Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Gautam Gambhir settles in for long, steady innings in politics
Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Cricketer-turned-politician Gautam Gambhir is the BJP candidate on East Delhi parliamentary constituency.Updated: May 01, 2019, 09:48 IST
At nine in the morning, Gautam Gambhir is used to padding up to face the new ball on wickets he’d read well a day before. In his new innings as a politician, the former India opening batsman faces a tougher task when he gets set at nine as there is little inkling of what’s to come.
It is a bright, hot and sunny Monday. Gambhir’s first public meeting, a nukkad sabha (a corner meeting) at the main market in southeast Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar, has been cancelled even before taking off. He is now headed to a public park in the area’s JJ colony. The residents comprise those who had been moved from slums in various parts of the Capital in the 90s. The roads around the Samosa Chowk and the Jalebi Chowk aren’t smooth. Gambhir’s entourage winds through the narrow lanes, attracting attention. He is escorted by ringed security into a public park teeming with kids, among others, a total strength of around a hundred. Used to standing in the sun on a cricket field for long hours, this should be easy.
He speaks on the need for fresh air and clean water and then pitches in for Prime Minister with the mention of Uri surgical strike and post-Pulwama air strikes. But when the media asks about allegations of him possessing two voter ID cards, the usually combative Gambhir, presents a safe, straight bat. He pleads with the public to not attack other contestants or parties but fight on real issues.
“We’ll not blame anyone for what has happened in the Capital over the last four and a half years. But good air quality is the basic necessity for Delhiites. Clean water and air is what we’ll focus on. We don’t want to start playing petty politics, like Arvind Kejriwal when he tweeted about cancellation of my nomination. I never wanted to sit in an air-conditioned room and be a twitter activist, keep tweeting and do nothing. I’ve taken the plunge. I have the courage to do something,” he says as his SUV waits outside the Sunlight Colony, near Bhogal waiting for the next sabha.
His long-time coach Sanjay Bhardwaj, who got him his first English willow bat back in 1991 and two fellow ex-Delhi cricketers accompany him. His family members, his maternal uncle and a cousin, too are there.
“Beyond a certain level, vichardhara (ideology) matters less. What counts is friendship,” explains Bhardwaj.
The meeting is being delayed. The permission to hold the sabha from the District Magistrate hasn’t come. There have been delays on most days due to permissions. Gambhir though looks unfazed, sitting in the SUV. He is used to waiting in the field for catches or for that wide half volley. A group closes in to discuss matters. The permission finally comes and he enters the dharamshala. The selfie-seeking youngsters, gathered there, delay proceedings further. Another city cricket coach, Kesar Choudhary appears, says aloud to Gambhir’s team, “These people belong to my community. Don’t worry, they will calm down soon.”
Gambhir begins, apologises profusely for the delay. “I am extremely sorry for the delay. Please forgive me,” he says showing his non-combative approach.
Gambhir explains his new challenge. “This is more challenging because you have to face people. When you are playing cricket, you are not actually impacting people’s lives. Now I have a platform to bring about a change to their life. This is more challenging, exciting and hectic. People should judge me with my honesty, rather than what I’ve done on the cricket field.”
Gambhir takes on his rivals who have called him an outsider, someone brought up in the neighbourhood of Rajinder Nagar, who knows little about East Delhi. “People have said I belong to New Delhi. But do they realise that my father has been doing business here (Gandhinagar market) for the last 45 years? I want to make this the best constituency,” says Gambhir, an alumnus of north campus’ Hindu College.
He also wants to turn the Yamuna Sports Complex (YSC) into a ground that can hold firstclass cricket. “It is huge and fabulous. There has been talk of shortage of space in Delhi. We have one Ferozeshah Kotla. Why not develop YSC into a world class venue where we can have Ranji Trophy and IPL games.”
Then the entourage of 4-6 cars moves to Jain Mandir in Bhogal for a brief stopover before moving to party office at Jagriti Enclave where Gambhir, sits down for a meal of dal chawal. In an hour’s time, he’ll be set for another meeting, in his dad’s business stronghold, Gandhinagar.