Azharuddin joins Congress, no decision on contesting polls (Lead)

February 19th, 2009 - 1:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia GandhiNew Delhi, Feb 19 (IANS) Former Indian cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin Thursday joined the Congress but there was no decision on whether he will contest the upcoming elections, the party clarified while the ace bat quipped that he couldn’t decide because he wasn’t “captain anymore”.
Congress leader Veerappa Moily, in charge of party affairs in Andhra Pradesh, said formal membership of the party had been given to the Hyderabad-based cricketer, who was removed from the team after his alleged involvement in match fixing.

“Azharuddin approached me a few days ago with a desire to join the party and the decision to offer him a membership was taken after holding a discussion with party president Sonia Gandhi,” Moily said.

However, the party has not yet decided whether he will contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The Congress, which will formally initiate Azharuddin into the party Thursday evening, has said the cricketer’s controversial past was not a problem.

“There are no criminal cases lodged against him anywhere and it is Azharuddin who has filed a case against Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Everyone is aware that there are a number of leaders in the opposition with criminal background,” Moily added.

“I know him personally for the last 25 years and he is a nice man. He has been the most successful Indian captain and has not yet been proven guilty by a court of law.”

Azhar, as he is popularly known, said he was confident the party would put up a good show in Andhra Pradesh in the elections.

“I am sure it (Congress) will do well. I don’t know where I will be standing from. I don’t decide that as I am not the captain anymore,” Azharuddin told IANS ahead of his initiation.

“Let me join the party and get an idea of what it feels like to join.”

That Azhar was joining the party had been on the cards for over a month. He had met several Congress leaders last month, including Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and Moily.

“I also met up the Congress president Sonia Gandhi once and she was very encouraging,” said Azhar, 45, who still keeps a punishing exercise regimen and prides himself on his 34-inch waistline.

The stylish batsman was unsure if he would contest from Hyderabad, the city he hails from, which is a stronghold of the Muslim political party Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), an ally of the Congress.

MIM president and MP from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi is also a close friend.

“Honestly, I don’t know where I will contest from. It is up to the party to decide,” he said.

“But I have the good wishes of my family and they are happy with my decision.”

Sources, however, indicated that Azhar might be fielded from the Secunderabad Lok Sabha constituency.

One of India’s most successful cricketers, Azharuddin’s innings came to an abrupt end after a disciplinary committee of the BCCI imposed a life ban on him in December 2000.

Azharuddin challenged the ban in court. The case is dragging on. Azharuddin now runs a successful event management firm as well as a health club called Est.

His entry into politics coincides with another cricketer, Chetan Sharma, joining the Bahujan Samaj Party.

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