Bollywood stars get out the vote in Indian election

Low turnout a perennial problem in world's largest democracy

MUMBAI--Bollywood stars, usually roped in by political parties for poll campaigns, have turned election activists this time around--urging people not to forgo their right to vote.

Popular actors like Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan appealed to the over 700 million eligible voters in India, asking them to shrug off apathy and cast their vote in the ongoing democratic exercise.

"We are not endorsing any political party, we are only asking voters to make an informed choice," Khan said recently at the launch of an election information campaign.

"If as a celebrity, I can help spread awareness about this, I consider that a worthy cause," he said.

A poor voter turnout has long plagued elections in India with the middle-class often playing truant on polling day.

Only 58.07% of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2004 general election.

Amitabh Bachchan, arguably India's biggest superstar, used his popular blog to encourage people to vote.

"Colleagues of mine propound the importance of how every citizen must exercise their vote," Bachchan wrote on his blog.

"Exercise it so true democracy can flourish. It is the most important task that we all undertake -- choosing our governance."

Photos of Bachchan and other Bollywood stars displaying the indelible ink mark on their middle finger after casting votes also made it to the front pages of newspapers.

Still, analysts say the new vote campaigns featuring celebrities didn't convince the cynics.

Mumbai, home to Bollywood, recorded only 43% voting on April 30 despite efforts to reach out to people through television, blogs and candlelight vigils in the streets.

"The problem with all these campaigns is that they were done by apolitical persons who had no idea how to mobilize the masses," said Surendra Jondhale, a professor of political science at the University of Mumbai.