Starting out as a reluctant politician in the recent general elections, the cricketer-turned-BJP East Delhi Member of Parliament Gautam Gambhir is gradually finding his feet as a people’s representative. As is the case when he wears the hat of a cricket pundit, Gambhir, in his new avatar, hasn’t let political correctness dictate his public statements either. With the important Test series against South Africa just days away, speculation on M S Dhoni’s retirement rife, captain Virat Kohli’s side still in transition stage and Delhi’s Assembly elections expected early next year, the 37-year-old former India opener has a lot to talk about
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: When you retired from cricket, you seemed reluctant to join politics. What changed?
I was always hesitant about joining politics because it is very different from the field I come from. (Cricket) is black and white… One day I was sitting with my dad and we were discussing my future plans. I had just signed the commentary contract with Star Sports. He asked me if it (commentary) excited me… I was like no, it’s too boring for me. I told him that I don’t want to be someone who just talks about issues and then forgets about them.
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: What made you join the BJP? Were there other options as well?
Of course I had options. There were offers from other political parties as well. (Late) Mr (Arun) Jaitley helped me a lot in joining the BJP. He said that people like me should get into politics. The relationship between our families went back 30 years. He kept saying that I should get into politics, and that people like me could make an impact, given our energy and intent. So maybe that was one reason for joining the BJP. Then, obviously, the decisive leadership that the party offered was something that the nation needed. So that was probably another reason that I joined the BJP. But the biggest reason was Mr Arun Jaitley.
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: In his book, Paddy Upton, the former mental conditioning coach of the Indian team, made an interesting observation about you. He said that Gautam has lots of insecurities, and that he is ‘one of the most negative cricketers I have worked with’. But, at the same time, he goes on to say ‘in case I want to pick one guy for a big match, I will always pick Gautam’. After you won the Cricketer Of The Year award from the International Cricket Council, you said that ‘even this will not help work on my insecurities’. Can you elaborate?
The only complaint that I have with Paddy is that the timing (of his book) wasn’t right. I was campaigning when the book released. I was scared that people might take it up. It is out in the open that at that stage I would say that my insecurities are far greater than my securities. There is nothing wrong in it. People do feel insecure. It has a lot to do with one’s experiences. It is not that I used to feel insecure only with Paddy. Probably when I was 10 or 11 years old, I had to fight for every opportunity that I got. I had to fight when I was playing for under-14, for under-16, even the Under-19 World Cup. So it is the experiences that I have had throughout my career which made me insecure. But I look at insecurities in a positive way. It has kept me going and made me work even harder. I was never content with my performances. Even when I scored a 100 or 50 runs, I would crib about it in the dressing room… Insecurities have been a very, very positive thing in my life. I actually had a debate with Paddy on the negativity (comment)… I was never cribbing, I always wanted to hit more balls, take more catches. I was the first one to arrive for practice and the last one to leave… I used to feel that every failure could push me out of the team. I wanted to be a part of the team for as long as I could, to play for India as long as I could, and to be the best cricketer. Probably these were the reasons that made me insecure.
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: What kind of homework do you have to do as a politician?
I am trying to read a lot. I was never a big reader, I used to watch documentaries. So now I am trying to read as much as I can. I am trying to gain knowledge from my team as well. I have a very good team in place. I have got a researcher, a good political advisor. Obviously, I will gain from experience over a period of time as well.
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: In the commentary box, you are now talking about people that you played with, including M S Dhoni, and there is conversation about his retirement…
I feel that retirement is a very individual decision. Till the time you want to play you are allowed to play, but you do have to look at the future as well. I do not see Dhoni playing the next World Cup. So whoever is the captain (then), Virat or any one else, should have the courage to say so, that this player is not fitting into the scheme of things. It’s time for some of the youngsters to get groomed in the next four-five years, because ultimately it is not about Dhoni, it is about the country. It is not about Dhoni staying on for the next cricket World Cup, it is about winning the next cricket World Cup. You might want to give the opportunity to Rishabh Pant or Sanju Samson, any young cricketer… They should get the opportunity… I think personally, if you ask me, I think it’s time for Indian cricket to look beyond Dhoni.
MIHIR VASAVDA: As you took the political plunge, was it challenging to understand people’s issues, their expectations from you?
Initially, yes, it was a challenge. The constituency was very new to me. All my life I have lived in New Delhi, I have practised in New Delhi. I had hardly been to East Delhi. I was surprised that Feroz Shah Kotla (now renamed the Arun Jaitley Stadium) comes under my constituency. But you learn.
The first challenge was getting exposed to a lot of people. Earlier, I would have a small group of people around me. When you are a part of public life you are exposed to all kinds of people. It’s challenging but also exciting. I realised that as a sports person you can only bring smiles to people’s faces, but with politics, if you go in with the right intent, you can change lives.
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: On Twitter you come across as a very different person. You have had some very angry exchanges with Omar Abdullah and Shahid Afridi.
They (the Abdullahs) need to take responsibility for whatever is happening in Kashmir. This is a family that has ruled Kashmir for the longest period of time… Both the Abdullahs and the Muftis. I have been very clear on that front… I agree the (tweet) could have been a bit over the top, I am not denying that. But it hurts me a lot when a young Kashmiri doesn’t get opportunities. They stand on the roads and stones are thrown. That will hurt any Indian.
(On Shahid Afridi) Some fights do get personal and there is nothing wrong with that. It has been like that for a very long time. Sometimes it is nice to get personal with someone. I have had decent relationships with Pakistani players, off the field, but not with Shahid Afridi. So that is the reason we got personal. Now obviously he doesn’t play but you never know, he might just make a comeback. He will never retire… There is a bit of history to that (the relationship with Afridi), I am fine with that.
NIHAL KOSHIE: Since the BJP has come to power, there has been a sense of hyper-nationalism attached to issues related to Kashmir, Pakistan, cows etc. Are you comfortable with it?
For me nationalism is all about growth and development. Every youngster in the country, in every state, including Kashmir, wants opportunities. That is what nationalism is for me. Yes I do respect the national anthem, I will always respect it. I will always stand up for it. In a tweet I had said that there was nothing wrong in standing up for 52 seconds. But I am against polarisation, negative polarisation. Anything that divides the society on religious lines, the lynchings… I am absolutely against it . I think you cannot lynch people on the basis of religion. I have never endorsed it. For me India is one, and it will always remain one. Nationalism is everywhere, it is about treating your country like your mother… It is a feeling that you want your country to grow. I do not endorse hyper-nationalism.
NIHAL KOSHIE: Will you continue to speak about problematic issues in the future as well?
Why not? I am an Indian first, religion comes much later. I will always stand by what is right and what is wrong. There are two kinds of polarisation — positive and negative. Positive polarisation was a movement like the Anna Hazare movement and what happened after the Nirbhaya case. Anna Hazare taught us to fight against corruption. The Nirbhaya case taught us to talk about women security and safety. But lynching and dividing society are negative polarisation and I will never endorse it.
ABHINAV RAJPUT: You represent the East Delhi seat, which has been facing many issues — strikes by sanitation workers, teachers not getting salaries in municipal schools etc. The Ghazipur landfill site has crossed the height of the Qutub Minar, and the joke is that it is now competing with the Statue of Unity. How do you plan on tackling these issues?
I am already working on a lot of the issues that you mentioned. The MP fund that I get for my constituency will never be enough. I am already talking to corporates and asking them to introduce CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives in the region.
I have also spoken to everyone I know about the waste segregation issue. I know what it is to live around the Ghazipur landfill. The water that they drink, the air quality… I know what the families go through. Young kids have stomach issues, asthma, it is absolutely inhuman. I spoke to the Environment Ministry, the Prime Minister has taken note of the Ghazipur landfill issue. Things have started moving in a positive direction.
Education is a huge issue. There are six EDMC (East Delhi Municipal Corporation) schools in my area. They have poor infrastructure, they are in a shambles. Some corporates have decided to take up the schools and change the entire infrastructure, make it more kid-friendly. I am trying to do the best I can with help of corporates because the MP fund is very limited — Rs 5 crore will never be enough.
Compared to other constituencies, my constituency has a lot more issues. For waste management, we have already started working on compost machines. Also, there are three-four big malls in my area. If they can go plastic free… I have already distributed 30,000-40,000 bags. Whatever little I can do in my capacity, I will definitely do it. I promise that in my tenure there will be a solution to the Ghazipur landfill. I am not saying it will happen in six months or one year, but it will happen.
MALLICA JOSHI: Delhi elections will be held in a few months. What is the BJP’s plan for the polls?
I am too new… See, we can talk as much as we want about what our current Chief Minister has not delivered on. But, what we can bring to the table is also very important. I think this country is growing beyond negative politics. I think for me the most important thing is what the BJP needs to do, which is to tell people what they can bring to the table, and not what Mr Kejriwal has not achieved. So if you go to the people and tell them that this is what we can do, this is the positive politics we want to do, that can make an impact… That can change scenarios.Who wants to listen to negativity? People today know whether development is happening or not. Earlier, people would do little but show a lot more. But now if you don’t do things, I am sure people are going to hurt you badly.
ANANT GOENKA: Is there some good work done by Arvind Kejriwal that you see in the city?
He keeps talking about education. But I am not going to agree with what he says about tackling dengue or what he says about air quality. That is completely, absolutely illogical. The air quality has improved, but he has not taken measures for it. He promised so many things. We will have artificial rainfall, we will have vacuum cleaners on the road… He has hardly done anything. Where are the vacuum cleaners? Where is the artificial rainfall? Where?
On the dengue issue, the MCD has done a lot. I spoke to all the councillors. They have been working day and night on it. He (Kejriwal) can market himself as much as he wants, and he is doing it, but ultimately I am sure if we go to people with a positive thing, they will connect with us.
MALLICA JOSHI: Do you think free Metro and DTC bus rides for women, and 200 units of free electricity, will make a difference on the ground?
It’s a completely political move. Do you want Delhi to be helpless? You are making people helpless. If you can afford it, do you still want a free ride? It is only putting a burden on taxpayers. For four-and-a-half years you did not think of putting up CCTV cameras, and now you have given out tenders worth lakhs. Wasn’t women security important four-and-a-half years ago?
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: What do you have to say about Dhoni wearing the Army insignia on his wicket-keeping gloves?
See, it’s fine. If he enjoys it and if it comes from within, he is absolutely right in wearing it. But it should not be made into news. Honestly, I think, the Army doesn’t need any endorsement. The Army doesn’t need any marketing. I have never been in favour of honorary ranks (in defence forces) as well. I have been very vocal about it. People have given their sweat and blood to achieve that uniform. There is honorary everything, at least leave the defence services out of it…
Yes, M S Dhoni has done a fabulous job, going to Kashmir, serving in the Army, hats off to him. But I will not endorse people getting honorary positions in the defence forces.
PARVEEN K DOGRA: After winning the Lok Sabha polls, you tagged Arvind Kejriwal in a very angry tweet…
I said I was ashamed to have a CM like you… It was because of the pamphlet controversy. See, for me, every other controversy is fine. I remember when I went to file my nomination, Atishi (AAP East Delhi candidate against Gambhir) was there. I walked up to her and said all the best. I said may the best person win and that whoever wins should be good for the people of Delhi because they deserve it. We started having a conversation… Some people said you should not have a conversation. I said why should I not have a conversation. We could have ideological differences but there are no personal differences between us. The next day, of course, they tried to cancel my nomination. Fair. Probably that’s the rule of the game. Then there were FIRs filed against me… Fair enough, okay. That was fine because the court has to decide who is right and wrong. But the pamphlet controversy was something that no person can take. I have a family… In India, a media trial is very, very dangerous. I would never want anyone to tell my mother, my wife or my children that your father or your husband or your son has done something like this. That was hitting me under the belt. Probably that was the time that I had tweeted that I feel ashamed to have a CM like him.
RITU SARIN: You are making the Delhi elections a direct contest between the AAP and the BJP? What about the Congress?
We should not take the Congress lightly. It is a national party that has run the country for 70 years. But I personally feel that the loss of Mrs Sheila Dikshit has been a huge blow for the Congress in Delhi. She was a huge face in Delhi. I think it’s a fight between the BJP and AAP at the moment, but you can’t take the Congress lightly because it still has a legacy.