By: Sarwar Alam
A trailblazer inside the boxing ring, Olympic bronze-medallist Vijender Singh says he will draw inspiration from Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao in his political innings which start with the Congress in the ongoing general elections.
The 33-year-old from the cradle of Indian boxing — Bhiwani in Haryana — was on Monday nominated from the South Delhi constituency by the Grand Old Party locking him in a three-way fight with BJP’s sitting MP Ramesh Bidhuri and Aam Aadmi Party’s Raghav Chadha.
Speaking to PTI on Tuesday, India’s only male boxer with an Olympic medal and the first to claim a world championship medal sounded upbeat as he spoke about a decision which not many saw coming.
“I want to be India’s Manny Pacquaio. It would be great if I can be as good as him because I am not giving up boxing. That’s my first love, will always be. That’s my identity and I am not going to give it up,” said Vijender as he headed to file his nomination.
The last active sportsperson to fight an election in India was legendary cricketer Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who lost from Gurgaon back in 1971 while competing for a regional party.
The man Vijender is looking up to is, however, another story.
Pacquiao is the only eight-division world champion in the history of boxing. He is also the first to win major world titles in four out of eight weight classes — flyweight, featherweight, lightweight and welterweight.
The 40-year-old was elected to Philippines’ House of Representatives, from the province of Sarangani, in 2010. He was re-elected in 2013 before winning the election to his country’s Senate in June 2016. His term is till 2022.
All this while he remains an active boxer and defended his WBA welterweight title in January this year against American Adrien Broner.
Vijender said his path is not going to be too different if he goes on to win on debut.
“Even if I make it to Parliament, I will identify myself as boxer Vijender Singh and will continue to juggle my responsibilities,” he said.
Vijender’s boxing career has been a stellar one, comprising a gold medal in the Asian Games, three medals at the Commonwealth Games, and multiple Asian Championship medals. He turned professional in 2015 and has been unbeaten so far.
He recently signed up with the legendary Bob Arum’s Top Rank Promotions and is expected to make his debut on the American soil in the next few months.
Does he have a plan to manage two diverse careers in different continents on top of it?
“What plan? Rab aape hi karda hai sab kuch (God takes care of everything). He wants me to be a leader, he will make me one. I follow his wish,” was his rather philosophical take.
Discussing politics, Vijender said the issues he will focus on are youth and, of course, sports.
“I am genuinely concerned about employment, which I think is a prominent issue for the youth. And being a sportsperson, I am also keen on working towards developing sports infrastructure. It’s about time we had good infrastructure so that budding athletes can actually flourish,” he said.
Asked why he opted for the Congress, a party which did not win a single seat in Delhi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Vijender said, “I relate to the ideology and the leadership.”
“As is propagated by our leadership, I want to be a friend of the electorate. I don’t wish to be the neta that visits once in five years. I am not going to do rallies or road shows. I am going to connect with the voters spontaneously.”
Elaborating on his campaign strategy, Vijender said he will be relying heavily on social media.
“I am just going to post where I will be and at what time, on my social media pages. I leave it to people whether they want to join me or not. It is not going to be coordinated because I believe, they should see me as their friend or brother not an imposing neta,” said the boxer whose Twitter following stands at 3.79 million.
Being embroiled in a drug scandal in 2013, when he was accused of buying heroin by Punjab Police, remains the only low point of his public life. He was eventually cleared of that as well after a dope test by the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA).
In the rough and tumble of the election campaign, where personal attacks are not unchartered territory, he could become a target but Vijender said it doesn’t bother him.
“When have I not been attacked? It’s routine for me. And as they say, dogs bark, let them. It didnt affect me earlier, it’s not going to affect me now,” he said.
“I just want to be someone who touches lives and it is not dependent on whether I win or lose,” he added.