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As far as the politics of appearances goes in the multi-scape of the current General Elections, Rakhi Sawant for her party called Rashtriya Aam Party in Mumbai, Hema Malini for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Mathura and Bappi Lahiri (also BJP) in Sreerampore, West Bengal top my list of oddballs. Sawant who has never been blessed by restraint for her green nail polish and green ensembles, Lahiri for his gold fetish thus conspicuously exhibiting wealth while promising to serve the poor and Hema Malini for looking such a woeful misfit. Just yesterday when photos of Malini trying to winnow wheat in Mathura in a pretty yellow sari with silver motifs, her hair a filmi-style mess, her Dream Girl countenance trying to smile amidst rural realities beamed out, her unsuitability spoke up loudly. On an earlier occasion, in a pink leheriya sari with a gota border, when she promised to clean the Yamuna of its filth, despite her resplendent clothes, like a member of royalty who has left the confines of a palace to walk low and slow, she didn’t look in the least convincing as a political leader from the world’s largest democracy.

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BJP Lok Sabha candidate Hema Malini campaigns in Mathura. PTI
From Left: Congress party candidates Nagma and Mohammad Kaif campaigns in Allahabad on 17 April. AP
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From Left: Congress party candidates Nagma and Mohammad Kaif campaigns in Allahabad on 17 April. AP

That’s why we must return to Bappida’s gold rush. The singing Lahiri has been using music to ask for votes saying that if he wins, he will be the voice (in the State Legislative Assembly) of the thousands who worship music but never make it big despite talent. The yellow metal is lucky for him says Lahiri who declared assets worth 12 crore ahead of elections. These included only 754 grams of gold jewellery worth around 17 lakh and 4.62 kg of silver valued at over 2 lakh. Lahiri may look like a jewellery shop—which probably explains why he needs sunglasses all the time—but his declared net worth isn’t as blinding as his gold.

That leaves us with Rakhi Sawant’s entertaining styling to dress her indefatigable confidence. The only political candidate to literally match her party symbol—the green chilli—with specially stitched clothes, becoming both the poster and the poster girl for her party, you can either label her the silliest or the most earnest. And do look at her green photographs more closely. For someone who loudly proclaims the pitfalls of not being properly educated, she wields a pen in the pocket of a Kiran Bedi-like androgynous, half-sleeved jacket, her shirts are full sleeved and made in Neta style, she covers her head like a demure Indian woman with her head tied in a high knot so that the dupatta can sit securely, wears tiny ear-studs, a nose pin and au courant spectacles that mimic the shape of Tom Ford glasses (unless they really are). It is the most studied appearance in the current elections trying to combine different elements--who says we have to like it? And while few of us might be able to recall the last time she performed an item number, Sawant is holding on to her item girl branding by saying “I am as spicy as a green chilli". That’s called playing a political role.

This fortnightly series is a comment on popular culture statements made through actions or words. Shefalee Vasudev is the author of Powder Room: The Untold Story of Indian Fashion.

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