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Cambridge top job for Indian-origin grocer?

india Updated: Jun 21, 2011 23:34 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

They are both grocers and they are running for the post of chancellor of the prestigious Cambridge university.

One is billionaire ex-minister and former chairman of the multinational Sainsbury's supermarket chain Lord David Sainsbury. The other is Abdul Arain, Indian-origin owner of a local convenience store. The 46-year-old, whose father was born in Jalandhar, is bitterly opposed to Sainsbury's plans to open a superstore close to his Al-Amin food store in a multicultural part of the university town.

Arain has sparked off an unusual contest for a very English job.

Sainsbury is in pole position but there are two other famous contenders — maverick actor Brian Blessed and radical barrister Michael Mansfield. The winner will succeed British monarch Queen Elizabeth II's husband Prince Philip, who retires at the end of June after holding the job for 35 years.

Arain, who has been the toast of the British media, threw his hat in the ring on Friday, having secured the 50 nominations needed to become chancellor of the 802-year-old university.

The Nairobi-born shopkeeper's main motive is to save Cambridge from becoming a "clone town" like the hundreds of English urban centres dominated by supermarket chains.

And he doesn't mind whom he takes on. “When you look at Prince Philip, he is removed from the reality of local life.I believe that bringing that touch back with, what I would call, a normal individual, would make Cambridge more accessible.”

Voting by an electorate consisting of Senate members holding a MA or PhD higher degree from Cambridge will take place on October 14 and 15. Is he daunted by his famous rivals? "Not really," said Arain. "Barack Obama was also an outsider and he is President today."