The surprise announcement of cricketer Mohammad Kaif as Congress candidate from the prestigious Phulpur Lok Sabha constituency has found reluctant acceptance among those opposing the candidature of “outsiders” from Allahabad and Phulpur.
However, sources claimed that Kaif’s nomination could prove to be a winning shot for Congress, thanks to local equations and Kaif’s own image as the local boy cricketer. After the 1984 wave, the party has not been able to win either Phulpur or Allahabad seats, both of which had been represented by the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi.
Bereft of any political strapping, however, the atmosphere at Kaif’s house in Civil Lines area here on Sunday was calm but upbeat. “We are men of bat and ball. This is completely new. But as sportspersons, we are used to taking up any challenge,” said Kaif’s father Mohammad Tarif.
A retired railway employee, Tarif and three sons — Asif, Kaif and Saif — have all been cricketers. Kaif’s arrival in a couple of days is awaited. Well wishers visiting him talked about opening an election office and roping in cricketers from Allahabad clubs to canvas for him.
“Kaif had received an offer earlier as well. But he rejected it, saying he wanted to play cricket. However, when he received the offer again this time, he decided to accept the challenge,” said Tarif, adding Kaif had met Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi over the last couple of days. Despite repeated attempts, Kaif could not be contacted.
Among the first party leaders to meet Kaif’s family were the city Congress president Abhay Awasthi and another leader Tariq Saeed Azzu. District Congress Committee chief Shyam Krishna Pandey said: “We have heard about the announcement. I am sure the top leadership thought he was a better candidate when compared to the list sent from here. The party will support him.” A delegation of 10 office-bearers from Pandey’s team had reportedly sent an email to Rahul last week saying they did not want “outsiders” as candidate.
The names of actress-turned-politician Nagma from Phulpur and Anil Shastri, grandson of Lal Bahadur Shastri, from Allahabad has been doing the rounds. Incidentally, Pandey’s name was also in the list for Phulpur candidates.
Asked whether he has got in touch with Kaif or his family, Pandey said: “I am the district Congress president. Kaif is not even here. What is the point in meeting his family? When he comes to Allahabad, he will meet me and be introduced to other leaders.”
Haseeb Ahmed, office-bearer in the city Congress unit, who had been opposing “outsiders”, said: “Agreed that he is a local, but what is his political background? And, if a candidate had to be ultimately para-dropped in the end, what was the point of Rahul Gandhi telling workers that candidates will not be imposed from top but chosen on the basis of recommendations from the grassroots level?” Ahmed added that his colleagues were planning to head to Delhi and protest against the nomination.
Meanwhile, sources said with Muslim voters forming a sizeable chunk in Phulpur, and the fact that Kaif was a young man with no blemish in his cricket career, he stood a bright chance to make it past the winning post. “It was the combination of voter equations and popularity that got Mohammad Azharuddin the Moradabad seat last time, when many thought he might not be able to win. Kaif’s position is similar,” said a Congress source.
So far, SP has announced the name of Dharamraj Singh Patel, while the BSP has announced the name of Kapil Muni Karwariya, the sitting MP, from Phulpur.