What do sportspersons bring to politics? (Column: Just Sport)

Film star Nagma was furious the other day with a television anchor when he questioned her credentials to get a ticket to contest for a Lok Sabha seat and reminded him that she has been working for the Congress for over a decade and has campaigned in every election.

She may be one of those rare exceptions, but political parties turn to film and sports personalities only during the election time to cash in on their popularity.

Yet, not many with a high glamour quotient can be categorised as successful parliamentarians; they remain backbenchers and time-servers. Not many could go back and seek re-election on their good work. Simply put, neither the film stars nor the sportspersons have the time or patience to devote to their constituencies and listen to the problems of the people.

The only sportsperson who got into politics to serve the cause of his tribe was the captain of the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics hockey team Jaipal Singh Munda. He was as consummate a politician as he was with his hockey stick. All his life he worked among the Adivasis and paved the way for a separate state for them – a wish that was fulfilled, long after his death in 1970, with the creation of Jharkhand – but not exactly in the manner he envisaged.

He also wanted his tribes to be good sportspersons and the basic infrastructure he fought to create for them resulted in a number of good hockey players coming from the region. One of his tribe and another former hockey captain Dilip Tirkey is a member of the Rajya Sabha today from Orissa and by all accounts, he is making a good job of it.

Most of the high-profile sportsmen in politics are cricketers. The only one stuck to it like a duck to water is Kirti Azad, who as one of his contemporaries quipped was a bit of a politician even as a player. He is a senior BJP MP, occupying a seat on the front benches. In his case he grew up in a political atmosphere as his father Bhagwat Jha Azad was a Congress chief minister of Bihar – and later a central minister – and played a big part in his son playing for India if not in politics.

Curiously, Azad’s party-mate and fellow-cricketer Navjot Sidhu also did not follow his father into Congress, opting instead for the BJP. He was a revelation when jumped into the political arena. Someone who was seen as a soft-spoken backroom boy of the Indian team, he became highly articulate and a completely transformed person, speaking his mind out forcefully to everyone’s surprise. His one-liners were seen as pearls of wisdom and he is also the most sought-after man in stand-up comedy shows. So much so, his political work took a back seat and he seems to be happy with what he is doing professionally. He makes no secret of the fact that TV is his bread and butter.

Sidhu is missing from his Amritsar constituency for months and posters went up stating anyone finding him would be rewarded! He is neither getting along well with leaders of BJP’s allies or his party workers raising speculation that me might not be wanting to seek re-election a fourth time, though he insists that if at all he contests, it will be from Amritsar.

The other big-time cricketer and former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin, also like Sidhu, is unwilling to return to his Moradabad constituency. He is looking for another safe constituency from an area where he is popular with the electorate. In the meanwhile he is already campaigning for party candidates elsewhere in the country.

The kid on the block is Mohammad Kaif. As of now, all his politics revolves around his benefactor Rahul Gandhi, and he thinks he can do well in Phulpur – once the constituency of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru – which is his ancestral place close to his native Allahabad. He has to really work wonders if he is to succeed. His politics is not clear as of now and he is only depending on his party and his stature as a cricketer.

Then, there is Chetan Chauhan, Sunil Gavaskar’s most successful opening partner, who won twice and lost thrice from Amroha on a BJP ticket and is keen on getting one more chance. His luck has not changed even after shifting to East Delhi in 2009.

One man who would have done well as a politician is Ajay Jadeja. He comes from a political family, yet he chose to keep off. For someone whose father and mother-in-law are politicians, his task would have been simpler. An articulate speaker with subtle wit, he could have contested from the capital or from his native Saurashtra with a good chance of succeeding.

Just when sportspersons are finding it difficult to survive in politics for long, at least one man seems to be happy with his work. He is yet another former India hockey captain Pargat Singh who has settled for the Punjab assembly. He says he was caught in his own web by telling his friend and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal that the party should only get good, honest people into the political system.

Badal turned back and asked the police officer: “How about coming into the system to cleanse it?” Pargat was stumped and any amount of protestations would not work, he had to bow.

Pargat’s mantra is simple, bridge the gap between the political system and the needs of the people, in other words, make promises you can fulfill and don’t go on a binge by raising the expectations of the people. He now spend 10-12 hours a day in his Jalandhar Cantonment constituency for six days a week overseeing works he initiated to the tune of Rs.117 crores in two years since he got elected. He says drug-peddlers and land-grabbers are a big menace in his area and claims to have tackled the twin problems with an iron fist.

Like Pargat, footballer Bhaichung Bhutia is seen as a sure shot to succeed. One of his teammates saw his sleek politics even as a player and many think he will surprise quite a few with his dynamism. And so will be Rajyavardhan Rathore, or so some of his shooting friends think. Both Bhutia and Rathore are articulate and intense about what they want to do.

One thing that filtered through talking to some of the sportspersons is that their biggest problem is to fulfill the outlandish demands of their constituents, wanting TV sets, motorbikes and cellphones! The problem is who all can an MP oblige in an age everything goes viral? The MP should know his job is to work in the larger interest of his constituents with his Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLAD) funds, not to please the lackeys and hangers-on.

(Veturi Srivatsa is IANS Sports Editor and the views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at v.srivatsa@ians.in)

IANS