BJP's Kushbu Sundar seeks to be more than a crowd-puller in Tamil Nadu

Topics Tamil Nadu | BJP

Kushbu joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last week after resigning from the Congress where she found her way after a short stint in DMK
She’s no J Jayalalithaa, that’s for sure. Tamil Nadu’s Iron Butterfly learnt politics at the feet of a leader like MG Ramachandran, spent long hours in the party office interacting with district-level party leaders, and as propaganda secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) began doing her job too well — so MGR banished her to New Delhi.


Nor is she Silk Smitha, the actress who was a box office rage but whose life was a story of exploitation and represented the seamy side of the film industry.


Kushbu Sundar (that’s how she is known in Tamil Nadu), alias Nakhat Khan, is a homelier version of both. Kushbu joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last week after resigning from the Congress where she found her way after a short stint in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). She is ambitious, outspoken, and progressive. She has joined a party in a state where its appeal can only go up — considering the BJP’s nation-wide vote share increased to 37.7 per cent in 2019, from 31.3 per cent in 2014, but in Tamil Nadu dropped to 3.7 per cent in 2019, from 5.5 per cent in 2014.


Can Kushbu’s entry in the BJP make a difference in the party’s standing in Tamil Nadu?


She began life as a child artiste in Mumbai, the only daughter of Muslim parents who had three sons. He went into films quite by accident —one of her brothers was friendly with Hema Malini’s family and the children spent time together. “We used to pay 10 paise to the neighbours to watch Chitrahaar,” she told S Ramanathan of NewsMinute who has researched her extensively. It was Hema Malini’s mother who suggested she may like to act in the movies.


She got her first break as the little girl singing Teri Hai Zameen in the 1978 Hindi blockbuster The Burning Train. From then on, she also changed her name — Nakhat became Kushbu.

Naseeb, Dard Ka Rishta, Jaanu, Tan Badan, and Meri Jung followed. She then got offers from Telugu and Tamil films. How and why she got estranged from her father is not clear. All she says is that he was a very violent man who left her and her mother in Chennai in rented accommodation. She severed all relations with him. She told Ramanathan that she had no idea whether her father was alive adding: “I hope not.”


As the family picked up the pieces, she became a rage in Tamil films. By the end of 1987, Kushbu had done close to 12 movies in Telugu and Kannada, and had bagged her first role in Tamil in the movie Dharmattin Thaliavan, thanks to the recommendation of actor and Sivaji Ganesan’s son Prabhu. A long relationship with Prabhu, who was already married, followed. Later she broke it off, though the families are still friends. Later, she met her husband, actor and producer C Sundar. They continue to be married and have two teenaged daughters.


It was an interview given to weekly newsmagazine India Today that turned the tide for her. She said quite frankly that given a choice, girls would prefer premarital sex, and living together should be perfectly acceptable to society. In conservative Tamil Nadu, this caused an uproar. Pattali Makkal Katchi leader P Ramadoss and others got after her. As many as 22 cases were lodged against her. She fought these bravely but considered joining a political party. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was the best option. It would have taken her years to share the stage with M Karunanidhi who was still alive then. She joined the party in the morning and at 4:30 pm, she was sitting next to him on the stage.


But joining a party is one thing, finding acceptability is another. Kushbu preferred to deal with the top men in the DMK, bypassing district-level leaders. This did not go down well with Stalin, who was running the party for all practical purposes. EVKS Elangovan, then Congress chief, broke her away from the DMK and brought her to the Congress and she was a star campaigner in the 2016 Assembly elections. But she wanted more. She wanted to be fielded from the Mylapore Assembly constituency. But that could not be done without the DMK’s help. Then she considered contesting the Lok Sabha from Theni. That was not possible either. The Congress did not have the muscle to offer her a Rajya Sabha seat.


Besides, she would appear only on paid party assignments, possibly conscious of her value as a crowd puller. Since then Elangovan has been replaced with K Alagiri as Congress chief. “She was seen more as an actress than a party leader by the cadre,” Alagiri said, adding that her husband Sundar’s “financial problems” is the reason she quit the Congress. This does not sound credible, for if she had financial problems, joining the Congress itself might have been a mistake.


The first signs of dissonance with the Congress came in July when she went against the party stance and supported the government’s New Education Policy. Now, it is possible that the BJP will help her realise her dream of becoming an MP. But the real question is whether the party will be able to weather her ultra-modern views on personal freedom and religious moderation. Or whether she will continue to be what she’s always been — a crowd puller but little else.

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