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New ballgame

New entrants to the field of politics, can sporting icons sustain the pressure of representing lakhs of people in Parliament alongside other political stalwarts? A commentary on Gautam Gambhir and Vijender Singh

Two of India’s most accomplished, cherished athletes have once again entered into active competition, right here in the heart of Delhi. But this time it is not the cricket pitch or the boxing ring. Gautam Gambhir (BJP) and Vijender Singh (Congress) are now in the arena known as politics.

Of the two, Gautam Gambhir has been more socially active and vocal about various other national issues even in his playing days.  He has made rather public posts where he has openly shown solidarity for the Indian Army, once mentioning that soldiers and not cricketers are the real heroes of our country.

Gandhir has had very public spats with Kashmir leaders Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, even calling them anti-nationals and urging them to leave the country. After the Pulwama attacks, he also appealed to all cricketing nations to quit ties with Pakistan, as a lesson for what they had done. He called for India walking out of the group stage match, even if it meant losing two valuable points. Gambhir said that no World Cup is more important than the country’s prestige.

During winter, when Delhi was going through the horrific pollution problem, he aimed tweets at the Aam Aadmi Party, emphasising that they had failed to take any measures to counter the rising PM2.5 levels in the city.

All these statements hinted at Gambhir’s inclination towards right-wing politics. It did not then come as a surprise when he joined BJP and ultimately became the candidate from East Delhi. So, what issues has he been fighting on? Well, according to his speeches, he is still not quite sure, as he is ‘new’ to the field but the main issue that he will address, according to his speeches and tweets, is the development of East Delhi.

According to Gambhir, he wants to make East Delhi the best part of Delhi, and it will only be possible if people vote for him — only then can he lay the groundwork of development. In an interview, Gambhir mocked Arvind Kejriwal, saying that he does not wish to make Delhi like London or Paris, but make it an improved version of the city we live in.

During his playing days, Gambhir was seen as a no-nonsense character who gave his everything on the field. Whether it was his tiff with the likes of Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal, or his aggressive captaincy policy for Kolkata Knight Riders, Gambhir never failed to show aggression. In his speeches dissing AAP and Congress, that same combativeness is visible.

Gautam Gambhir’s aggressive yet unorthodox approach to captaincy  — case in point is the audacity to set three slips and a forward short leg for MS Dhoni in an IPL T20 match — yielded him great rewards. During his six-year tenure as KKR captain, they managed to win the trophy twice — and turn perhaps the worst side in the league to one of the most consistent performers. But his vituperative approach in politics may not earn him the same rewards.

In fact, Gambhir himself has said that he has left the aggressive approach on the field itself, and now when he is in public life he wants to take a more humane approach. But his speeches and interviews seem like a far cry from what he claims. We see glimpses of the same Gambhir we saw on the cricket field.

However, the advantage that Gambhir has, and what Vijender Singh lacks, is that he is now a retired cricketer and can solely concentrate on politics should he be elected to Parliament. Vijender, on the other hand, is still an active professional boxer.

From the ring

Vijender Singh no longer represents India or his state Haryana in amateur fights. He is now a professional boxer, i.e, one who is contracted by a boxing promotional company. Right now, Singh is contracted to Top Rank, an organisation based in Las Vegas. This is the same organization that promoted the likes of Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather Jr. He is also the reigning WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight and WBO Oriental Super Middleweight Champion.

All these accolades and professional commitments mean that he will have future fights where he will have to defend his titles — two of them — in future events, that too in countries outside India. And since he is enrolled in a multi-million dollar contract with one of the world’s top pro boxing companies, he simply cannot bid adieu to the sport unless he retires. Add to that another factor: at 33 years old, he is currently at the prime of his boxing career. With no retirement in sight, whether India’s finest male boxer can be of use if he is selected remains a big question.

And that is where Singh’s critics come in, saying that he is just in politics for ‘timepass’ and Congress just wanted to field a celebrity. Singh, in his various comments and interviews has vehemently denied this claim, saying that he is not here to garner votes for popularity, he wants to do good for the people.

Singh’s main issue has been raising the issues of sportspersons, and improving facilities on the ground for them, as according to him, the government has failed to do anything for the past five years. That is why he wants to go into Parliament, because as a sportsman himself he wants to raise issues for his compatriots.

An allegation that has been brought upon both of them is that they are outsiders to their constituency. Gautam Gambhir resides in Old Rajinder Nagar, which falls in the New Delhi constituency, while Vijender
Singh is not from Delhi at all, having been born and brought up in the Kaluwas village of
Haryana.

Gambhir says that these allegations are baseless as he is a ‘Dilli ka ladka’ and the whole city is his home, and that is why East Delhi is as much home to him as Old Rajinder Nagar is. Singh has also dismissed this allegation claiming that he has a house in Vasant Kunj, so he is fighting from his own constituency.

So, what do these two sportspersons bring to the field of politics that they have learned from the field of sports. The cricketer says that sports has taught him never to back down from any challenge and that is what he brings to the fore. He goes on to say that in his cricketing days he was always shielded from the people because of his celebrity status, and now politics allows him to be closer to people, and work from the ground. So, he considers this as a much bigger job, rather than being a sportsman.

The boxer says that sports has taught him how to keep his feet on the ground, no matter what kind of success he gets, and he will bring that humility in his political career. So, he is fighting this battle for the first time, and he is fighting to win. He also says that politics is like a boxing match, the only difference being here the participants tend to hit each other below the belt.

The also rans

These two are not the first sportsmen to jump into the political arena in Delhi.  From East Delhi, the  seat Gautam Gambhir is vying for, was one that batsman Chetan Chauhan too, had contested for in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls  representing BJP. He lost to Sheila Dikshit’s son, Congress candidate Sandip Dikshit. This was after he had won an election from Uttar Pradesh’s Amroha in the 1991 Lok Sabha polls.

 

Former India all-rounder Kirti Azad is one of the most successful cricketer-turned-politicians of this country. A three-time MP from Bihar’s Darbhanga, Azad started his political career right here when he contested and won the Gole Market Assembly constituency in 1993 representing BJP. He however lost the same seat in the very next election. It was after he moved from Delhi to Bihar that he tasted success again.

 

The first player in history to take a hat-trick in ODIs, Chetan Sharma too contested on a BSP ticket from Faridabad in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. However, he badly lost the seat, as he came third behind the BJP and Congress candidates.

So, Delhi-NCR has traditionally never been a happy wicket to bat on for sportsmen-turned-politicians.