is like their fantasy coming alive," said professor Anand Prakash, head of the department of psychology, Delhi University. He admitted that the problem with actors turning politicians was greater in rural towns than in cosmopolitan cities. "People in cities are used to seeing these celebrities. Their exposure is more there than in the rural heartlands. For those in rural pockets, the excitement is evident because what they have seen on screen suddenly comes alive," he said.