A day on the campaign trail with Azharuddin

April 13th, 2009 - 10:49 am ICT by IANS  

By Khalid Akhter
Moradabad, April 13 (IANS) On the cricket field, former Indian skipper Mohammed Azharuddin was not one for too many words, letting his bat do the talking. In his new incarnation as a Congress candidate for the Lok Sabha polls too, Azhar prefers to listen rather than to talk.

Having plunged headlong into an election campaign, Azhar, 46, has seen the crowds turn up in huge numbers at his rallies to see one of the country’s most successful captains.

During a whirlwind tour of his constituency, Azhar steps gingerly out of his souped up Ford Endeavour in his trademark Diesel jeans and Lacoste T-shirt at the trendy Miglani Celebrations Hall on the Moradabad-Bijnor Road.

A small reception has been organised, but it remains anything but small as a crowd of curious onlookers mob Azhar right at the door of the SUV.

He perfunctorily shakes hands with a few elders, waves to a group of youngsters and walks straight inside.

“You may have little time to campaign but please go to villagers who live in the interiors to listen to their problems,” municipal councillor Hafiz Javed Siddiqui exhorts Azhar.

“Azhar bhai, you must have been surrounded by cricketers most of your life. But now the game has changed. Go and shake hands with farmers whose hands may be dirty, embrace them and make them your own.”

Azhar smiles as one resident expounds on the troubles afflicting the brassware industry while another complains of the potholed roads and poor power supply.

As he sits down, Congress workers make a beeline for Deshraj Sharma, the party’s district chief, seated alongside.

Many of them are keen to know if Azhar will accept an invitation for lunch, dinner or tea.

“We are short of time, we must concentrate on campaigning rather than fighting to invite Azhar bhai for lunch and dinner,” remarks Sharma.

A close friend of Azhar accompanying him on the campaign trail admits that party workers and supporters were more interested in inviting him to their homes. And at times it became difficult to turn down these requests, as some command influence in the constituency.

The reception over, Azhar turns to the audience and says a few words. He finds it difficult to escape the cricketing analogy.

“I thank you for all this advice. I used to take advice in cricket and it helped. I will do the same here too. I am not perfect, but you are my strength and I will be strong only if you are,” he says, drawing a round of applause.

“I had never thought that I would come from Hyderabad to contest here. But now that I have come here, you are the main players and we have to work like a team.”

“And we can’t win till the last ball is bowled.”

More applause, and then Azhar’s entourage quickly moves on to the next stop on the dusty campaign trail.

(Khalid Akhter can be contacted at khalid.a@ians.in)

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