London: Over eight centuries of tradition will be swept aside this weekend if an Indian origin grocer in Cambridge is elected to be the first non-white, first Muslim and first Asian chancellor of the University of Cambridge.

Abdul Arain, 46, is one of four candidates for the election to the constitutional head of the 802-year-old seat of learning.

If elected, he will be the 108th chancellor of the university, and will succeed Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who retired from the post in June.

Sceptics don't give Arain much of a chance, but he and his followers display rare confidence.

Voting will be held on Friday and Saturday, and the result is expected to be announced on Sunday.

Only members of the university's Senate are eligible to vote in the election.

The Senate comprises all graduates of the university who have taken the Cambridge MA or any other Cambridge Masters Degree (for example the LLM, MPhil, MSci, MEng, MRes, or MBA), a Cambridge Doctorate, or the Cambridge BD Degree.

Arain was born in Kenya and has family roots in Jalandhar, where his father was born.

He owns the Al-Amin grocery store on Mill Road, where Nobel laureate Amartya Sen was among his regular customers.

The other three candidates in the race are Lord Sainsbury (the official candidate), Brian Blessed (actor) and Michael Mansfield (barrister).

Arain told: "I have the support of many academics, besides senior members of the Senate.

"Lot of people in Cambridge know me, and know what I stand for. I have support from both, the town and the gown. My speech at the Cambridge Union last night was well received."

Arain's election to the high post will encourage students from less privileged backgrounds to come to the university, an objective that the university shares.

The university is often criticised for admitting students from privileged family backgrounds.

He added: "The campaign is going well and we are trying to get as many people as possible to support what we stand for.

"It is a big occasion and I will be addressing a large contingent of people who are members of the senate and eligible to vote.

 "I am looking forward to it and to put forward my arguments. We are confident that we will get strong backing from many people."

The sub-text of the contest is Arain's opposition to retail major Sainsbury's opening a giant store on Mill Road, which would adversely affect his business.

The Sainsbury's retail chain across the UK is owned by Lord Sainsbury, the official candidate.

The principal public role of the office is the conferment of Honorary Degrees at an impressive annual ceremony.

Arain recalls that Amartya Sen, who was Master of Trinity College from 1998 to 2004, was a regular visitor to his popular grocery store.

Arain describes the store as a "melting pot of cuisines and cultures".

He said: "Professor Sen would come in with his family and stock up on Bengali hilsa fish, dal pulses, chillies and turmeric, curry leaves.

"The store caters to Indian, African and Mediterranean cuisine, so lots of people from Cambridge visit us".

Arain moved to Cambridge from Kenya in 1980.

He has an MBA degree from Cambridge, and worked as an auditor before starting the grocery store.

A popular figure among people inside and outside the university in Cambridge, he said the locals "wanted someone who could relate to them".

Arain, who has family in Mumbai and visits India often, said he was running for the post because he felt passionately about his family and the local community he worked in, and did not wish to see supermarket chains "depleting the area".

Arain said: "It is about local pride. One of the reasons I am standing is to highlight the opposition to a Sainsbury's opening in Mill Road.

"My worry is that Cambridge will end up like a clone town and this must be stopped. Big supermarkets like Sainsbury's and the others are damaging independent traders and pricing them out of the market and it has to stop."

(Agencies)