Telangana polls: For Azharuddin, the home pitch may be a challenging one

The former cricket icon and one-time MP shoulder the responsibility to lead for the Congress again, this time from the Jubilee Hills constituency

Cricket legend Mohammad Azharuddin (pictured with Congress colleagues, wearing a tricolour scarf tucked at the neck)  campaigns in a tough Jubilee Hills contest against K Chandrashekar Rao-led Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS)  
(photo: @azharflicks/X)
Cricket legend Mohammad Azharuddin (pictured with Congress colleagues, wearing a tricolour scarf tucked at the neck) campaigns in a tough Jubilee Hills contest against K Chandrashekar Rao-led Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) (photo: @azharflicks/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s a rare occasion when Mohammad Azharuddin would find the wicket on his home turf tricky — but Indian cricket's wristy genius is up for the challenge, as always.

Come Thursday (30 November), Azzu-bhai will be one of the most high-profile candidates in play for the Telangana assembly elections. Azhar, as he was called in his heyday, is contesting on a Congress ticket from his own backyard — the Jubilee Hills constituency of Hyderabad. 

Now 60, the former India captain who once called himself "destiny’s child", is no stranger to the political arena. Back in 2009, Azhar won the Lok Sabha election from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh for the Indian National Congress; but five years later, he came a cropper when fielded from Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan. 

After being relegated to the political wilderness in 2019, therefore — a phase which saw him dabbling in cricket administration — the Congress has now brought him back in what would be Azhar’s first foray into Assembly elections. That too, in a neighbourhood he knows like the back of his hand.

However, unlike in his sport, where Azhar was famous for making his craft look easy on the most demanding of wickets, in this arena he has his task cut out for him. The party faces an uphill struggle in Telangana to defeat the Chandrashekar Rao-led Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), which has been in power for two terms now.  

In 2018, the KCR regime had come back stronger, if anything, winning 87 of the 119 seats, an upward swing from their tally of 63 seats in 2014.

Anti-incumbency is the plank which Azhar (read: the Congress) is banking on to capture the flag at this year's crucial Assembly elections — which, alongside those in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram, may throw up some indicators for the Lok Sabha elections early next year.  

It’s a three-pronged contest that Azhar is engaged in. His rivals in Jubilee Hills are sitting BRS MLA Maganti Gopinath and local councillor Mohammed Rashed Farazuddin on behalf of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). Farazuddin, a popular face in the upscale neighbourhood, which sits hemmed in by dingy colonies, is expected to make a sizeable dent in the minority votes and make the job tougher for Azhar. 

‘’The pitch is very good. I’m working hard and, insha'Allah, hopefully will prevail,’’ Azhar said during a recent chat with the media, going out on the front foot to accuse Gopinath of encouraging goondaism in the area. 

How does he feel about contesting an Assembly election for the first time from his own birthplace? ‘’Of course, who doesn’t enjoy playing on the home turf?" said Azhar. "However, it’s my first foray in a state election and the challenges are different,’’ remarked the man who was at the helm of a tumultuous decade of Indian cricket in the 1990s. 

Asked if this innings will require him to deal more with micro/local issues, Azhar agreed and pointed at the overhead electrical wires hanging too low, the open drains and the lack of civic amenities in one of the colonies. ‘’In the last nine years, no work has been done here, and people are fed up and are living in fear. He (Maganti Gopinath) only promotes goondaism. Even now, his men are scaring away people working for me... They are putting fake cases with help from the police,’’ he said during the campaign. 

In Telangana, the Congress has woven its narrative around the role played by Sonia Gandhi in the historic realisation of its statehood in 2014. This forms the cornerstone of the party’s discourse, placing significant emphasis on the gratitude owed to the Congress for fulfilling Telangana’s long-standing aspirations.

While one has to wait till 3 December to know Azhar's fate in this constituency (as well as his party's in the state), life has provided him with yet another "tryst with destiny", it looks like.

The journey that began with a magical sequence of three centuries on Test debut, Indian captaincy much before he was 30, a life ban on allegations of match fixing which stalled his career at 99 Test matches — not to speak of the tribulations in his personal life... Will it take another spin around the corner to crucial success?

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