A dash of Bollywood added colour to campaigning before the May 7 elections in Britain, with actor Abhishek Bachchan travelling to the east Midlands city of Leicester on Sunday to campaign for senior Labour leader, Keith Vaz.
Belgrave Road – the hub of business and culture with several shops selling Indian goods, Indian restaurants and Indian banks – came to a standstill as Bachchan and Vaz sat atop an open air car and made their way through a crowd.
During the 2010 elections, actor Sanjay Dutt had campaigned in support of Goa-origin Vaz, who is the longest-serving Asian MP in the House of Commons. He was first elected in 1987 from the Leicester East constituency.
Bachchan’s intervention symbolises Indian-style campaigning in constituencies in with considerable presence of Indian-origin voters, whose vote has become increasingly influential over the years in several constituencies in Leicester, Birmingham, London and Manchester area.
Another political campaigning style unique to south Asia is evident among people of Pakistan origin: voting according to the ‘biraderi’ system of family and tribal patronage with roots to clans in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir villages from where many people of Pakistan origin hail.
As Indian film stars arrive to campaign for candidates, clan and religious leaders from Pakistan also travel during elections to extend support to candidates of their choice in places such as Bradford, Rotherham and Birmingham. However, some opposition has been building up to the ‘biraderi’ system among young Pakistan-origin Britons.
Vaz’s Conservative opponent, Kishan Devani, called Bachchan’s visit a ‘gimmick’: "The people of Leicester will decide who to vote for on questions of policy, not because of Bollywood stars coming to the city. It's patronising to think that people will be swayed by gimmicks like this…It caused a lot of disruption and for what?"
Speaking at a Q&A event, Bachchan said: ““I am here for Keith…He is a close family friend. He possesses so many values I hold close to my heart for our politicians. I know that he is a true leader for the Indian community in the United Kingdom, who does great work for people of Indian origin.”
Vaz said: “Our city was bouncing with the joy and excitement of thousands of adoring fans who came out to see Abhishek…My only request to Abhishek is that he does not stand to be the Member of Parliament for Leicester East, as I would not have a chance”.