Known for his strong punches in the boxing ring, Olympic medalist Vijender Singh is all set for his debut bout in the political ring this Lok Sabha elections. Fielded by Congress from South Delhi constituency, Singh is confident of giving a tough fight to his opponents. In an exclusive interview with indianexpress.com, the pugilist spoke at length about his political vision, the reason behind joining Congress and how he sees the current BJP regime. Excerpts from his interview:
* What prompted you to join politics? And why Congress?
I joined politics because of the current scenario and the situation facing the country. The level of politics has gone down. Political parties are ignoring the main issues gripping the country like unemployment, environment, women’s security, education. They are busy talking about religion and casteism despite us being in the 21st century.
As far as my joining the Congress is concerned, the party caters to the real issues. My thought process is more in line with the Congress. Rahul and Priyanka ji’s simplicity appealed to me. I look up to Priyanka Gandhi.
* Haryana Assembly elections are also scheduled for this year. Why did you decide to contest from Delhi and not your home town?
I have been staying in Delhi for the past 8 years, it is my home now. I know the issues plaguing Delhi and will do my best to improve my constituency.
* People are saying you are a parachute candidate. How will you deal with the ‘outsider’ tag?
Narendra Modi is from Gujarat but he is contesting from Varanasi. First of all, I am from India and have the right to contest from anywhere — Tamil Nadu or Manipur. As a Delhiite, I know the issues which concern the people.
* It has been a week since you have joined Congress. How is the pressure different in politics than in boxing ring?
There is pressure in both, albeit of a different kind. In boxing, there is pressure on you to perform. In politics, the pressure is at an altogether different level. But I am a fighter and will fight till the end. In the past one week, I have met many people and they have shown affection. That has encouraged me a lot. Everything is new for me; I am still learning the nuances of politics.
* BJP’s Ramesh Bidhuri and AAP’s Raghav Chadha have been associated with Delhi politics and are known faces. How challenging it is for you to reach out to voters?
It’s the time for change, time for Nyay. People are fed up with the politics of AAP and BJP. There is a need for fresh faces and young politicians to take Delhi forward. Sabka band bajakar jayenge.
I tell people that I am not here to do politics. As a leader, I want to be with them in their good and bad times. Everyone knows the work AAP has done in the last four years and the failures of AAP’s “sanitizer boy”.
They have not been able to connect with the people of Delhi. They have just wasted their time. Instead of focusing on issues plaguing Delhi, they are making statements like Congress will be held responsible if Modi wins.
* AAP has aggressively pursued statehood for Delhi. As a Delhiite, do you support statehood for Delhi?
No, I don’t support AAP’s statehood call. Even past governments have managed to run Delhi successfully and there has not been much friction with the Centre. This is just another AAP ploy to hoodwink people from real issues.
* What will you bank on while appealing to the voters? Your own image or appeal in the name of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka?
I will reach out to the voters by highlighting the failures of the AAP government and the promises made by the Congress. Also, the basis on which BJP formed the government in 2014 they have not fulfilled any of them. I don’t want to make any false promises but do good things for the country, for the people and youth.
* Will you continue boxing? If yes, how will you manage politics and boxing together?
I have been brought up in a village from a poor family and learnt to multi-task from childhood. I know nothing comes easy in life. People know me because of boxing. I can’t leave boxing, it’s in my blood. I want to be a boxer till the end of my life.
I will find a way to manage both. Even when I did my first film in Bollywood, then also people raised the same question. But after that, I went on to win a medal in the Commonwealth Games. I want to bring pro-boxing in India and plan to set up in Delhi so that I can devote my time equally between the two.
* How will you rate the NDA government at the Centre?
The PM Modi government has failed miserably in the five years. Unemployment is at its highest; so many jobs were lost after demonetization. They have ignored basic issues like education and development but have made nationalism their main poll plank.
The party does not have any connection with the youth. If they have really believe they have done anything concrete, then why are they putting up hoardings and going on such a publicity spree on a such a large scale. They are just wasting public money.
* Your brother is in the Army. How do you feel when Indian Armed Forces are being politicized and some leaders making remarks like ‘Modiji ke Sena’?
It is very unfortunate that in the run-up to this election we have seen that the Army has been dragged into politics. That is not good. Such kind of things just brings down the level of politics. People are just spreading hate and that’s not good.
* What is your vision for South Delhi? What are the main issues in your constituency?
Sanitation and drinking water are the main issues here. In Sangam Vihar, there is the issue of sewerage. People there are buying drinking water. The lower middle class has been hit under AAP.
There are very few sports facilities in South Delhi as compared to other areas. Pollution has become a major issue in the past few years. In rural areas, there are some places where there are no sewer lines. Sealing has been another issue. I also want to improve the conditions for the students. We will give Metro passes for students.
Right to play will be my foremost priority if I win from South Delhi. A child, be from slums or affluent family, should have the right to play and I will work towards that. I will create a world-class facility where children from all walks of life can come and play.
* You have many friends in Bollywood? Any actors coming to campaign for you?
No, I don’t want them to campaign for me. I want to campaign myself and connect with the people as a normal person without any stardom attached. I don’t want to reach out to people as a star, but as a person who wants to work for the betterment of their lives. I can only mingle with the local people if I leave my stardom behind.