Mystery surrounds the candidature of Mohammad Azharuddin who seems to have fallen between two stools in his desperate bid to find a safe Lok Sabha seat for a second innings in Parliament.
Political sources disclosed that the former Indian cricket captain has badly queered his pitch by talking simultaneously to the Congress Party and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. As a face-saver, the Congress may field him from Bihar or Jharkhand, it has emerged.
"I'm not going to announce which seat I'm contesting from. Candidates don't make these announcements. Political parties do," the ex-cricketer, who is evidently on the back-foot, reacted on Tuesday.
After Azharuddin's brief comment, a source close to him, added, "The picture is still quite hazy. That's why he [Azharuddin] has nothing much to say right away. But he is working on it. He hasn't given up."
After being "let down" by the Congress, Azharuddin met the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, on Sunday. The cleric telephoned Mamata Banerjee and requested her to field Azharuddin from Basirhat. Mamata replied that the Basirhat seat had gone -- Trinamool Congress had already announced that Idris Ali would contest from there.
But after saying "no" to the cleric who is well disposed towards her, Mamata consulted her inner circle. They, however, backed her saying that nominating Azharuddin at Idris's expense didn't make much sense because his performance as Moradabad MP was hardly up to the mark.
Earlier, when Azharuddin was keen to contest on a Congress ticket, he had requested Mamata through an intermediary not to field a formidable candidate against him. He was banking on her fondness for sports stars. But Trinamool refused to give a walk-over, complicating adding to Azharuddin's situation.
Sources said that as Azharuddin knew he would lose if he contested this time from Moradabad, he approached West Bengal Congress president, Adhir Chowdhury -- who sits next to him in parliament – to nominate him from a safe seat.
West Bengal seats like Jangipur and Murshidabad Azharuddin was eyeing had sitting Congress MPs. Despite Adhir's efforts, sitting Congress MPs refused to budge. So the Congress offered Azharuddin the Krishnanagar seat. Azharuddin then unsuccessfully tried to extract an assurance from the Trinamool that it wouldn't field a strong candidate against him.
During the talks, Trinamool apparently told Azharuddin to resign from the Congress and fight as an independent or join the Trinamool which would then guarantee his victory. But the former cricketer was interested in Trinamool support on his terms.
A Congress leader said, "Azharuddin's dealings with the Trinamool would have resulted in his suspension if the Congress was not in such a disarray nationally. He should thank his stars if Congress now fields him from Bihar or Jharkhand."