Thu, Apr 09, 2009 - Page 18 News List

FEATURE : Stars take guard on tricky election pitch

AFP , NEW DELHI

Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu addresses supporters during an election campaign rally on Sunday in Amritsar, India.

PHOTO: AFP

Soft-spoken, laid back and a reluctant orator, former Test captain Mohammad Azharuddin hardly fits the image of the archetypal boisterous Indian politician.

Yet Azharuddin is the latest entrant in a growing list of former cricketers sucked into the election whirlpool by political parties hoping their star status in cricket-mad India will translate into votes.

Other cricketers testing their luck at the upcoming parliamentary polls include hard-hitting batsman Navjot Sidhu, dour opener Chetan Chauhan and Kirti Azad, a member of India’s 1983 World Cup winning team.

Even Chetan Sharma, the fast bowler who became the country’s public enemy No.1 after being hit for a match-winning last ball six by Pakistan’s Javed Miandad in a one-day final in 1986, is a contender.

Azad’s World Cup team-mate Madan Lal was also due to campaign on a Congress ticket from the hill state of Himachal Pradesh, but was withdrawn by the party at the last minute after falling ill.

Azharuddin, 46, who joined the ruling Congress party in February, has been nominated to stand from the dusty north Indian town of Moradabad where he is drawing huge crowds.

“I have faced bigger challenges in life,” said the 99-Test veteran, who was banned from cricket for life in 2000 after being accused of match-fixing by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation.

Azharuddin denied the charges and took Indian cricket authorities to court for imposing the life ban, a case that is still being heard by a judge in the cricketer’s home town of Hyderabad.

“People still love me, it shows in the big crowds that come to my rallies,” Azharuddin said. “I am not the captain here, just an ordinary player. I want a chance to serve my people.”

The task ahead for Azharuddin is formidable. The Congress has not won the Muslim-dominated Moradabad seat since 1984, and chose not to field a candidate in 2004, fearing a complete rout.

Sidhu, a popular TV commentator known for witty one-liners known as “Sidhuisms,” is seeking a hat-trick of wins from the Sikh holy city of Amritsar on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket.

Sidhu, 45, won the general election in 2004 but was forced to resign two years later after a court convicted him of culpable homicide following a road rage incident a number of years before.

The Supreme Court, however, stayed Sidhu’s conviction and allowed him to win back the seat in a 2007 by-election.

Media reports suggest a tougher period for Sidhu amid criticism that he devotes more time to appearing in comedy talk shows on television than to looking after his constituency.

Sidhu, however, remains confident and even throws up a one-liner to stress his point.

“Faith in your abilities will help you face the music, even if you don’t like the tune,” he said.

Chauhan, a Test opener alongside Sunil Gavaskar in the 1980s and now a top Delhi cricket official, abandoned his earlier constituency of Amroha after losing in 2004 to become the BJP nominee from East Delhi.

Azad, who hopes to win back the Darbhanga seat in Bihar which he lost in the previous election, said his cricketing experience helps him in politics.

“After all, both are games of glorious uncertainties,” he said. “The difference is you face one bouncer at a time in cricket but in politics they come from all directions at once.”

Success is not guaranteed even for the popular cricketer. Suave Oxford-educated Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was an election loser in 1971 and 1991 despite being regarded as one of India’s finest ever captains.

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