Let there be less Politics in Sports; but we can have more Sports in Politics

Nirendra Dev *

The indoor game of Chess has hit headlines in the 2024 election season.

Even noted Russian chess legend Garry Kasparov has advised Rahul Gandhi to win Rae Bareli seat 'first' and later called his harmless remark a little joke. But in vibrant Indian democracy -- the Sports and Politics often mixed and also came out with mixed success tales.

The Indian 'World of Sports' has often thrown up successful lawmakers and even seasoned politicians. Some sports legends of course have remained quite shy customers in politics and more so in parliamentary performance. Of course most Netas in India also dominate the sports organisations.

Home Minister Amit Shah might have played some games during his younger days. But his son Jay Shah is a cricket board top gun and is often asked whether he has handled the cricket bat correctly on the pitch. There have been the likes of Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, now deceased, who was associated with Indian Football Federation.

Sharad Pawar was once the President of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). In fact, Pawar's first electoral defeat came in cricket in September 2004 when he lost the post of president of the cash-rich BCCI to Ranbir Singh Mahendra who was helped by the casting vote of outgoing president Jagmohan Dalmiya.

Of course in 2005, Pawar won the prestigious post. Many may not know Pawar is also a former president of the Amateur Kabbadi Federation of India.

In the 1991 election there was an interesting contest in Delhi Sadar seat. Jagdish Tytler of Congress was also president of Judo Federation of India; and he could humble BJP's Vijay Kumar Malhotra. Though Indian archers used to make India proud in the eighties and nineties; Malhotra, then president of Archery Association of India, lost to Tytler.

It is also worth mentioning that Late Madhavrao Scindia, father of Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya also served as BCCI president and even Late Arun Jaitley was associated with the Delhi cricket board. In fact, once former world cup winning cricket star Kirti Azad had a heated exchange of words with Late Jaitley vis-a-vis cricket administration. Incidentally both were in the BJP then.

Kirti Azad was Delhi MLA and lost to Sheila Dikshit in 1998 polls. Also a former MP from Bihar; Kirti Azad in 2024 is contesting on Trinamool Congress ticket from Durgapur-Bardhaman parliament seat. He is pitted against BJP strongman Dilip Ghosh.

The Mamata Banerjee-led TMC made headlines when it decided to field cricket player Yusuf Pathan against senior Congress lawmaker Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury from Baharampur.

In the 1990s, ex opener and longtime partner of Sunil Gavaskar, Chetan Chauhan used to win elections quite frequently on BJP ticket. Hockey Olympian Aslam Sher Khan also made his mark in politics.

Former cricket captain Tiger Pataudi - Mansoor Ali Khan - also husband of actress Sharmila Tagore - failed to win the 1991 Lok Sabha election from Bhopal. In fact, many years back, Pataudi had lost assembly polls from a place called Pataudi when he had contested on the Vishal Haryana Party ticket.

In Delhi yet again, Krishna Tirath made news as a Congress politician. She was a former basketball player. Gautam Gambhir is BJP's East Delhi MP from 2019 but in 2024 he opted out of the contest this time.

Another interesting anecdote worth sharing is Trinamool leader Sushmita Dev's late father Santosh Mohan Dev (a former Union Minister and former MP from Silchar in Assam); was a football referee once. Interestingly, he could not whistle his way past P R Dasmunshi for the prized post of president of All India Football Federation.

Vidya Charan Shukla, once a trusted aide of Indira Gandhi and later became foreign minister under Chandrashekhar, was a former president of the Indian Olympic Association. Former Union Minister and ex-Bihar Governor Buta Singh also was associated with the Amateur Athletic Federation as he served the body as its president.

But it can be added that Buta Singh also had come into prominence vis-a-vis sports when he was made the chairman of the special organising committee for the 1982 Asiad in Delhi. Among the past veterans, Pune-based V N Gadgil was a former president of the Kho Kho Federation.

Another Pune Neta who made news in running sports organisations and events was Suresh Kalmadi. He was also jailed for the 2010 Commonwealth Games controversy and corruption charges. Suresh Kalmadi was in jail for 10 months and the court asked him to pay a surety amount of Rs 5 lakh. Kalmadi was allowed by a Delhi court on 13 July 2012 to go to London for 2012 Olympics.

He was, however, restrained on 25 July 2012 by the Delhi High court from participating in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, saying his participation can cause "embarrassment" to the nation.

Former foreign minister K Natwar Singh was the president of the All India Tennis Association Odisha's politician K P Singh Deo was also a known personality in sports. He was the chef-de-mission of the Indian contingent to the 1988 Seoul Olympics and was also president of the Bowing Federation of India.

Perhaps it is needless to add that Congress leader and former cricket star Navjot Singh Sidhu also made news in Punjab but he was humbled in 2022 assembly polls. Sidhu hit headlines for embracing Pakistan army chief Gen Bajwa and even for calling the then Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan "yaar dildar".

Ex footballer Prasun Banerjee and a popular midfielder in Kolkata became Trinamool MP from Howrah. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore is a BJP leader and was Minister of State under PM Narendra Modi as well. An Olympic medalist in shooting, he is a retired colonel in the Army. He is at present Industry & Commerce, Youth Affairs & Sports Minister in Rajasthan since December 2023. .

Among the sports-stars, of course, we should not miss the story of Sachin Tendulkar, who was awarded Bharat Ratna by the Manmohan Singh government. Sprinter P T Usha is in Rajya Sabha as a nominated member.

In 2009, former cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin joined Indian National Congress and was elected as a member of parliament for Moradabad. He was appointed as the President of Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee in 2018.

* Nirendra Dev wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at nirendev1(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on May 13 2024.

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