- Bappi Lahiri is the BJP candidate for the Srirampur constituency in West Bengal. He joined the party in 2014.
- Born in 1952 in Calcutta, he has been a Bollywood music director since 1973
- He is credited with popularising disco music in such superhits as Disco Dancer, Namak Halaal and Dance Dance
- Other than Bengali, Hindi and English, he has scored music for Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi and Bhojpuri movies
- He has two English albums, and has scored music for Hollywood films
“BappiDA, ekta gaan hoyey jaak” (Bappida, let’s have a song), screams a fan from amidst the crowd that has gathered outside the Golden Inn Hotel in Dankuni, a small town in Srirampur constituency, from where Bappi Lahiri is contesting on a BJP ticket. It’s 4:45 in the afternoon and the pop musician has just emerged on the front steps of the hotel—a stopover venue—after a siesta. The morning had been spent in hectic campaigning in the sizzling summer heat. The gold chains around Bappi’s neck—his signature style—dazzle in the setting sun. He squints up through dark glasses—also an integral part of his persona—smiles and waves before being escorted to the waiting car. Politically speaking, Srirampur is decidedly Trinamool. Posters of sitting Trinamool MP Kalyan Bandyopadhyay and chief minister Mamata Banerjee fill up every imaginable surface. Graffiti urging voters to return Bandyopadhyay to Parliament hog most of the wall spaces. It’s no secret that Lahiri is up against a swelling tide.
But looking at the hordes of men, women and children pressing against his convoy as it creeps through the streets, just to catch a glimpse of him, it is difficult to believe that it won’t be a breeze for him. He himself has faith in his popularity. “Do you see how much they love me?” he replies, when we ask him the regular query, “What are your chances of winning?” One of the organisers, a BJP member, points out that “though for many, it’s the pull of a star that brings them, it’s not impossible that when they vote the fact that they have seen the superstar up close will play in their minds”.
In a vehicle just behind Bappi’s car, one catches the spontaneous, gleeful remarks through the open window. They range from his looks, to intense speculation about the bottle he holds to his parched lips. “Bibhotso phorsha” (terribly light-skinned), says a teenaged boy to his friend, trying to show off that he managed a dekko, which some of his pals couldn’t do. “Bappida modh khachhey naki?” (Is Bappida drinking?) is a common query. Luckily, we catch a reply to this before our car lunges forward. “Jah. Dekchish na, ota joler botol?” (Don’t’ be silly. Can’t you see it’s a water bottle?) Not many comment on his credentials or credibility as a politician. One that comes closest is from a woman riding pillion on her husband’s bike, stuck in the traffic jam caused by the motorcade. “This is harassment. Won’t get him any votes?,” she says, intensely irritated. We drive on.
Bappi Lahiri’s campaign trail is as eventful as it is controversial. Rivals in the ruling TMC accuse him of causing severe traffic jams and violating the election code of conduct by including more vehicles for his campaign than is allowed. Not the seasoned politician that his rivals are and unused to trading insults, Bappi responded with civility. “It’s not that we are using more vehicles than allowed. The traffic got held up because people thronged the streets.”
To criticism, Bappi responds with civility. Repeated provocations fail to elicit a single word of disrespect.
In fact, repeated provocations have failed to elicit a single word of disrespect from him towards rival parties. “BJP is my preferred party, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect other politicians. I have great respect for Soniaji, Mamataji and others,” he reiterates. What about the BJP’s “communal” tag? “Everyone, even in the BJP, knows that I’ll never be communal. I love and respect people of all religions and I have fans from all religions.” One of the drivers in his convoy, a Muslim and a BJP worker, agrees. “It’s ridiculous to try and attach the ‘communal’ tag on to Bappida,” he says. “He just doesn’t seem to think in those lines at all.” Born in 1952 in Calcutta into a family of musicians—his parents Aparesh and Bansari Lahiri were classical singers; Kishore Kumar was a relative—Bappi wants to “serve the people through music”. He says, “I don’t understand politics. But throughout my life I have had the blessings of people; now I feel it’s time to give something back.”
But what does he mean exactly when he says he’ll serve people through music? “See, there are many talented musicians in poor families who go unrecognised because they don’t have opportunities. I want them to know that if Bappi Lahiri is in Parliament, he will ensure every one of them can approach him.”
But what about other pressing issues? Employment, for instance. “Being a musician is the most fulfilling employment. Don’t you agree?” comes the disarming reply. You can’t argue with that. Organisers of Bappi’s campaign are concerned about his health, as he has hit the road in the middle of a heat wave. “His weight makes it difficult for him to walk too much and we need to help him get on and off the vehicle,” says Krishna Bhattacharjee, one of his aides. “But he eats very little and makes sure that he attends every planned rally and road show so as not to let his fans down. And he has been remarkably graceful, meeting every challenge. If a fan wants an autograph or asks him to sing a few lines from one of his famous songs, he obliges.”
It’s not that the heat has cramped his style one whit. “Gold is lucky for me,” he smiles in response to routine questions about his fetish for the yellow metal. Bedecked in his trademark jewellery, dark glasses and flamboyant colors, he certainly makes for a memorable candidate. Whatever his chances, he gamely sings the famous opening lines of his 1987 hit song to an ecstatic crowd: “Chirodini tumi je amar, jugey jugey ami tomari.” (You are mine forever, I have always been yours).
As Bappi belts out more foot-tapping numbers, clearly enjoying himself, you are left wondering what role he would play in Parliament if elected. “I will not deny that music will always be my first love. And it will always be my priority so there is no question of finding time for it. But if I am sent to Parliament I will ensure that I dedicate a great deal of time there too. There is no reason to fear that I will neglect my duties as an MP.”
Loftily dismissing his rivals’ claims that coming as he does from a life of opulence, he won’t empathise with the problems of the poor, Bappi points out that he too has had his share of life’s struggles. He reminds you that he was only 19 when he moved to Mumbai and found himself facing stiff competition from the giants of the industry—“where cut-throat competition is the rule rather than the exception”. He adds, “But I was ambitious and did not want to settle for less. I wanted to surmount every obstacle that came my way. And I survived. Didn’t I?”
It might well be that it is Bappi’s way of throwing down the gauntlet to his opponents, who scoff and snigger at his chances, but there is no denying that he has kept his gold-encrusted neck above the murky waters of political manoeuvring.