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Page last updated at 09:55 GMT, Friday, 10 April 2009 10:55 UK

Bollywood star electrifies India poll

Sanjay Dutt in Delhi on 2 April
Sanjay Dutt is the star campaigner for the Samajwadi Party

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Uttar Pradesh

Cries of "Sanjay Dutt zindabad" ("Long live Sanjay Dutt") fill the air as hundreds of young men press forward to catch a glimpse of the actor, one of India's most bankable Bollywood stars.

"Munnabhai zindabad" ("Long live Munnabhai"), some shout, referring to Dutt's most popular screen character - a loveable thug in the hit Munnabhai movies.

The actor - now the star campaigner for the Samajwadi Party in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh - smiles and waves as fans throw rose petals at him on the red carpet.

He climbs on to the wooden stage to address an election rally, but the cheering supporters refuse to quieten down.

"Please sit down. You're all here to listen to Sanjay Dutt, so let him speak," senior party leader, Amar Singh, says in repeated appeals to the crowd.

Barred from running

Here in the state capital, Lucknow, Dutt is campaigning for party candidate Nafisa Ali.

Nafisa Ali
Nafisa Ali will stand in Lucknow after Dutt was barred from running

He was meant to be the candidate himself, until the Indian Supreme Court disqualified him from elections.

Dutt has been convicted and sentenced to six years in jail in connection with the Mumbai bomb blasts of 1993.

Indian laws bar anyone sentenced for two years or more from contesting polls.

"It would have been our good fortune if Sanjay Dutt had been our candidate," Samajwadi Party activist Syed Mohammad Imran says.

"It's a conspiracy that he has been barred from contesting elections. But now, Nafisa Ali is the candidate here, she is Sanjay Dutt's candidate. We have to put all our might behind her to ensure her victory," he says.

Supporters with red and green party flags continue to swell the crowd.

Many are wearing scarves and caps in party colours, others are sporting badges of the party's bicycle symbol.

"Carry on Munnabhai," the crowd chants as Sanjay Dutt reaches the microphone.

"My brothers, you are my family here. I have promised that I will not leave Lucknow. I'm leaving my sister Nafisa Ali in your hands. But I'm not leaving, I'll be here too. Together we will beat the elephant [the election symbol of the rival Bahujan Samaj Party]."

Busy schedule

The crowds lap up his every word and the applause gets louder by the minute. It is a short speech and the fans cannot seem to get enough of him.

Our party represents the farmers, the Muslims and the youth. I want to work for their rights
Sanjay Dutt

"Sanjay Dutt is with us. It doesn't matter that he is not the candidate. No-one can beat our candidate now. We will win easily," says Lucknow resident Manoj Rajput.

Sanjay Kumar has come all the way from Ghazipur for a glimpse of Dutt.

"If he stood from Ghazipur, I would definitely vote for him," he says.

As Dutt leaves the stage, cheering fans chase him to his car. Reporters and photographers hound him for a comment.

His security men form a tight ring around the star.

The actor is in a hurry - he has to address another rally in Bareilly, about 250km (155 miles) away.

Although he is taking a helicopter, it is several hours of work and he will not be back before nightfall.

The next day, we catch up with him again, this time in Gorakhpur town in eastern Uttar Pradesh, hundreds of kilometres and an overnight train journey from Lucknow.

Mass appeal

Dutt is the Samajwadi Party's most sought-after campaigner, attending several election rallies on any given day. Gorakhpur is his fourth stop for the day, and it is certainly not the last.

Here, he is sharing the podium with the Samajwadi Party chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and two ministers.

Samajwadi supporters
Supporters came from far away to see the star in Lucknow

The veterans only have nice things to say about Dutt.

Minister for Steel Vilas Ram Paswan says the actor's presence in their midst "will help the cause of secularism".

Dutt is the son of a Hindu father and Muslim mother.

Railway Minister Laloo Yadav says Dutt will be addressing at least four campaign rallies in his state, Bihar.

The actor is the last speaker for the evening.

He tells the crowd he entered politics "to warn the people so that they didn't go through what I have had to go through in my life".

"My father was an MP for 18 years, but I was arrested and held under Tada [India's strict anti-terrorism law]. I was beaten up by the police. Now if that can happen to me, can it not happen to you?," he asks the gathering.

Heads nod in agreement and sympathy.

"Our party represents the farmers, the Muslims and the youth. I want to work for their rights. So I appeal to you all to vote for the Samajwadi Party.

"This bicycle [party symbol] will conquer Delhi," he says to loud clapping and cheering.

Dutt says he is not good at making rousing speeches.

It doesn't matter, the crowds still save the loudest applause for him.



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