Why did Gautam Gambhir quit politics just before Lok Sabha polls?

Gambhir's disenchantment with politics has been brewing beneath the surface for some time, say political observers in Delhi

BJP MP Gautam Gambhir (file photo)
BJP MP Gautam Gambhir (file photo)

NH Political Bureau

Ex-cricketer and East Delhi BJP MP Gautam Gambhir on Saturday announced his exit from politics, and sought relief from his political duties by appealing to party president J.P. Nadda so that he could "focus on cricket commitments".

Known as the late BJP leader Arun Jaitley's protégé in Delhi's political circles, Gambhir wrote on X: “I have requested Hon’ble Party President @JPNadda ji to relieve me of my political duties so that I can focus on my upcoming cricket commitments. I sincerely thank Hon’ble PM @narendramodi ji and Hon’ble HM @AmitShah ji for giving me the opportunity to serve the people. Jai Hind!”

Though Gambhir's sudden exit from politics surprised many, it was not unforeseen. Gambhir's disenchantment with politics has been brewing beneath the surface for some time. Despite actively fanning the BJP's communal agenda on social media, and propagating PM Modi's line, the former cricketer failed to earn the goodwill of the party high command, said BJP watchers.

However, observers also attribute Gambhir's sudden withdrawal from politics to his tumultuous relationship with fellow party member and Vishwash Nagar MLA O.P. Sharma.

A significant incident occurred at a party function last year when Gambhir's supporters attacked Sharma in the presence of Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The incident led to calls from a section of the BJP's Delhi unit for action against the MP. Sharma accused Gambhir of engaging in multiple verbal altercations, both before and after the event.

"He [Gambhir] and his staff members tried to confront and verbally abused me thrice," Sharma had then said. BJP watchers say Sharma has been actively campaigning against Gambhir and convinced the high command to trim the former cricketer's wings. Many believe Sharma's campaign and feedback from the ground led to Gambhir's fall on the political pitch.

Beyond his clash with Sharma, Gambhir's strained relationship with other party leaders also played a role in his decision to step back from BJP politics. In any case, he knew his electoral prospects were diminishing, with reports circulating in the media suggesting he might not make the candidates' list this time around. So he announced his retirement from the 'game'.

Riding on the Modi wave in 2019, Gambhir scored a victory over Congress candidate Arvinder Singh Lovely by the substantial margin of 3.91 lakh votes. However, this time around, the electoral landscape has shifted, with the seat now falling to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) owing to an arrangement within the INDIA bloc, in which the Congress and AAP are partners.

AAP has nominated Kuldeep Kumar, a rising Dalit leader, as its candidate from East Delhi. Currently the sitting MLA from Kondli, Kumar boasts a fair degree of influence in the region, having previously held the position of councillor in the Kalyanpuri ward. He has been a vocal critic of the BJP, serving as leader of the opposition in the East Delhi Municipal Corporation and holding the position of AAP's Delhi unit vice-president.

Political observers in Delhi suggest that Gambhir recognised the formidable challenge ahead, given the AAP-Congress alliance. Understanding the tough competition, he seemingly chose the path of political withdrawal, deeming it more prudent to step aside rather than engage in a potentially losing battle.

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