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The sport of politics: Where Rathore hit bull's eye and Bhutia missed a sitter

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

One is usually front page, the other mostly at the back. But in election season, converge, defying the old adage that the two do not and should not mix.

stars have long dotted the political firmament and will do so again this election with seasoned names like Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, and in the reckoning and maybe some newbies like joining their fray.

"I feel sportspersons have a drive to do something for the nation, and whether they are on the playing field or in the field of politics, they always have that in them," silver medallist and Rathore told

The 16th Lok Sabha featured accomplished sportspersons like Rathore, a who is for Information and Broadcasting, as well as former (in the BJP to start with and now with the Congress), former (Trinamool Congress) and national-level shooter (BJD).

Deo won a trap gold at the national junior shooting championships in 1991.

Rathore, a double trap shooter, became a path-breaker when he was appointed the first sportsperson to helm the ministry in September 2017. He now holds independent charge of the I&B ministry.

"I think it is encouraging that sportspersons are deciding to play an active role in politics and therefore, in nation building. Their career in sports makes athletes disciplined and focussed," Rathore said when asked about his thoughts on sportspersons taking the political plunge.

"They also have a target-oriented approach and are go-getters. These are qualities that are essential in a good leader," said the first-time from (Rural).

Rathore, Azad, who is in his third term in the lower house, and Banerjee are, however, not the first and neither will they be the last.

The 15th Lok Sabha had, apart from Azad and Deo, former (Congress) and his ex-teammate (BJP).

Azharuddin was in the fray from the Moradabad constituency in 2014 as well but ended up on the losing side.

Sidhu, on the other hand, made his way to the after being denied a ticket in 2014 and eventually quit the BJP to join the

In 2004, celebrated Jyotirmoyee Sikdar, who won two gold medals in her only appearance, represented West Bengal's Krishnanagar constituency for the CPI(M).

Among the earliest to make the seamless transition from sports to politics was star -- a gold-medallist and an Olympic bronze-medallist.

Khan was first elected to Lok Sabha in 1984. He won again in 1991 before losing four elections after that.

Chetan Chauhan, the man who partnered in many a memorable stands, was a two-time MP, winning the Amroha constituency for the BJP in 1991 and 1998.

No active sportsperson has entered politics for now.

In the upcoming polls, the buzz doing the rounds is that will enter the electoral battlefield.

The outspoken former opener, who played a defining role in India's 2011 World Cup-winning campaign, is speculated to compete for the ruling BJP.

There are tangential connections too.

Cricketer Ravindra Jadeja's wife has joined the BJP. She also headed the women's wing of the controversial Karni Sena -- the of the Rajput community which grabbed headlines for violent protests against period Bollywood films deemed offensive by it.

So what pulls athletes to politics?

According to Rathore, it's primarily the drive to do something for the nation.

"When I joined politics I was often asked how it is to be a after being an army man and a sportsperson. I feel the commonality is that in all my roles, I have the privilege of serving the country," said Rathore.

Not all have been successful though. Former cricketer Mohammed Kaif, who contested once in 2009 for Congress, lost from Uttar Pradesh's Phulpur, the constituency best known for being represented by first

contested for the TMC in 2014, in what was termed a wave election for the party, but lost.

He is, however, unfazed and has floated his own party in native state for the upcoming polls.

Former national champion-turned-actor tried her luck twice, with in 2004 and SP in 2009, but didn't win even once.

Competitive role aside, sportspersons will play an active role in encouraging a higher voter turnout this election.

has called on icons Sachin Tendulkar, a former member, Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, Virender Sehwag, and champion wrestlers and to spread the word on the importance of voting.

Rising star and gold-winning sensation Manika Batra have been roped in for a similar campaign by the poll panel.

Sportspersons are also common sight in the where honorary memberships is quite regular.

The most high profile among the sitting Rajya Sabha MPs is stalwart M C Mary Kom, who claimed her sixth world title while being an active member last year.

Before her, Tendulkar had added a bit of political history to his cricketing accomplishments by becoming the first active sportsperson to be nominated to the House of Elders.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, March 17 2019. 13:30 IST
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