Cricketer-turned-politician Gautam Gambhir on why reducing the Ghazipur landfill has been more satisfying than winning a World Cup and why BJP has a difficult run in the MCD polls. The session was moderated by Principal Correspondent Abhinav Rajput.
There is a difference but the emotions are the same. In both cricket and politics, you go through a lot of highs and lows, the good and bad days. Probably my good days as a politician are far more satisfying than as a cricketer. When I see the Ghazipur landfill being emptied, honestly it is far more satisfactory than winning a World Cup because that impacts a lot of lives. Then there are frustrating days when you want to help someone but can’t because of red tape. For people like me, who come from a different profession, especially cricket, we are used to everything happening quickly. I want things to happen every day but in politics change takes time and I become impatient. I actually cross the line on frustrating days.
There are some very good moments in my political career as well. Be it clearing the Ghazipur landfill, the development of the Yamuna Sports Complex or the community kitchens where we serve 3,000 people every day at Re 1, it has all been very satisfying. We opened a library and the kitchens at what used to be a garbage dump. To be honest, we haven’t taken a single permission from anyone. And if tomorrow the existing party in Delhi wants to demolish it, they have the right to do so. If we had to take permissions, then we would have just been tangled and not have been able to feed thousands of people or set up the library. People should come and see what we’ve created, especially the library. It is probably the best in India with 10,000 books, is centrally air-conditioned and has computers with Wi-Fi.
Delhi needs just one face — honesty — and no individual face. Indian politics is now about the personality cult. We need to have a face who is honest, accountable, responsible and more importantly, ready to face criticism
I come from a reasonably decent background. Whatever I earn from my commentary goes straight to my foundation and I do not take a single penny back home. The library cost me around Rs 60 lakh. Each of the five kitchens cost Rs 5 lakh a month. I have to spend Rs 25 lakh a month from my own pocket, which is Rs 2.75 crore per year. People can say whatever they want to but I don’t care. When I see so many people getting a meal every day, that is more satisfying than people trolling me. Criticism has never bothered me when I was playing, it doesn’t bother me now. Nor will it bother me in future.
MCD has been with the BJP for 15 years. It is also our collective responsibility to give the best facilities and services to the people of Delhi. Schools, hospitals and infrastructure need to get better. We will have to work that out.
I have a 50-day contract with Star for a year. Last year, IPL was conducted in a bubble, so I couldn’t come out of it. This year, I will spend most of my time in Delhi and work as much as I can. I can’t use my MPLAD fund for road repair, open community kitchens or libraries. For that, if I have to work 100 days outside Delhi and raise the money, there’s nothing wrong. I attack Kejriwal because he has not been able to fulfil the promises he has made to the people. I have nothing personal against him. I have kept my promise of making a world-class stadium in Delhi.
The first challenge is to change the narrative that the MCD doesn’t do anything. This perception has been created by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Yet MCD has worked quite a lot. Waste segregation has been privatised, the landfill issue is being addressed with the Lieutenant Governor getting involved, the new MCD schools are much better. Of course, the 15 years of anti-incumbency will be a huge challenge.
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We need to come out in a better way and tell people what good has been done by the MCD and the seven BJP MPs. Unfortunately, we aren’t able to create that narrative for whatever reason. The MCD elections are not going to be easy and I accept that. We need to go on the ground and tell people what has happened. Otherwise, we won’t be able to reset the narrative.
What is our vision for Delhi? How much work we do on the ground is how we create the narrative. There’s only one way to go to the people and show them the work you’ve done. Directly be in touch with them
It is up to the individual to decide whether they want to endorse a certain brand or a product. I personally do not believe in endorsing alcohol, tobacco and even for that matter, online betting. It is our collective responsibility to see what should and should not be promoted in India, especially from the youngsters’ point of view. I have never been approached for such an endorsement.
Fantasy and betting are probably a little similar but not exactly the same. When I spoke to the owner of the Fantasy game I endorsed, I asked if they pay back in cash. He said “No, only gifts and hampers involved.” My Fantasy contract expired after a year. But in that one year, there was no issue of a person’s money getting stuck in the game. That is dangerous. That is a kind of betting. So, we all need to be very clear on that front.
In 1983, when India won the first World Cup, it was all about Kapil Dev. When we won in 2007 (T20) and 2011, it was Dhoni. Have news channels ever spoken about Indian cricket or the team?
It has to come from the top. Either we should ban this completely in India or not complain about different rules statewise.  If the BCCI president is doing it, you can’t expect other players not to do it. It should be a collective decision from the BCCI whether we should allow this to happen or not in this country as a whole.
A case was filed against me when I distributed Fabiflu during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying I was a hoarder or black marketeer. I was buying the drug and giving it free to the people. Yes, I’ve crossed that line, so I’m fine with that. I will continue to do it if I can help people. That is all that matters.
Playing for Delhi, I had taken on a lot of people in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA). When I was with the Indian team, I had my own mind. I keep telling people, “Don’t follow anyone except your own heart.” India needs to come out of this culture of hero worship. The only thing that we need to worship is Indian cricket, or for that matter Delhi or India. Once they asked me who my idol was while growing up as a cricketer. I have never idolised anyone. So, they said, “He’s too arrogant.” Fair enough. We are all stakeholders of India and Indian cricket.
My job is not to create a brand or worship heroes. My job is to ensure that Delhi flourishes. For that, sometimes, you have to work alone. I was reading a quote yesterday — to be alone is the fate of all great minds. I love that quote.
Good that you don’t know the names because the next big star should be Indian cricket. Don’t create a monster in that dressing room. I was the only one who, during a commentary stint, said that when Kohli got a 100, nobody talked about a young guy from Meerut, who also managed to get five wickets. He bowled four overs and got five wickets and I don’t think anyone knows about that. But Kohli scores a 100 and there are celebrations everywhere. Who created that? First, social media, which is probably the fakest thing that goes around because you are judged by how many followers you have. That is what creates a brand. Second, by the media and the broadcasters. If you keep talking about one person day in and day out, he/she eventually becomes a brand.
Why start from Dhoni? In 1983, when India won the first World Cup, it was all about Kapil Dev. When we won the T20 World Cup in 2007 and World Cup in 2011, it was Dhoni. Have news channels and broadcasters ever spoken about Indian cricket, which should be ruled by the 15 people sitting in that dressing room? Everyone has a contribution to make. That was something I was trying to do when I was at Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), asking team members to start appreciating small contributions. Only the big contributions, unfortunately, make headlines. How many people have spoken about Bhuvneshwar Kumar? No one. Everything can’t be about numbers or TRPs. If the marketing team cannot sell someone, it is their problem. They should probably work harder. It takes effort to sell someone who comes from a small town.
During the 2011 semi-final of the World Cup, some senior players came up to me and said we needed to win the tournament because we had to take the conversation away from 1983. I said I haven’t come here to shorten someone’s line, I want to win this to extend our line. We need to win the World Cup because we want this country to be happy.
Don’t mention my name. I don’t wish to be a brand. Delhi needs just one face — honesty — and no individual face. Indian politics is now about the personality cult. We need to have a face who is honest, accountable, responsible and more importantly, ready to face criticism. If the BJP wins Delhi, it should not lie that it can transform Delhi into London, Paris or New York. When I was growing up, I used to drink groundwater. Women felt safe and children could freely play outside. We need these basic things. This city needs better infrastructure because its population is increasing. I’m shocked and cannot accept the fact that even after the Delta wave, not a single hospital has been built in Delhi. Yet you are spending the taxpayer’s money on advertisements. I think there should be a rule going forward in Indian politics that if you want to advertise, you need to use party funds.
Forget the AAP, the Supreme Court should rule that if any political party wants to advertise, its publicity budget should come from the party fund. In the end, honesty has its own price.
When it comes to the BJP in Delhi, if an MP does well, the counterpart shouldn’t feel insecure. Ultimately, it’s not about those seven MPs, the MCD, the BJP versus AAP or about between us and them. It is about saving Delhi. I don’t believe that you need to criticise Kejriwal every morning and evening. People accepted him twice for what he offered. What is our vision for Delhi? How much work we do on the ground is how we create the narrative. There’s only one way to go to the people and show them the work you’ve done. Directly be in touch with them.  Social media politics won’t take us anywhere.
We are not on the back foot. If you add three coaches to a train, you can’t say you’ve launched three new trains. How many schools have they (AAP) made in the past seven years? The liquor policy is an open and shut case. If an honest person is called for questioning by the ED, CBI and other investigative agencies, why would they be scared? During the second wave of Covid, when the whole city and the country were suffering, they were formulating the liquor policy, whereby they got all the blacklisted people on board so they could get the commissions. Do you know about the shortage of teachers and principals? Can you see the 250 new schools anywhere? They said they will not increase the fees. How will they then sustain themselves, except seeking donations and negotiating under-the-table deals? During the last Delhi elections, when they gave free bus rides for women, it was just votebank politics. I would have endorsed it if they had done it for children. Women are now in the defence forces and we are talking of giving them free bus rides. Where is the self-respect and gender equality?
They say they give free electricity in Delhi but 11.5 lakh houses bear the cost of electricity for the entire city. The budget is Rs 20,000 crore and Rs 16,000 crore is borne by 11.5 lakh houses. Subsidy worth Rs 4,000 crore is infrastructure money that has been converted into giving subsidy. This is taxpayers’ money. A good government takes care of everyone, including those who need freebies.
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When this liquor policy came out, many women from my constituency asked me to shut these shops because the female family members were scared to step out of their houses. Shops are in residential complexes, in front of temples and schools. How many flyovers were built in the last seven years? Delhi never looked so old and bad. You have only given free water and electricity to win elections. What is there for the middle class? How many times have you visited a mohalla clinic, where no testing was done during Covid? At the Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital, three children were sleeping on a bed. Create employment. The Delhi Jal Board is bankrupt. Once you start giving out freebies, you don’t have money and hence you opened liquor shops. You have given 200 units of free electricity.
With my kids. But I don’t get to meet them very often as they sleep by the time I return home. So I spend time with them over the weekend. At least twice a week, I drop them to school in the morning because that’s my only 45 minutes with them where they can share to their heart’s content what they do throughout the day, talk about friends and what they want for the weekend. I take a holiday once a year.
Why Gautam Gambhir
Feisty, frank and independent, Gautam Gambhir was one of India’s most trusted batsmen between 2007 and the 2011 World Cup. He held his own despite the cross-currents in the team and carried his straightforwardness into politics. As BJP MP from East Delhi, he has been deeply involved in his constituency, installing CCTV cameras for women’s safety, trying to clear the Ghazipur landfills and setting up community kitchens and libraries. He funds much of his projects through his foundation. Now as the BJP gears up for the MCD polls, he has an on-ground perspective of how the party needs to strategise and change its narrative.
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