Former India captain Mohammed Azharuddin means business in his new innings, notes ZIYA US SALAM
He still speaks in monosyllables. And ends his simple sentences with a trademark drawl. He still wears his T-shirt with the collar up. A pair of blue jeans and sport shoes completes the attire — just as it had been when he posed for the cover for a weekly sports magazine edited by Sunil Gavaskar some 20 years ago. Then he sat atop a Honda Accord. Now he plonks himself on the sofa at his Defence Colony residence in the Capital. Politics has clearly failed to change Mohammed Azharuddin, he of 99 Test matches for India, he who has just won the 100th test of his career, and the first in politics.
Making his debut with a resounding victory in Moradabad on a Congress ticket — the party had not won the seat for more than a couple of decades — Azhar is quietly happy at his accomplishment. And confident he won’t let anybody down with his performance. If on the cricket field his bat spoke eloquently, in politics his development work shall stand him in good stead.
Enjoying a rare moment of relative solitude, Azhar says, “Expectations from me have always been high. When I played cricket, it was the same. I am proud that people expect me to deliver. I understand I will have to spend more time in Moradabad and Delhi. I intend to stay in Moradabad and spend at least five-six days, maybe even more, every month to see that ground level development work takes place. The quality of life has to improve. Otherwise I will betray the trust of the people who have elected me. When I played for India only five people selected me. Here lakhs have voted.”
Quite cool about his new role as an MP, Azhar says he came into politics by the hand of destiny. “Cricket was my forte. I never aspired to be a politician. I felt very happy at wearing the India cap. I would have been happy to merely campaign for the Congress in the elections. But when I was asked by the party high command, I could not say no. There were calls from so many places that I should contest from there. I did not choose Moradabad. The people did. And I felt very satisfied with my victory in Moradabad,” he says, then lets the emerging politician in him come to the fore, “Actually it is not so much my victory as that of the people, my party and my leader. I did not come into politics because I needed name or fame. Rather I did not have to introduce myself when I campaigned as people knew me. I realised I needed a grand platform to work. Being an MP is a great responsibility.”
Of course, this “great responsibility” means he will finally have to change his attire. “I cannot go to Parliament wearing T-shirt and jeans”, he confesses, even as an aide recalls that every time Azhar went to campaign in Moradabad there were calls from youngsters for his collar to be raised! “Everybody is tired of politicians. An outsider can work better,” adds Azhar, neatly side-stepping the issue of being an outsider in Uttar Pradesh.
He has his priorities worked out. Sports can wait. “I was shocked to see Moradabad. It is a sorry state of affairs in U.P. There is grinding poverty. Power is a major issue. Without power nothing can work, no industry can survive. There is no university for girls, the education system is in shambles. Health system needs urgent attention. Sanitation is very poor in Moradabad. Everywhere there are open nullahs. They stink. Its brassware industry needs help. There is unemployment. I know people have won on emotive issues in the past, but those days are over. It is time to focus on development.”
He agrees that the road ahead may not be easy. "I am prepared to raise my voice for social concerns, local issues. That is my responsibility. Once people are with me, everything will be done. If the State Government does not cooperate, there will be public outcry.”
Talking of support, Azhar is candid. “Kapil Paaji (Kapil Dev) was the first one to call me up when I was nominated. He again was the first to call up when I won. He even went to campaign for me.” What remains unsaid is that others stayed away. The conversation is over. As one steps out of his drawing room, there is a book neatly placed on the shelf. It talks of dreams and interpretation. It has obviously not been touched. It is time for action.