Bollywood stars bid for power in Indian elections

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The Independent Online

It worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. Now, with India about to begin voting this week in the world's biggest elections, Bollywood movie stars are taking to politics with a vengeance, looking to cash in their fame at the ballot box.

It worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. Now, with India about to begin voting this week in the world's biggest elections, Bollywood movie stars are taking to politics with a vengeance, looking to cash in their fame at the ballot box.

No fewer than seven film stars are standing as candidates in this year's elections, from action heroes to a comic famous for his sexual innuendo, as well as a former Miss India.

Famous names have always loomed large in Indian politics. Perhaps it is inevitable in a country so vast, where different parts of the electorate are cut off from each other. For decades, power was the almost exclusive preserve of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, and this year Sonia, the widow of the assassinated prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, is leading the opposition Congress Party in the elections, and his son, Rahul, is also standing as an MP for the first time.

But the Gandhi dynasty's fortunes are in decline, and India has a new elite: celebrities.

Movie stars, sports players and beauty queens dominate the headlines. Amid this, the stars are looking to convert their popularity into political power. It's not a new phenomenon in India, but this year more celebrities than ever are trying their hand at politics.

In Bombay, for example, Govinda, the star of more than 100 Bollywood farces replete with sexual innuendo, is giving the incumbent, the federal petroleum minister, Ram Naik, a run for his money.

The first round of voting takes place tomorrow, but India's electorate is so vast that voting is being staggered, with different states voting on different days, and the final count will not be until May.

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