Mohammed Azharuddin on sticky wicket at home ground Jubilee Hills

Hyderabad, Nov 12 (IANS) Former Indian cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin will be facing an acid test on the ‘home pitch’ in the November 30 elections to the Telangana Assembly.

Contesting as the Congress candidate from the Jubilee Hills constituency in Hyderabad, the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) working president is looking to make his electoral debut in his hometown.

The 60-year-old former MP may find himself on a sticky wicket in a multi-cornered contest.

The ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) has again fielded Maganti Gopinath, who is looking for a third consecutive win.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has named L. Deepak Reddy as its candidate. However, it is All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) which appears to have queered the pitch for the former cricketer by fielding a Muslim candidate.

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi has fielded his party’s corporator Mohammed Rashed Farazuddin from Jubilee Hills.

The Congress leaders see this as an attempt by the AIMIM to split the Muslim votes to benefit its friendly party, the BRS.

With 2.9 lakh voters, Jubilee Hills has a good number of Muslim voters, who can influence the outcome.

Maganti Gopinath was elected from the constituency in 2014 as the candidate of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) but later defected to the TRS (now BRS).

The AIMIM had fielded its candidate from the constituency in 2014. Its candidate V. Naveen Yadav had lost to Gopinath by only 9,242 votes. The Congress had finished third while the TRS was a distant fourth.

Surprisingly, the AIMIM did not field a candidate from here in 2018. Gopinath retained the seat, defeating his nearest rival P. Vishnuvardhan Reddy of the Congress by 16,004 votes.

The Congress party’s move to field Azharuddin has already led to a rebellion in the party. P. Vishnuvardhan Reddy, who was once again expecting the Congress ticket, quit the party and joined the BRS along with his followers soon after the Congress declared Azharuddin as its candidate.

Vishnuvardhan was elected from Jubilee Hills in 2009 but lost to Gopinath in 2014 and 2018. The son of former Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader late P. Janardhan Reddy, Vishnuvardhan has a good support base in the constituency and his joining the BRS may dent Azhar’s prospects.

Azhar, thanks to his celebrity status, may garner votes but political analysts say this alone may not work. He along with his supporters has been working in the constituency for the last couple of months reaching out to voters in a few areas.

Azhar has a good rapport with the celebrities from Tollywood and other high-profile voters. However, he will have to work hard over the next couple of weeks to reach out to voters in the slums and low-income neighbourhoods as they constitute the majority.

This will be the maiden poll battle for Azhar on his home turf. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Moradabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh in 2009 a few months after he joined the party. The Congress had fielded him from Rajasthan’s Ton-Sawai Madhopur in 2014 but he lost the election.

In 2018, he was appointed working president of the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee. He had campaigned for the party in the 2018 Assembly elections. The party did not field him in either the Assembly or Lok Sabha polls.

This time with the Congress gaining momentum under the leadership of A. Revanth Reddy, especially after the party’s victory in Karnataka, Azhar zeroed in on Jubilee Hills. The party was also looking for a Muslim face to counter the criticism of not fielding Muslims outside the AIMIM’s strongholds in the old city.

Azharuddin, the boy next door, had a sensational debut in international cricket with three-back-to-back centuries in the 1980s. One of the most successful India captains, the wristy batsman played 99 tests and scored 6,215 runs.

Azhar’s cricketing career had come to an abrupt end in 2000 after he was banned from playing cricket for life following allegations of match fixing. After a protracted legal battle, the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 2012 had struck down the life-time ban.

However, the order came too late for Azhar to resume his career as he was already 49.

Earlier, he also ran into controversies with divorce from his first wife and marriage with actor Sangeeta Bijlani.

Azhar began a new innings in 2019 when he was elected president of the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA). However, his tenure was marred by infighting and allegations of corruption.

The Supreme Court had intervened in February this year to appoint a single-member committee to manage HCA and facilitate the conduct of fresh elections.

The committee removed the former cricketer from the list of voters and barred him from contesting HCA polls, held recently.

Last month, on a complaint by HCA CEO Suneel Kante Bose, four criminal cases were registered against Azhar and others for alleged misappropriation of funds to the tune of Rs.3.85 crore. The former cricketer, however, termed the allegations false and motivated.