Vivek Oberoi's meme on Aishwarya Rai: Actor's action shows why parties must pick celebrity campaigners carefully

The dying flame of Vivek Oberoi’s public profile is aflutter, for reasons good and bad. On Monday, the actor shared a meme with three photos of actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan — one with Salman Khan, one with him and another with her husband Abhishek Bachchan and daughter Aaradhya. He drew a distasteful analogy of the actresses’ three personal relationships to the opinion poll, the exit polls and the results. The actor was trolled not only for sharing the meme, but also attracted a notice from the National Commission for Women.

 Vivek Oberois meme on Aishwarya Rai: Actors action shows why parties must pick celebrity campaigners carefully

Actor Vivek Oberoi in the biopic PM Narendra Modi. Twitter@vivekoberoi

Oberoi, who shot to fame in 2002 (a good 17 years ago) is playing the role of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his biopic, PM Narendra Modi, the release of which was postponed till after polling by the Election Commission. Being trolled for promoting the party in peak election season and violating the Model Code of Conduct, Oberoi had said that he simply depicted a personality who is inspiring.

In 2014, Oberoi was seen campaigning in Gadchiroli, a Naxal-affected region of Chattisgarh, for BJP candidate Ashok Nete. He had then urged the locals to vote for the BJP so that Nitin Gadkari can be elected deputy prime minister. But Gadkari was contesting from Nagpur, not Gadchiroli.

At that rally, Oberoi had reportedly spoken about potholes on the road while making a references to the lack of railway connectivity. He hadn't made a direct reference to Naxalism plaguing the region and had concluded his speech by uttering a dialogue from his film Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007), in which he had essayed the role of an underworld gangster.

It's clear that once actors publicly align themselves with a political party and its leaders, they are irremediably lodged into the political narratives of the day. While one party can cash in on their stardom to draw voters, others can be critical of their choice of words.

On 5 April, the BJP released its list of star campaigners in Gujarat. Along with the saffron’s party top brass, the list also featured Oberoi’s name. Clearly, the actor hasn't internalised the responsibility that comes with being named as one of the party's official campaigners.

Retired Bollywood actor Sunny Deol, who is BJP’s candidate in Gurdaspur, admitted in an interview that he doesn’t know about the Balakot air strikes. Also, at a press conference he said he doesn’t know much about politics either. Much like Oberoi, Deol’s last big movie released 18 years ago and the actor has been away from the limelight.

However, while Deol, who has portrayed lead roles in nationalistic movies like Gadar (2001) and Border (1999), is being able to stitch nationalism to his candidature, a far less popular Oberoi is causing damage to the ruling party’s image.

The suo moto notice sent to Oberoi by the National Commission for Women doesn't hold legal validity but seeks a satisfactory explanation. On Tuesday, Oberoi issued an apology and deleted his post.

"There has to be some check on people who are followed by crores of people, including youngsters, because they inspire the views and actions of the masses. That said, such notices are sent out to many people on a daily basis, but these cases get highlighted in the media," said Vijaya Rahatkar, national president of the BJP Mahila Morcha and the chairperson of the Maharashtra State Women’s Commission.

"We have objected to his meme because it goes against the dignity of a woman," said Rahatkar explaining that the women’s commission is apolitical and functions purely for the welfare of women, and that such notices serve as a reminder of the moral responsibility of social media users.

Sources at the National Commission for Women in Delhi added that nearly 30,000 such notices are sent every year. The National Commission for Women had condemned the "khaki coloured underwear" remark made by Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan against actor-turned politician Jaya Prada, and had issued a show cause notice to the politician. The NCW had said that the remarks made by him show disrespect towards dignity of women.

"In Azam Khan’s case, the election commission gave him 72 hours to respond. Oberoi’s case is less severe since he shared a forward, the severity of notices vary," shared a source at the Delhi headquarters of NCW.

Rekha Shridhar, member of the Child Welfare Committee, has been educating women on cyber crimes lately. She said that the moral compass on celebrities, of whatever degree, sets a precedent.

"A notice will not send anybody to jail and forwarding a meme is not a crime but such notices are a reminder that there is somebody to keep a check on those who voluntarily or involuntarily end up offending others," she said.

Shridhar, however, said that based on her experience in the area, out of 100 cases, only 5 or 10 get registered.

In July 2014, National Commission for Women submitted a report titled 'Ways and Means to Safeguard Women from Cyber Crimes in India' which inter alia recommended the drafting of a stringent framework to discourage hacking, suggested the setting up of dedicated helpline numbers, the opening of cyber cells, forensic labs and the imparting of technical training to law enforcement agencies like the police and the judiciary.

The NCRB Crime in India Report 2015 stated that 11,592 cyber crime cases were registered in 2015 (under IT Act, related sections of IPC, and offences under special and local laws). It also said that there was a 20.5 percent increase from 2014. Further 8,121 persons were arrested during 2015 which indicates a 41.2 percent increase in arrests as compared to 2014. Out of these, 5.2 percent (606 cases) were for insult to modesty of women; 5.1 percent (588 cases) were for sexual exploitation, and 3.3 percent (387 cases) were for causing disrepute.

Oberoi’s actions have drawn bad press right before the release of the biopic on the prime minister on Friday. This incident is a reminder to big parties of the need to cherry-pick celebrity campaigners and candidates who can at least make up for their political naivety by being cautious with their choice of words and actions in the public domain, as one bad move can damage the efforts of those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make inroads into the hearts of India's 900 million voters.

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Updated Date: May 22, 2019 10:02:41 IST