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Cornered Azhar plays the communal card

When Hansie Cronje named Mohammed Azharuddin as the man who introduced him to a bookie called "MK" in Mumbai, the former Indian captain responded swiftly

Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
19-Jun-2000
When Hansie Cronje named Mohammed Azharuddin as the man who introduced him to a bookie called "MK" in Mumbai, the former Indian captain responded swiftly. Azhar spoke to all the pressmen who approached him. Newspapers, magazines, websites, all played the same tune. Although the accusation hardly surprised people back home, the press still gave Azhar his due. "I am looking at it as a disgraced cricketer's desperate bid to deflect attention" said Azhar from his Hyderabad home.
Not much later, Azhar played what could be the very last card he has. Azhar claimed he was being targeted simply because he was from the minority community in India. If that wasn't a desperate bid to deflect attention, one wonders what it was. The cricket stables around the world and in the sub continent especially could do with some serious mucking out. There's no denying that. What Azhar has done however, borders on the unpardonable.
One questioned the intentions behind Prabhakar's secret video taping. One questioned Cronje's intention when he named Saleem Malik and Azharuddin. Today, one has no choice but to question Azharuddin's intentions.
The old adage 'fight like cornered tigers' is something the Indians rarely ever implemented on the field. Off the field, Azhar seems to have understood fully its ramifications. First, the former captain threatened to sue. Sue whom? "All of them", Azhar said in one interview. From former cricketers to web sites to weekly magazines to newspapers to restaurants. Phew. That is a long list. His legal advisor, Mahesh Jethmalani, is also contemplating requesting the Government permission to sue Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, an income tax official.
So his legal advisor guides him on the possible courses of action he can take in the courts. Who advises Azhar about the kind of things he should and should not say to the press? Whose idea was it to unleash the communal discrimination card?
Mohammed Azharuddin has burnt bridges, lost friends and picked up enemies in one sweep. However, strategically, he seems to have pulled some very powerful strings. His allegations would no doubt have struck a strong cord across sections of society in Pakistan and Bangladesh. One cannot rule out the part fundamentalist forces will have to play if the issue gets publicised as one of religious or communal discrimination.
The Union Minister of State for Sports, a Muslim himself, Shahnawaz Hussain took objection to Azhar's statements. "This is highly unfortunate and rubbish. When the entire nation loved him as a cricketer and worshipped him as a hero then the question of communalism was never raised by him. Now that his name is figuring in the wrong list he is coming out with such mean talk," he said, obviously perturbed.
Even the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party could not stay quiet. Party spokesman Venkaiah Naidu came out in strong criticism of the former captain. "For 16 long years he played for the country and the best part as captain. Now, all of a sudden realisation dawns on him that he belongs to a minority community. It is so painful that he is using this card now. Was he not aware that he was a member of the minority community all this while? Did anyone show discrimination? We admired him and his play. He has fallen from the pedestal now. At least for playing the religious card now if not for playing the game the way he did."
There has always been an unhealthy degree of politics in Indian cricket. But this is new. The matchfixing controversy has threatened cricketers so fundamentally that they have resorted to what can only be described as hitting below the belt.
Leafing through the sports pages of a newspaper is getting more and more weary. One opens the pages with trepidation. Half the time one doesn't know which hero would have fallen from grace in the 24 hour period that elapsed. One doesn't know which match would be deemed 'fixed' in retrospect.
Only one thing is clear. This mess is not going away in a hurry.