Borabanda/Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad: In the narrow lanes of Bharatnagar Basti, Borabanda, Mohammed Azharuddin trots door to door, shaking hands and seeking votes. It’s a bit like taking singles that slowly but surely add up to a good score.
The cricketer-turned-politician’s electoral pull is being put to the test as he makes his assembly poll debut on his home turf, Hyderabad.
Azharuddin, whose brilliant cricketing career was cut short by the match-fixing scandal, had joined the Congress before the 2009 general elections. He went on to win the Moradabad (Uttar Pradesh) Lok Sabha seat that year, but was defeated when he contested the Tonk-Sawai Madhopur (Rajasthan) seat in 2014.
After that loss, this is the first time Azhar, as he’s popularly known, has padded up for the polls — although he’s playing on a smaller ground this time. His loyalty to the Congress had fetched him the post of Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee working president just before the 2018 state election. And now, he’s the party’s candidate from the Jubilee Hills assembly seat (which falls under the Secunderabad Lok Sabha constituency).
“Yes, I am in the electoral fight after a gap of about 10 years and this is my first time contesting for an MLA seat. But elections are not new to me and compared to Lok Sabha seats with about 15 lakh voters, here it is only 3.7 lakh voters,” Azharuddin tells ThePrint as he strides in the streets of Borabanda, waving at local residents.
“The campaign pitch is exciting; people are supporting me and I am very confident of winning this match.”
Borabanda is a densely populated area mainly comprising jhuggis, lower middle-class settlements. It’s one of the areas of the constituency with a high proportion of Muslim voters, and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has thrown its hat into the ring.
The area is, however, part of Jubilee Hills, home to some of the richest in Telangana — from businessmen who made their fortunes in sectors such as IT, realty and pharma to politicians and Telugu film personalities.
“Jubilee Hills is a very big constituency with upscale zones but many other areas are undeveloped. People are suffering with bad roads, drains, overflowing sewers, lack of drinking water supply, pensions etc,” Azhar says as he hands a Congress pamphlet to a Hindu woman.
The pamphlet — Congress’s Abhayahastam (assuring hand) — lists the promises the party is making to the Telangana electorate. These include Rs 4,000 monthly pensions for the needy, Rs 2,500 per month to women for their economic empowerment, Rs 500 gas cylinders, free travel on RTC buses, and 200 units of free power to households each month.
Azhar says that Telangana’s people are vexed with 10 years of Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) rule, as are the Jubilee Hills constituents with sitting BRS legislator Maganti Gopinath. They “want a change”, he adds.
Maganti, who had won in the 2014 polls as a Telugu Desam Party (TDP) candidate, decamped to the ruling party in 2016 and won on its ticket in 2018.
The Muslim vote — AIMIM enters fray
According to the Election Commission, there are 3,75,452 voters in the Jubilee Hills constituency, of whom about 1.2 lakh — a third of the total — are Muslims, according to political parties’ estimates. Within the constituency, the Borabanda and Shaikpet areas have a high proportion of Muslims.
“We will get the Muslims’ votes like we will from all the communities,” the former Indian cricket captain says.
While the main contest in the constituency appeared to be between the BRS and the Congress, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, an ally of the BRS, has put up his own candidate this time. The talk in political circles is that it’s meant to help the BRS.
Rashed Farazuddin, a sitting corporator from Shaikpet, another area with a Muslim concentration, is the AIMIM candidate.
Does the prospect of a split in the Muslim vote worry Azhar?
“I am not really worried about the AIMIM putting up a candidate here as people across the country are witness to the disruption the party is up to. In fact, by fielding a candidate against me, they are totally exposed,” he says.
Muslims in the neighborhood ThePrint spoke to did not appear to be very enthused by Azharuddin’s appearance in their gali, at their doorstep, but say they have a reason to vote for the Congress candidate this time.
Religion is not at all the factor, they say.
Akbar Shah, a driver, says he voted for the BRS in the last election expecting benefits such as a 2BHK house. “None came, so I’ll go with the Congress bharosa (promise).”
Md Haji, a plumber, says the rutty road in front of his house was laid over 15 years back, during the Congress’s tenure. “There is no proper drinking water supply in an urban area like ours, whereas our relatives in a village near Hyderabad get ample water. Street lights also don’t glow,” Haji says as his brother Md Khaja nods in agreement.
A possible complicating factor for Azhar is former Jubilee Hills MLA Vishnuvardhan Reddy, son of the late Congress veteran P. Janardhan Reddy (PJR), a multiple-time MLA and former labour minister. The younger Reddy — who lost the last two polls to Maganti — has joined the BRS after the Congress denied him a ticket, and could play spoiler in the constituency by drawing votes to the BRS candidate.
And just ahead of polls, allegations of tender irregularities in purchasing cricket equipment and misappropriation of Rs 3.85 crore during his tenure as the Hyderabad Cricket Association president from 2019 to 2022 have come to trouble Azharuddin. A local court granted him anticipatory bail last week.
“Those are frivolous allegations; the person who signed the pay order has filed the case on me. The matter will be dealt with after the elections are over,” he says.
Source : The Print