No pain, no gain: Netas go under the knife for votes

Sharmila Ganesan-Ram | TNN

It is not a good idea to be a cartoonist anymore. Many of the joyful physical flaws that caricaturized our politicians are discreetly vanishing. Needles and scalpels are conspiring to fix imperfections that the pencil loved to exaggerate. In the months leading up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, severe noses have been softened, man breasts deflated, tobacco-stained teeth veneered and hair transplanted. Netas, old and young, have been enlisting the help of cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists in their bid to win over TV cameras, and in turn, voters.
“The feeling over the last few years has been that the old guard should make way for the new, so people are embracing the younger, revitalized look,” says Mumbai-based cosmetic surgeon Dr Mohan Thomas, who has rearranged the features of established and aspiring Indian politicians alike. Recently, a sitting MP from Andhra Pradesh, who wanted to refine his “sinister-looking” nose and thick
neck, approached Dr Thomas saying, “I don’t want to look like a dada, I want to look like a neta.” This MP underwent rhinoplasty and liposculpting for a thinner neck. Others to go under Dr Thomas’ medical chisel include the son of a retired governor who spent over Rs 1.5 lakh to get rid of his flab and a 52-year-old female politician from interior Maharashtra, who got liposuction and a tummy tuck early December last year, right before her first campaign.
Apart from the influence of airbrushed Bollywood personalities and dapper international politicians, the changing voter perception is a big driver of this trend. “The feeling now is if you don’t take care of yourself, how will you take care of the country?” says dermatologist Dr Rekha Sheth, who, in the last few years, has seen chiefly male politicians, coming in not only from South Mumbai and the western suburbs but also as far as Nagpur seeking solutions for pigmentation, patchiness and dullness. “Most of the politicians tend to be above the age of 40.” None of the doctors whom TOI spoke to wanted to take names, stressing on confidentiality.
Internationally, it is believed that when voters look at a leader, the appearance of vitality can be key. Foreign politicians have used surgeons to make minor tweaks of the “light refresh” sort, such as the ‘fresh calm’ look or the ‘intellectual’ look. “When they are old, their tired eyes may give the impression that they drink, even if they don’t,” says plastic surgeon Dr Kalpesh Gajiwala. Besides, “nobody wants to see an angry politician,” says Mumbai-based dermatologist Dr Satish Bhatia, who recently had one local female politician and two MPs come in with complaints of facial swelling and redness.
Even the surge in politicians opting for bariatric surgeries is perhaps a consequence of the perception that “a fat politician may be seen as a corrupt one,” says plastic surgeon Dr Anil Tibrewala. While bariatric surgeries aren’t cosmetic, looking trim is usually a positive side effect. “They help address issues like sleep apnea and diabetes,” says bariatric surgeon Dr Muffazal Lakdawala, who famously operated on BJP national president Nitin Gadkari some years ago. Even governors, ministers, members of the assembly and corporators have chosen this path to get healthier on the job.
While cosmetic surgeries entail recovery time and cost upward of a lakh, politicians tend to favour quickfix solutions such as peels for skin brightening and whitening and fillers, which cost anywhere between Rs 18,000 to Rs 27,000 per syringe, right before the elections. “Most of the recent politician clients have taken one sitting before elections and will take a second sitting after the campaigning is over,” says dermatologist Dr Jamuna Pai, whose clinics in Mumbai, Pune and Delhi have seen roughly 60 to 70 clients in the last three months. Besides, “since elections are a busy time for politicians, we connect over Skype,” says dermatologist Dr Apratim Goel, who has catered to politicians, their associates, and even police inspectors who are on extended hours of duty during campaigning.
Of course, at times, the requests of these patients can be as colourful as their promises. Once, a politician, who did not want to be seen at the clinic, requested Goel for a home visit. Then, another politician asked if he could supply free samples of sunscreen to their campaign team of around 500 people. “We requested a pharma company to oblige,” says Goel.

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