This should not sound like a political obituary, but Keith Vaz certainly brought dash and colour to politics – especially to that of Leicester East, which he has served as MP since 1987.
In May 2010, Sanjay Dutt turned up to campaign for Vaz just before the general election.
As the Bollywood star prepared to say a few words, he slipped unconsciously into the role of Munnabhai [from his popular film Lage Raho Munnabhai]. “Mamu,” he began, in Hindi film dialogue.
“Lage raho,” someone from the crowd shouted.
Staying in character, Munnabhai admitted he wasn’t too hot on politics but urged the voters to follow his example: “Apun ka support to Keith ke saath hai (I support Keith).”
As he resumed his seat to cheers, Vaz expressed his gratitude, with a caveat in case Munnabhai was tempted to have a go at politics: “Sanjay, you can choose any constituency in the world but not Leicester East, please!”
It is in the nature of film folk to be gushing but Dutt probably meant it when he declared: “I think Keith is a wonderful human being, a very close friend and I just wanted to be here…”
The same opinion is held by Lord Swraj Paul, who has known Vaz for many years.
“Without doubt, he has been one of the best MPs for the Asian community,” said Lord Paul.
Vaz has always been concerned about lack of Asian representation in politics.
“This is one of the problems for our community – our total lack of involvement in political life actually. I just really don’t know what to do about it. What I really feel sad about is that not enough Asian people are going into public life, and I don’t mean everyone can be an MP and everyone can be in the House of Lords.”
Some tabloid newspapers have always targeted Vaz, allegedly for seeking publicity, but the reality has been different. It was other people who sought out Vaz when they were desperate.
His approach has seemed honourable: “Well, we treat everyone exactly the same. If they want support, we try and point them in the right direction.
“It comes back to my first visit to an MP with my mother, who went to see a Labour MP because she was being discriminated against. His answer was that he couldn’t do anything to help. I think I was 14 at the time, my father had just died.”
It says a lot about British politics that Vaz was never ambitious enough to go for the Labour party leadership, although he was better equipped than many others who have done so.
“What differentiates my generation from the generation that’s coming up is that there has been a lack of confidence in our ability to go for the top job,” he once said. “This does not apply to people who are under the age of 40.”
“Actually,” he continued, “I don’t think the country has changed as much as the political leaders have. David Cameron – I single him out as a political leader in the last 10 years who has really gone firmly out and said ethnic minority people are part of the political mainstream.
“I have always maintained that the only way we are going to become part of the mainstream is if all the political parties accept that we are. The last bastion of that was the Conservative party and the people who have most moved on this are David Cameron and (the former Tory party chairman) Andrew Feldman.”
Vaz felt more use should be made of the British Indian population when it comes to strengthening UK-Indian relations.
“There’s a whole generation of people whom we haven’t even touched, and the only prime minster to really make an effort was John Major.
“David Cameron tried, he’s been four times to India, but he’s been let down by the structures, and we need a better structure to do with our relationship to India. Britain is not using the NRIs [non-resident Indians] effectively in order to develop this relationship,” he suggested.
Would he himself like to do more?
“Everyone of Indian origin has a responsibility. We all have to do this, we should continue to do it,” he replied.
He may now have time to devote to the cause dear to him – tackling diabetes among Asians.
“You shouldn’t take sugar in your tea or coffee, you should exercise, you should have more vegetables, you should not look at white rice. I love mangoes ... (but) mangoes are full of sugar. Stick to apples in particular, bananas, pomegranates. At Diwali, we’ll be stuffing our faces with mithai.”