Right from his days as a cricketer, Gautam Gambhir has never shied away from speaking his mind. In this exclusive interview with indianexpress.com, Gambhir, who has been fielded by BJP from East Delhi, speaks about what prompted him to join politics, why he feels AAP has betrayed Delhi and his Twitter spat with Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah.
Here are the excerpts of the interview:
* You have been commenting on contemporary political issues from your playing days. Why did you take the political plunge now?
I don’t want to be someone who would be sitting in the AC room and tweeting about every issue and then forget about it. I don’t want to be a Twitter activist. I want to be someone who would go on the ground and try and implement whatever I tweet about.
Secondly, I was influenced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi because he has done the right things in the past five years, be it in the form of giving a strong leadership or making strong decisions. That is the kind of leadership we need at this point in the country.
The third reason why I joined politics is because of the betrayal by AAP to Delhiites. They made us emotional, took all the votes and did nothing in the last four-and-a-half years. A lot of credit for me joining politics goes to AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal as well.
* You have been running the community kitchen programme for underprivileged kids. Did this, in some way, motivate you to join politics?
Not at all. That is something my foundation did and I don’t want to get my foundation into politics because that is something which is very close to my heart and will remain far away from politics.
* It has been a month since you joined BJP. How is the pressure in politics different from cricket?
There is a big difference. I have never been used to this kind of lifestyle and it is exciting. It is challenging as well, as earlier you used to live in a cocoon which was only a small fraternity and you would talk and think only about cricket. But now you are exposed to the entire city or probably the entire country as well. Till now, it has been a good challenge.
* Your opponents Arvinder Singh Lovely (Congress) and Atishi (AAP) are known faces in Delhi politics. So, will you bank on your appeal as a cricketer to reach out to people or appeal voters in name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
People will vote keeping in mind the image of BJP and the image of PM Modi and also on what the AAP government has delivered in the past four years. They have made so many big promises and have not been able to achieve those promises. So, people should not get emotional about those big promises and try and vote for people who are honest and have the right intention. Vote for those people who can deliver on promises made.
* Recently, Atishi has filed a criminal complaint against you alleging that you have two voter IDs.
This is what the Election Commission will decide. I have only one voter ID from Rajinder Nagar and I have voted from this constituency only. I used to live with my grandparents in childhood at Ramjas Road but I never applied for a voter ID card from there, nor did I vote from there.
* You have been born and brought up in West Delhi. Why did you choose to contest from East Delhi?
It is not about where I live. My dad has a business since the last 45 years in East Delhi and I don’t want to divide the city. I have been born and brought up in Delhi, did my schooling and graduation in Delhi. People divided the country first, then divided states and now they want to divide a city as well. I am a Delhi boy irrespective of where I contest from. I have an emotional connect with Delhi and hopefully, I can deliver something for the Delhiites as I feel they have been betrayed for the last four and a half years.
* East Delhi has been plagued by sanitation issues for quite a few years now and has seen several strikes by sanitation workers. AAP has accused the BJP-ruled MCD of neglecting East Delhi.
That is because the allocated funds have not been released by the Delhi government. Everyone needs to work together, whether it’s the MLA, councilor or the MP. All of them need to work as one team because at any cost due to your own politics you cannot betray the common citizen. Whether it’s AAP, Congress or BJP, all of them need to work together for the betterment of Delhi.
* What is your vision for Delhi? What are the main issues you have identified for East Delhi?
One thing I am very excited about is that like we have North campus and South campus of Delhi University, I want to have an East campus for East Delhi as well. You don’t want to deprive young kids of education. Currently, students in East Delhi have to travel a long way to North campus to just do their graduation. I am very keen on this.
* AAP has aggressively pressed for statehood for Delhi. As a resident of the capital, do you support statehood for Delhi?
Four and a half years ago no one even thought about statehood. Whether it was Congress, which has run Delhi for 15 years, or BJP. No one even spoke about statehood earlier because development was happening and everyone was working together and making Delhi a better city to live. It was only in the last two years that people who have not able to achieve and do something for Delhi have started hiding their failures behind statehood.
* Recently, you have been involved in Twitter spat with Mehbooba Mufti, following which she has blocked you. Both Mehbooba and Omar Abdullah have said you don’t know anything about Kashmir and should stop commenting on it. How do you see the Kashmir issue?
I feel that both Mehbooba and Omar Abdullah have betrayed the people of Kashmir for a very, very long time. The current situation in Kashmir is because of the Abdullahs and the Muftis.
They have ruled J&K for years and years and they got the state to such a level where the youth have become stone pelters. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, everyone should be given the same facilities what a person gets in Delhi or Mumbai.
It’s unfortunate that the people of Kashmir have been deprived of their opportunities, basic infrastructure and I think a lot of the blame needs to go to the Abdullahs who have run the state for decades.
* You have always spoken for the Indian Army and have been vocal in their support. But in this election, we have seen the Army being dragged into politics and leaders making statements like ‘Modiji ke Sena’?
I have never believed in the politicisation of the armed forces. The Army is for everyone and belongs to the entire nation, not to any individual. If certain people make those kinds of statements, it is their own personal opinion. The Army is something I am very emotional about.
* Will you be involved with cricket in some way or the other? How do you plan to juggle between cricket commentary commitments and politics?
My first priority is going to be politics now. Everything else will take a backseat. People may think this is going to be my second or third profession but it is now my first profession. People will scrutinise how much I give time to politics, but this question will be best answered by the people of East Delhi after one year.