The Telegraph
Wednesday , January 29 , 2014
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Azhar eyes Bengal safe pitch

New Delhi, Jan. 28: Former Indian cricket captain and current Congress MP Mohammed Azharuddin has expressed a desire to pad up for the Lok Sabha elections from Bengal.

Congress sources confirmed that the Moradabad MP was keen on ending his innings in Uttar Pradesh. The Bengal option is under consideration, they said.

“Yes, there is a bright possibility that I will be contesting this year’s Lok Sabha elections from a seat in West Bengal,” Azhar told PTI on the sidelines of a promotional event here.

Sources said the former cricketer, who retains his popularity and had been in great demand for campaigning during the Bengal elections, wanted to shift as Moradabad was now considered a very difficult seat. Not only are the Congress’s stocks down in Uttar Pradesh, Azhar’s own popularity has taken a beating as he has largely been a “non-resident MP” with a string of broken promises against his name.

The buzz that Azhar would not contest from Uttar Pradesh has been doing the rounds for a while. Sources said he may have opted for Bengal for two reasons: one, the state is cricket-crazy and has not forgotten Azhar’s sterling centuries at the Eden Gardens; two, Muslims play a decisive role in several constituencies in the state.

Azhar today told reporters in Delhi: “I have worked for the people of UP, now I want to work for the people of Bengal.”

He, however, refused to specify any preferred constituency. “That decision will be taken by Mr Shakeel Ahmed (earlier Congress observer in Bengal) and Adhirda (Adhir Chowdhury). They will decide from which constituency I will contest,” he said. Azhar is known to be close to Adhir.

Congress general secretary Ahmed told The Telegraph: “Azhar is very popular and I have seen how popular he is in Bengal. He is a star and can win from any state. I am not the authority to decide which seat he will contest but I know he is an asset for the Congress party.”

Ahmed was earlier the general secretary in charge of Bengal but has now been tasked with overseeing Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. The new general secretary in charge of Bengal, C.P. Joshi, was not available for comment.

Azhar’s friends and confidants said the former skipper had decided to quit the Moradabad crease almost a month ago.

Azhar debuted in this city in Uttar Pradesh’s west-central Rohilkhand with a flourish of promises in 2009. But he is set to leave Moradabad — also famous as the home of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s in-laws — with a litany of promises broken and unfulfilled.

An Azhar confidant said he had admitted there was “no way” he would win from Moradabad again. On whether he was considering a different seat in Uttar Pradesh or home state Andhra, Azhar reportedly said that rather than contest a Lok Sabha election, he would like to get a Rajya Sabha berth.

Three days ago, he is learnt to have told Moradabad journalists that he would shortly bid them farewell. “There was a danger that if he took a shot at the seat again, he would have lost his deposit. Moradabadis are very upset with Azhar,” said the editor of a local Urdu daily.

To begin with, Azhar allegedly reneged on his promise to find a house and spend the better part of the year in Moradabad. He did not even rent a home; every six or seven months he would drop by, camp at the circuit house and meet a local cabal, mostly comprising brassware manufacturers.

Recently, things came to a head when posters sprung up in Moradabad with Azhar’s mug and a caption asking where he was “hiding”. There was also the promise of a Rs 500-reward if the MP was “found”.

Azhar had promised to ensure 24x7 power to the city, a long-standing demand of the brass industry. But the units are only supplied 12 hours electricity daily, forcing the manufacturers to depend on generators.

Moradabad also has a large number of TB patients. Azhar had assured residents that not only would the patients receive “top class” health care, he would ensure the city was rid of the scourge. Nothing has apparently happened.

An index of Azhar’s unpopularity was the Congress’s pathetic showing in the 2012 state elections. It lost all the seven Assembly seats, mostly to the Samajwadi Party.

Azhar campaigned fleetingly, telling the people that if they voted Congress, he would deliver on all his promises because there would be a “friendly” government in Lucknow and in Delhi. “By then, Azhar’s credibility was so low that nobody bought the tag line,” an Uttar Pradesh Congressman said.

Party tickets are allotted by the central election committee on the recommendation of the state unit. The Bengal unit has not yet recommended Azhar’s name from any constituency. However, the high command can field any candidate from anywhere.

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