Ex-cricketer Kirti Azad is pitted against BJP rival Dilip Ghosh

Like two captains shaking hands before the toss to begin a cricket match, former cricketer Kirti Azad of the All India Trinamool Congress and his arch rival Dilip Ghosh of the BJP met, exchanged pleasantries and even hugged each other in a rare show of camaraderie on the morning of polling day on May 13. The two were contesting in the Bardhaman-Durgapur Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal.

But later the peace was shattered by violence as party workers of both sides clashed. Ghosh’s convoy was stoned and he alleged that TMC workers were preventing his polling agents from doing their work. TMC workers told the media that it was Ghosh and his followers who were trying to vitiate the peaceful atmosphere.

Four villagers were injured when security personnel used lathis to disperse the angry crowds. One security man was also injured in the melee. There were sporadic clashes in some other parts of the state but overall West Bengal saw a good turnout of 75.94 percent.

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Overcame many difficulties

In his cricket career, Kirti Azad had overcome many difficult situations on the field. But this time he is locked in a do-or-die battle in politics. His main rival is BJP leader Dilip Ghosh who used to be the West Bengal state party president and also national level vice president.

The constituency of Bardhaman-Durgapur is among the new ones formed after the delimitation of the constituencies in West Bengal in 2009. Saidul Haque of the CPI (M) won the seat in 2009 followed by Dr Mamtaz Sanghamita of the TMC in 2014. Thereafter S S Ahluwalia of the BJP was elected in 2019.

Kirti Azad’s political career

This time the main fight is between Kirti Azad and Dilip Ghosh. Cricket fans know the name of Kirti Azad because he was a member of the Indian team that won the World Cup under Kapil Dev in 1983. He is the son of the former Bihar Chief Minister Bhagwat Jha Azad.

After his cricket career had ended, Kirti followed in his father’s footsteps and joined politics. He opted for the BJP and won the assembly election. He took a step up the ladder when he became a Member of Parliament from Darbhanga. He served two terms as MP. But after the 2014 elections when Modi became the PM, Kirti’s outspoken nature and unwillingness to bend before the party’s big names led to trouble.

Accused Arun Jaitley of corruption

Kirti, along with India’s cricket legend Bishen Singh Bedi, openly accused Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley (who was then also the President of the Delhi and District Cricket Association) of corruption in Delhi’s cricket administration. Kirti was then suspended by the BJP and in 2019 switched allegiance to the INC before joining Trinamool Congress in 2021. He stated that Prime Minister Modi’s claim to fight corruption is just an empty promise.

TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee seems to have a soft corner for sportspersons and several top footballers and cricketers were elected to power under the Trinamool banner. So Kirti found himself with friends from the sports fields. Kirti was among the first to speak out when several of India’s top women wrestlers were sexually harassed by BJP MP Brij Bhushan Singh.

Currently, Kirti’s rival Dilip Ghosh is a former state BJP president and former national vice president. Ghosh hails from an economically backward region of West Bengal, Jungle Mahal.

Kirti Azad seems confident of a victory based on his reputation for honesty and organisational ability. But it is likely to be a close-fought contest — as tight as any cricket match that ends in the last over.

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