Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand is considered one of the mega achievers in India to have put the country on the global map and goes about his business in a modest way. His influence across age groups cannot be questioned and yet he wishes to remain away from politics where he could influence a change. He, however, chooses to keep his legacy through chess and wants to keep it that way.
With two other big names and influencers in Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan taking the plunge into politics in Tamil Nadu, Anand denied he wishes to join the list. “I can’t see myself becoming a politician. It’s not about compromising… Like chess, you have to be fascinated by politics and, like sport in general, you need to spend a lot of time before you become successful. Politicians must create a base and campaign endlessly. I can’t see myself doing that. I’d rather spend time on my hobbies, read up a subject which interests me,” he said in an interview to The Telegraph.
“I have constantly been seeing people switching careers and that has happened a lot in chess too. I’d say go for it if you have the skills set to define something else which engages you… One of the perspectives you have in life, when you are nearing 50, is that if something really fascinates and motivates, then go for it. Everybody doesn’t succeed or win, but if the game (of politics) interests you, go ahead,” he added on the subject.
One of his former rivals Garry Kasparov is now a politician and a fierce critic of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. Anand reckons it looked as if Kasparov would go on to become an author rather than a politician and sees him as an activist. “When Garry finished as a regular chess player 13 or so years ago, I’d thought he would become an author for he’d been wanting to write books. Instead, Garry got involved with some causes. I always felt he was more of an activist rather than a politician. Garry advocated causes he never expected to win, but highlighted them nevertheless. I think his Russia activism falls in that category. Personally, I see Garry more as an author or a speaker… He is not quite involved with chess now, but still follows the game at a high level. Garry hasn’t dropped off completely,” said Anand.
Having become a Grandmaster in 1988, Anand has been part of the sport for a very long time. Asked to make a list of the all-time greats, Anand said, “Difficult to compare, but some say (reigning world champion) Magnus Carlsen is already the greatest. Some say Bobby Fischer or Garry… I didn’t play against Fischer, but have against the other two. Garry rarely plays and, so, Carlsen would have to be seen differently… Most agree that Fischer, Garry and Carlsen would figure in some order in the top three.”
In the three decades of global travel for tournaments across the globe, Anand has seen the world change and the perception towards India and the Indians too. He reflected on how India has changed from being a closed economy then to benefitting from the IT revolution now. “In the first seven years of travelling, from 1983, I spent more time figuring out how to get foreign exchange approval than preparing for the tournaments! Much of my parents’ time went arranging for the travellers cheques. Back then you didn’t, after all, have forex or credit or debit cards… Also, if I wanted to know about a city overseas, I had to find a person in Chennai who’d been there to answer my queries. India has greatly benefited from the IT revolution and everyone knows about everyone. You can just search the net,” he stated.
Speaking of India’s image itself, Anand said, “It has certainly improved and India is seen more positively. People abroad used to have some strange views about India, just like some in India had strange views about men and women overseas… We Indians are no longer perceived as snake charmers! That thinking, fortunately, has gone… Today, Indians are so much more international… Hordes travel overseas and students in massive numbers study overseas.”
Anand, who turns 49 on December 11, was asked what would be his legacy to the sport when he does finally retire. “I think I have already made a difference in the way chess is seen in India and the way it is followed… Globally also… That, I reckon, would be my legacy.”