Is Yusuf Pathan a TMC gamble as BJP tries to woo Shami for Bengal?

Congress heavyweight Adhir Chowdhury sees it as ploy to split the minority vote

Yusuf Pathan with fellow TMC candidate Mahua Moitra at the rally (photo: PTI)
Yusuf Pathan with fellow TMC candidate Mahua Moitra at the rally (photo: PTI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

During his playing days, two-time World Cup winner Yusuf Pathan was known for clobbering huge sixes. But the Lok Sabha elections will be a far tougher challenge for the older of the Pathan brothers, where the Trinamool Congress (TMC) has pitched him in all probability against Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the Congress heavyweight and five-time MP from his backyard in Baharampur (Berhampore).

‘’I’m eternally grateful to Smt. @MamataOfficial for welcoming me into the TMC family and trusting me with the responsibility to become people’s voice in the Parliament. As representatives of the people, it is our duty to uplift the poor and deprived, and that is what I hope to achieve,’’ the former allrounder said on his X handle.

While the Congress is yet to finalise its list, local political circles feel it will be a major mismatch between Pathan and Chowdhury, who is also president of the Congress state unit. Asked about the potential match-up, Pathan — whose presence was the surprise element at TMC's election rally at Kolkata's famed Brigade Parade ground on Sunday — said, ‘’Everything changes, and it happens for good. People here love me and I want to extend my help to them.’’

Reacting to the development, Chowdhury raked up the ‘outsider’ card subtly, something which West Bengal chief minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee has herself used quite successfully against the BJP in the past.

‘’Outsiders were nominated to the Rajya Sabha from Bengal. If Trinamool wanted to honour Yusuf Pathan, it should have sent him to the Rajya Sabha. If Mamata Banerjee had good intentions, she would have asked the (INDIA) alliance to get Pathan a seat in Gujarat. But here he is selected as a candidate to polarise the common man and to help the BJP so that the Congress can be defeated,’’ the veteran said.

The 41-year-old Pathan, who retired from all forms of cricket in early 2021, is essentially a political rookie but is known to be involved in some charitable work in his home town Vadodara. The Pathan brothers’ father served as a muezzin in a local mosque and wanted his sons to become Islamic scholars, but their interest lay in cricket.

The question in political circles is whether Pathan has been pitched as a ‘soft candidate’ against the seemingly invincible Chowdhury, meant to split the minority vote and make a dent in the latter’s chances. However, the TMC has in the past successfully gambled with well-known faces from the entertainment or sporting world against tougher competition, and the move with Pathan is also being seen as one such.

It’s a bold move, which involves the optics of winning over a celebrity from the minority community of Gujarat to contest the elections. The other theory doing the rounds is more speculative in nature: with reports of the BJP trying to woo star India fast bowler Mohammed Shami to contest from Basirhat in North 24 Parganas, TMC has fired the first salvo.

The Basirhat constituency assumes tremendous significance as Sandeshkhali, the epicentre of recent political turmoil, falls under it. Shami, the highest wicket taker in the last World Cup, has been sidelined with an ankle injury for an indefinite period and it will be nothing short of a coup for the BJP in Bengal, though his name is also doing the rounds for a possible berth from his native Uttar Pradesh.

The move is hence akin to the proverbial killing of three birds with one stone, as in case of the likely defeat, TMC can always consider Pathan for a future role in the Rajya Sabha. Irfan Pathan, Yusuf’s younger brother and a popular TV pundit, congratulated him and said in a post on X: ‘’Your patience, kindness, help to the needy and service to people even without an official position can be easily noticed. I am confident that once you step into a political role, you will truly make a difference in the daily lives of people...’’

Besides Pathan, other big names in the TMC’s 42-member list include veteran Bollywood actor Shatrughan Sinha (Asansol), Tollywood actors Rachana Banerjee (Hooghly), June Malia (Medinipur), Deepak Adhikari (Dev) from Ghatal and Satabdi Roy from Birbhum.

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