BJP candidate Hema Malini, who was dubbed the 'dream girl' of Bollywood in the sixties and who was initially reluctant to step out of the airconditioned comforts of her sedan during campaigning for the Mathura Lok Sabha seat, now pumps water from a handpump and clutches a sickle as she fends of a tough fight from RLD's Jayant Choudhary in the mounting heat of summer in what is known in folklore as "Lord Krishna's abode".
Despite being a yesteryear's diva, Hema Malini has not lost her appeal. "Oh even at this age she is so glamorous. Its the daily yoga and dance that keeps her so fit," exclaimed Vishakha Tripathi, an IT student.
Mathura goes to polls on April 24.
When Hema Malini arrived in Mathura a week ago, she was reluctant to come out of her air-conditioned car and she "preferred to wave from inside the car instead of coming out and greeting people.
"When there was criticism, she tried to make amends and got herself photographed at the hand pump or holding a sickle and joining the farm-workers in the field," said school teacher Mohan Lal of Goverdhan.
Hema Malini, who debuted opposite Raj Kapoor in "Sapnon Ka Saudagar" and went on to star in over 150 movies, certainly has her admirers.
"People keep waiting for hours in the villages to have her darshan. Her films including 'Sholay' are popular," said paanwala Rakesh at the Mathura bus stand.
She is getting enthusiastic response from the crowd in both the urban and the rural areas of Mathura parliamentary constituency.
But the undercurrents over the failure to make a dent in the popularity of sitting MP Jayant Choudhary of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) are clearly discernible in the local BJP outfit.
State president Laxmi Kant Vajpayee tried hard to iron out differences and seek "unqualified support" of the local leaders to ensure Hema Malini's thumping victory.
Two days ago after Hema Malini complained to the party's top leaders including the party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, about the differences and lack of support from a section of local leaders, two senior members of the BJP were sent to Mathura and told to stay put to coordinate the campaign.
In this Jat-dominated constituency, Choudhary Charan Singh's name still holds sway and with a chunk of Muslim votes assured, Jayant remains a formidable opponent.
The recent reservation to Jats goes in his favour and youngsters from the community seem to believe "this move alone will open flood gates to opportunities for them".
Ashok Bansal, who teaches at BSA College, said: "Undoubtedly, Narendra Modi will help her (Hema Malini) get extra votes in the urban areas. BJP is strong in all the urban clusters and there has been a degree of polarisation also."
"But the (people) out there is having fun, many clicking photos of Hema or (her daughter) Esha. The fear is all this popularity hype could be superficial. When the time for voting comes, it will be all caste and community considerations..."
Of the around 16 lakh voters in the district, Jats alone constitute 3.5 lakh voters.
The muslims population is around 80,000. The Bahujan Samaj Party candidate secured around 1.25 lakh votes in 2009. The Thakurs claim to be around 2 lakhs. The Brahmins and Bania vote banks are traditionally with the BJP.
The BSP has fielded Yogesh Dwivedi, a Brahmin and Chandan Singh, a Thakur has been put up by the Samajwadi Party. The Congress is in alliance with the RLD.
Jayant Choudhary of the RLD is slowly firming up.
"He is dead honest and this one quality is the talk of the town. No wonder he is drawing solid support now," said businessman Mukesh Sharma.
Each day hundreds of pilgrims visit Vrindavan, Mathura and other shrines of the Vaishanavite sect.
"When the Gujaratis tell us about development and Modi's performance in their state, we also feel like supporting him and giving him a chance this time," added Shankar, a sweet maker near the ISKCON temple in Vrindavan.
Esha, an actress, defends her mother on the charge of being an outsider who would return back to Mumbai after the election.
"No question," she told mediapersons.
"She keeps coming here and we have deep bonding with Braj culture and Sri Krishna. Even after the elections she will do all in her power for the development of the area."
Esha was with her mother during the road show in villages Meerpur, Pithora, Palkhera, Hasanpur, and dozens of others, where huge crowds lined up the roads to get a glimpse of glamour.
Hema Malini is using all her histrionic skills to lure the voters, sometimes as a gopi lost in the thought of Sri Krishna, as a harassed citizen pumping in vain water from a hand pump in a dilapidated condition, and as a farm worker holding the sickle.
In her speeches she laments at the pathetic civic conditions in such important pilgrim centres like Goverdhan, Vrindavan.
"She is now working extra hard to win the confidence of the people in Mathura and in this task her daughter and son in law have also chipped in their support," says farmer Atar Singh of Adeeng village on way to Goverdhan.
Hema Malini is particularly focusing on the plight of women, roughly 7.25 lakh in the constituency.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at [email protected])