It will be yet another test for incumbent MP and BJP candidate Kirron Kher when Chandigarh votes on May 19th. Actor turned politician Kher found success late in life. Moving to Mumbai from Chandigarh in 1979 with her then businessman husband, the dimpled actress was unable to get a break in Bollywood’s fickle world. It was only after her marriage to Anupam Kher in 1985 that she found acceptance among movie producers.
This hard-earned success was put to test in 2014, when the BJP chose her for the Chandigarh Lok Sabha seat over the claims of local party leaders. A political novice, Kher, 63, however won comfortably in 2014 with 1,91,362 votes, in part riding on the Modi wave that swept the country then and in part due to the corruption taint against Congress rival, former Railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, whom she defeated by 69,642 votes. Kirron Kher’s much younger Bollywood rival, Gul Panag of AAP came third with 1,08,679 votes.
The going in 2019, however, is going to be much harder for Kher. She once again takes on Congress’s Pawan Bansal, who had won thrice from Chandigarh before 2014. A visit to the BJP’s city office, Kamalam, sheds some light on the overtones of her campaign. Manned by party regulars, the office is a bee-hive of activity, distributing campaign material, holding internal meetings, and chalking out campaign schedules and strategies for various sectors. The party has been using social media extensively to reach out to voters.
“In these elections our expenditure on social media has been more than ever before. It has become a necessity,” said a party worker. Incidentally, Chandigarh has the highest Internet penetration in the country.
A BJP old-timer points to an empty room in response to a meeting request with Kher. “She normally sits in this room, but she has been mostly out meeting people in their localities,” he says. When pressed, he took me to a conference room to meet Kher’s Private Secretary Uma Kant Tiwari who is managing her campaign.
The latter reels off some of the MPs achievements and recounts the ‘sacrifices’ she has had to make in the last five years to serve the city of her birth. I ask him to name the single most important point in her agenda in case she wins again. His reply: “We don’t like to comment that far ahead. We will see when it comes.”
Outside the conference room, I meet the old timer again who spoke on condition of anonymity. So what has changed in these five years in the city BJP, I ask him over a cup of tea. “The party is now into micro-management of the elections. The funds are there, the zila pradhans, mandal pradhans, panna pramukhs, and the booth pradhans, are all active,” he said.
For many in the BJP’s Chandigarh set up, Kirron Kher is still an ‘outsider’, someone who was para-dropped into the city by the central leadership. Senior BJP leaders, however, rule out any factionalism. “We all are working for Kirron Kher’s victory,” said former Mayor Arun Sood.
Given that Chandigarh is among the more developed urban constituencies in the country, making one’s presence felt here is a challenge for any political leader. Perception about Kher among her middle class constituents remains that of a film and television personality, more in tune with the make believe world than the political and social realities of Chandigarh’s streets.
Critics say she shuttled between Chandigarh and Mumbai too often, and was at best present In Chandigarh by proxy. Neither is she making any particular effort to reach out and placate senior party functionaries who are miffed at her selection for the second time.
On her part Kher says, “I did not come to Chandigarh to become a star. I have not done even a single movie in the last five years and gave my entire time to the city.”
On her contribution to Chandigarh, she says, “I have tried to work for every section of the city’s population. A number of projects have been implemented. Schemes initiated by PM Modi at the national level have been implemented effectively.”
- Name: Kirron Kher
- Spouse: Anupam Kher
- Constituency: Chandigarh
- Age: 63 years
- Address: House No. 23, Sector 7 A, Chandigarh – 160018
- Mobile No: 98200676798
- Profession: Film and TV Personality
- Sources of Income: Performance fee from acting in Films and Theatrical shows, Salary as MP, rental income, other sources such as interest from savings accounts and FDRs
- Sources of Income (spouse): Performance fee from acting in Films and Theatrical shows
- Internet: email@example.com
- Facebook: kirronkher14. Facebook: KirronKherBJP; Instagram: Kirronkhermp
- Education qualification: Master of Arts (English Literature), Department of English, Panjab University, Chandigarh. Completed in 1973.
- Pending criminal cases: None
Assets and Liabilities
|Movable assets (Rs)
|Immovable assets (Rs)
Performance in parliament
Like other film personalities adopted by political parties, Kirron Kher’s record as BJP’s lawmaker from Chandigarh is nothing much to write home about.
According to data shared by PRS Legislative Research, she was the most regular among actors elected to 16th Lok Sabha with an attendance record of 84 per cent (national average 80 per cent). However, Kher did not figure much in the debates and was famously caught on camera making faces during the last session.
|No. of Debates
|No. of Questions asked
|Private Members’ Bill
Source: PRS Legislative Research [State averages redundant, as Chandigarh itself is a UT]
In 2014, she introduced The Good Samaritan (Protection from Civil and Criminal Liabilities) and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, meant to offer legal protection to people who choose to provide assistance to accident victims. Kher has been highlighting this initiative in her meetings across the city.
Her supporters cite her usage of the MPLAD funds as an indicator of her effectiveness. As per official figures available on MPLADS portal, of the Rs 22.5 cr released by the government till March 2019. Kher recommended works amounting to Rs 20.03 crores. The portal shows an expenditure of Rs 27.82 crores against the total sanctioned amount of Rs 35.11 crore during her tenure. However, of the 315 development works recommended by her, only 113 have been completed, with 174 works under implementation and 28 projects dropped due to administrative issues.
Hits and misses
Among her achievements, on the infrastructure side Kher highlights work on Kajauli water works for 24-hour water supply in the city (still to start), work on railway under bridge at Manimajra, approval for city’s first fly over, roads in UT villages, parks, community centers, open air-gyms, and mast lights.
Critics, however, say she did not follow through on the projects with the Municipal Corporation or the UT Administration, which resulted in poor implementation.
Kher was also unable to contribute in any significant way to the setting up of a Mass Rapid Transport System for the growing Chandigarh population. The proposed Chandigarh Metro Rail project was scrapped during her tenure as it was found unviable and Kher is now putting her weight behind a monorail system. Her promise of a Film City for Chandigarh remains unfulfilled as do her pronouncements on a single-window system for clearance of business projects, abolition of contractual labour, setting up of Chandigarh Service Selection Board, implementation of Industrial Policy, and door to door garbage collection system.
She got embroiled in a controversy in November 2017 for her comment on the rape of a 22-year-old girl by an auto-rickshaw driver in Chandigarh. Kher allegedly said that the girl should not have sat in the auto-rickshaw when three men were already sitting in it. She later said that her comments were taken out of context.
These days, the feisty candidate is busy doing the rounds of the city, especially the southern sectors and the colonies and villages on Chandigarh’s periphery – areas with the maximum number of voters.
As expected, Kirron Kher’s most ardent supporter is husband Anupam Kher, who has been campaigning for her in the city at the sector-level. “Bharat Mata Ki Jai,” he said in reply to a media query about her contribution to the city. She has also received support from senior national BJP leaders. While Nitin Gadkari and Amit Shah have already addressed rallies in her favour, PM Modi is expected to visit the city soon.
However, there seems to have been no particular effort by her to woo the younger voters, especially the 40,000 new voters enrolled in 2019, in a total electorate of 6,19,249.