In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections 2019 that will begin on April 11, former Indian Cricketer Gautam Gambhir on Friday joined the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the presence of Union Ministers Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad in New Delhi. The once Left-handed opening batsman, who in December rejected all the rumours about him joining the politics, is all set to bat for the Right in this poll season. There is speculation that Gambhir is likely to contest the polls from one of the seven seats in the national capital. While the sources suggest the New Delhi constituency which is currently represented by the party’s Meenakshi Lekhi, the final decision is yet to be disclosed.
The 31-year-old cricketer is followed by nearly nine million followers on Twitter and is frequently active with his comments and opinions on the country’s social, political, and security issues over the last few years. After beginning his new innings with Prime Minister Modi-led BJP, Gambhir said, “I am joining this party (BJP) after getting influenced by PM Narendra Modi’s vision. I am honoured to get the opportunity to join this platform.”
Welcoming the former cricketer into the party and stating how BJP has expanded in the last decade, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, “We were called a cadre-based party and now we are cadre mass party. Gambhir has excelled in his career and the party hopes to utilises his talent. The BJP will benefit from his talent.” The cricket fraternity too welcomed and admired Gambhir’s new journey and voiced the need for an ‘honest and committed people like him’ in Indian politics.
Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi Cabinet Minister Gopal Rai said, “Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have adopted a policy to end democracy and bring polarisation through the emotional level. There are two aspects wherein either people are against this policy and are trying to defeat BJP and there are some others who are trying to make them victorious by following this policy. Cricketers contesting election won’t make any difference. Despite being in power, BJP has to change its candidates and it only shows their weakness.”
Gambhir, the Padma Shri award winner, is the resident of Rajendra Nagar in Delhi. He played a significant role in India’s triumph in the 2011 World Cup and the 2007 T-20 World Cup. Gambhir made his one-day international debut for the Indian national team in April 2003 against Bangladesh and went on to play 147 ODIs for the side. He played the last One-Day International for the Indian cricket team in 2013 and his last Test match was in 2016. He played his last Ranji Trophy match in December 2018 against Andhra, after which he announced his retirement along with his willingness towards coaching.
Gautam Gambhir is indeed not the first cricketer to join the political domain. Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Chetan Chauhan, Kirti Azad, Mohammad Azharuddin, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Mohammad Kaif, Praveen Kumar, Vinod Kambli, etc. — these cricketers had taken up politics as their post-retirement career with much hoo-ha but hardly any of them made the mark. They failed to reach the peak and were seemingly utilised by the respective political parties for a particular election season. Encashing on popularity and immense fan-following, these cricketer-turned-politicians managed to amass votes and seats in the Parliament but only for a single shot. Now, it’s only time which will tell how much sincerity and contribution the India politics and the BJP will get from Gautam Gambhir.
Cricket Expert Ayaz Memon said, “Cricketers like Kirti Azad and Chetan Chauhan have performed well in politics while Mohammad Azharuddin has contested election thrice. The cricketers have a mass appeal and BJP is trying to cash that in. Gautam Gambhir is young so it is not necessary that he will be allotted any ministerial berth. Cricketers enter politics with an eye on their future career.”
Unlike his successful cricket matches, Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi’s electoral battle in 1991 couldn’t taste the success. The adverse circumstances that elevated from the Ram Janmbhoomi movement led to his failure. Even after drawing good crowds during the election campaign, Pataudi managed to get only 35.88 per cent votes while BJP’s Sushil Chandra Verma secured 53.61 per cent votes and won the battle smashing Pataudi’s political ambitions. Chetan Chauhan, who formed one of India’s best opening partnerships with Sunil Gavaskar, also joined BJP and was twice elected as the Member of the Parliament from Uttar Pradesh’s Amroha. He lost the elections from the same constituency in 1996, 1999, and 2004.
Former India all-rounder Kirti Azad, who was a part of the 1983 World Cup-winning squad, represented the BJP and won the election from Bihar’s Darbhanga constituency thrice. In February 2019, he joined the Congress party. His father Bhagwat Jha Azad was the former Chief Minister of Bihar.
One of the most popular Indian Cricket Captains Mohammad Azharuddin’s career has seen a number of ups and downs. After playing 334 ODIs and 99 Test matches, his success run halted after he got entangled in the biggest match-fixing scandal of his time. He made a plunge into politics during 2009 general elections with a Congress ticket and became the Member of Parliament from Moradabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh but was unsuccessful in making an impression.
Mohammad Kaif, who played 125 ODIs and 13 Tests between 2000 and 2006, represented Congress from his constituency of Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh but failed to see the face of success. He is currently the Assistant Coach of Delhi Capitals in the IPL.
Vinod Kambli represented the Lok Bharati Party in the 2009 elections and he lost. The left-hander played 17 Tests and 102 ODIs for India. Thereafter, he was neither seen in politics nor in Cricket. Navjot Singh Sidhu joined the BJP after winning the Lok Sabha elections from Amritsar. He had a career spanning over 19 years as a professional cricketer. However, later on, he joined Congress once again and landed in many controversies but his political spare is intact so far. He joined the BJP in 2004 and contested the general election from Amritsar and won the election. In 2016, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha from Punjab before he quit the party. He joined Congress in 2017 and contested the general election from Amritsar East and won the election.
Besides the sports personalities who became a part of political parties, Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar too received a lot of criticism during his tenure as an MP of Rajya Sabha. He hardly attended any Parliament session and was highly criticised for his poor attendance. Tendulkar only attended 29 of the approximately 400 Parliament sessions during his six years as a Rajya Sabha MP.
Swaraj India national president Yogendra Yadav spoke to Afternoon Voice asserted, “Anybody from the field of Cricket or Cinema can contest the elections but it is important that they serve the people. The background of a candidate is not important but his deeds are important. If a celebrity joins politics and projects his celebrity status, then it doesn’t augur well for the nation.”