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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 10:46 GMT
Bollywood stars enliven Indian polls
Vajpayee with stars
India's politicians use star power to gain votes
By the BBC's Jyotsna Singh in Lucknow

Some of India's leading movie stars have been campaigning on behalf of candidates in crucial assembly elections across four Indian states.

India's leading star is in demand
Punjab, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttaranchal and Manipur head to the polls this week with India's governing BJP and its allies facing a stiff challenge.

For most major political parties fighting these elections, the contest for the moment seems to be about getting the biggest Bollywood star on their side.

From Amitabh Bachchan, voted the star of the last millennium in a BBC News Online poll, to Govinda or glamour girls Preity Zinta and Poonam Dhillon, each of them carries a message.

They are exhorting the voters to support one or the other political party.

Song and dance routine

The campaign technique adopted is common to them all.

Star line-up
Samajwadi Party:
Amitabh Bachchan
Shabana Azmi
Raj Babbar

Congress Party:
Preity Zinta
Poonam Dhillon

Hema Malini
A brief emotional speech followed by singing and dancing - at which point the crowd turns ecstatic.

"Mulayam Singh is like my father," says Amitabh Bachchan, as he campaigns for the leader of the regional Samajwadi Party and a former Indian defence minister in Uttar Pradesh.

"He is following the path of progress and development. Lend him your support in that mission," he urges the crowd.

But the gathering gets impatient with even that brief message and demands a song and dance number from him.

He obliges with a song from a 1980s hit film and the crowd is in raptures.

Star pitch

Mr Bachchan has already addressed nearly a dozen rallies for Mr Yadav.

Poll rally
Four states go to the polls this month
Observers say by engaging Mr Bachchan, Mulayam Singh Yadav is trying to improve upon his rustic image among the middle classes.

Amitabh Bachchan has enjoyed the status of a superstar in the Indian film industry, Bollywood, for many decades.

His popularity rose further as the host of the Hindi version of the "Who wants to be a millionaire" quiz show on Indian television.

The Samajwadi Party has two other film stars supporting its campaign, Shabana Azmi and Raj Babbar - both party MPs.

Govinda is another entertainer and crowd puller, who has just begun campaigning for the Congress party.

"Sonia [Gandhi] symbolises power, strengthen her hand and vote for her party," he appeals to the crowd as he rolls out his film numbers one after the other on popular demand.

Apart from Govinda, Preity Zinta and Poonam Dhillon are also pitching in their support for the Congress.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too has invited a popular actress from the 1970's Hema Malini.

It is not clear if the star's presence translates into victory for the political parties they are supporting.

But one thing is certain - the public is not complaining.

See also:

14 Jan 02 | South Asia
India launches new Ayodhya initiative
14 May 01 | South Asia
Congress triumph in Indian polls
14 Mar 01 | South Asia
Scandal threatens Indian coalition
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