Leander Paes speaks about what made him join politics
Former Indian tennis legend Leander Paes is moving around the streets of Goa understanding people’s woes ahead of state elections in February-March next year as he begins a new phase of life as a Trinamool Congress (TMC) politician.
His day starts early with meetings to decide the course of the day, followed by day long campaigning with partner Kim Sharma .
“It’s been incredible. The reception that I’m so blessed to receive was one of being a son of the soil when we went into Velim, Tolleacanto, Assolna (the village where Paes father Vece Paes hails from) or when we came here to Calangute or Candolim. They all start first talking about how wonderful it was to have a son of the soil coming back to make a difference,” Paes says, speaking as he’s driven from one house to the next.
It’s been his first plunge in politics and he is shepherded around by a group of IPAC (Indian Political Action Committee) 20-somethings who keep adjusting his schedule while trying to pack in as many engagements as possible.
On some days, he’s busy campaigning door to door, meeting and greeting village leaders and influential residents apart from posing for pictures and playing football with local boys.
Over the last few days, Paes has met former Olympian hockey player Selma D’Silva, Tallulah Bragança, a renowned athlete with several medals, Agnelo Barreto an RTI activist, Jude Souza Lobo, a restauranteur, freedom fighter Cyriaco Dias,social activist Savio Lopes and many others.
“I served the country for 30 years playing tennis. I have travelled around the world and tried to bring laurels to our flag and to our people. But now that I have retired from tennis. My single-minded focus is to bring a better quality of life to our people and to bring a sense of peace in society and a sense of harmony. Where we as Indians and we as Goans are one, regardless of religion or caste, we are one community,” Paes says
His plunge into politics, he says, received a “mixed reaction” from his family. “It’s amazing how everyone has a point of view on politics. I have pretty much heard it all,” he says.
While Paes fields questions about the TMCs plans for Goa, it immediately becomes clear that reservations about the timing of the party’s entry into Goa politics abound. People want to know if the party aims to split the anti-BJP vote and if it will shut shop and retreat after defeat, like it did in 2012.
Paes responds with his party’s commitment to “never compromise” with the BJP, and to “never become” like the Congress and to take up Goa’s issues, no matter what.
To those who ask where was he all these years only to emerge in the colours of a political party a few months ahead of elections, Paes has a simple answer.
“I think there are so many Goans and so many Indians who have left our roots to conduct our business, to conduct our professions to make a living. But we never leave our roots in our hearts and in our minds. Could have I come ten years ago? Could I have come five years ago? Could I have come six months ago? Maybe. But the fact that I’m here now is what matters,” he says.
During his sporting career, his hard work and patriotic fervour stood out as much as his achievements. He tells people that he is bringing the same qualities to politics now.
“I think there is a time and a place for everything. And I’ve been very blessed in my life to be in the right place at the right time. I’m very blessed as a son of the soil of India to bring laurels to our country. And if given the right opportunity and a platform... I would like to use my broad shoulders to give a better quality of life to my own people here in Goa,” he adds.
While Paes effuses charm, some of those he interacted with remained sceptical.
“They (TMC) are speaking the right language but are yet to grasp the intricacies of Goa’s politics and prove that they really are here with an aim to defeat the BJP. They have to choose and support right candidates,” one person, who declined to be quoted, said. “There are several issues that affect the locals that they [TMC] doesn’t seem to have fully understood,” he added.
“We appreciate Paes for all the laurels he brought to the country, but politics is a different ball game. I do not think he has had much of an impact. He didn’t come to Goa even during his playing days and now suddenly before elections he is here,” says Michael Beny da Costa, a resident of Velim, where Paes ancestral family hails from, and a candidate from the Velim constituency.
“Sportspersons do not generally do well in politics. Even Mauricio Afonso, a popular footballer and former India captain was once projected as a popular politician but he too had no impact,” da Costa recalls.
Neshwin Almeida, who traces his roots to the village but now lives in the town of Margao said that Paes entry will get eyeballs, but may have little impact on the party’s ultimate chances in the election.
“Velim constituency consisting of the villages of Assolna, Ambelim, Velim, Tollecanto, Chinchinim, Sarzora is surely proud of his 1996 feat of winning an Olympic Bronze but Leander never recognised his Goan ancestry in the past and preferred instead to be known as a Kolkata boy or a Bombay lad. Infact, Leander is more known for his club tennis in the USA and his visits to White House to meet Obama as Washington Kastles captain,” Almeida says.
“Bringing him to Velim will cause more insecurity among voters that an outsider is being imposed on the constituency. Bringing sports person to shake hands with children, wave at fishermen and interact for two hours can’t win you polls, its foot soldiers that always win polls,” he adds.
So, is Paes going to be contesting elections in Goa?
“I’m growing every day and every day I’m learning something new. We are assessing the situation on a daily basis and if the party decides that I should contest, then I am ready,” he said.