The Telegraph
Friday , November 9 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wristy player turns wise politician

New Delhi, Nov. 8: Politics has taught Mohammed Azharuddin — Azhar of the wristy elegance — three lessons.

Slog till the last over is bowled, that is till the last vote is counted; sound committed to your voters even if they occasionally turn their backs on you and, most important, acquire a permanent address in your constituency.

Azhar won his first election from Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad — home to Robert Vadra, Priyanka’s husband — in a deluge of enthusiasm from Hindus and Muslims as a Congress nominee, leaving the BJP, Samajwadi Party and the BSP straggling.

So elated was he that he never gleaned the first fundamental of heartland politics: that the MP should be available and accessible to his people, 24x7, and not parachute occasionally.

In Uttar Pradesh, a person’s celebrity cachet works for a while like a summer shower. After that it doesn’t matter if the MP is a first-class cricketer or a film star.

Nearly four years after his election, Azhar finally stopped living in hotels and the city’s circuit house. He rented a house in the posh Civil Lines area from a local businessman, Sadiq Siddiq, and determined to visit the place every fortnight and, more critically, “keep an open house”, according to his secretary Mujeeb Khan.

Azhar’s political tutorials were imparted the hard way.

In the 2012 Uttar Pradesh elections, the Congress was routed in the five Assembly segments that comprise Moradabad. Indeed, if the margins of defeat are a bellwether, Azhar doesn’t stand a chance in the next Lok Sabha polls.

Most Moradabadis felt that he took them “for granted” and never delivered on the promises he held out, such as uninterrupted and subsidised power to work the brassware units that form the backbone of the city’s economy and health care for the workers.

Worse, when in 2012, Moradabad was under rainwater, Azhar fleetingly visited the city without a look at the villages that bore the brunt.

Touched to the quick by the verdict, Azhar appointed his representatives in the Assembly seats and makes it a point to get frequent status reports, according to his brother-in-law and political manager, Khalique-ur-Rehman, an Andhra Pradesh Congressman.

He has a point-person, Mustafeez, based in Moradabad.

Rehman and Khan, his secretary, said Azhar would fight again from Moradabad. “The people stood by him when he was in distress, he will never sunder his links with them, not even if they desert him,” Khan said.

In 2009, Azhar had worked doggedly. He hardly seemed like a political debutant. The election happened smack in the midst of the IPL season, yet Azhar didn’t watch a single match on TV, not even one featuring his “home” team, the Deccan Chargers.

He stuck to a 7am-to-midnight regimen, broken by lunch and dinner interludes, if that. Otherwise, he munched fruits and sandwiches in his vehicle.

His speeches were laconic. A standard line was: “You will have to prove your love for me by your votes. Then I shall be convinced that all this is for real.”

He had a problem donning kurta-pyjamas. Azhar made it clear to the Congress that he would stick to jeans, T-shirts, sports shoes and dark glasses. But in places, Congress veterans like Begum Noor Bano, a former Rampur MP, had to tell him to take off his shades.

Azhar’s victory by a decent margin — he won by 55,000 votes — demonstrated that the love of the Moradabadis for him was “real”.

Even today, after his legal exoneration, there were calls aplenty from them.

Azhar plans to visit them “shortly” and prove his love for them was also “real”.