NEW DELHI: The Congress decision to nominate star boxer Vijender Singh for the prestigious South Delhi constituency has come as a surprise to many but former chief national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu has not been taken aback at the development.
The longest serving national coach in Indian boxing history, Sandhu was in charge when Vijender bagged the historic bronze medal in the middleweight categiry at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Sandhu feels that Congress President Rahul Gandhi always admired and appreciated Vijnder's skills inside the ring.
"Gandhi is a boxing fan and liked to watch Vijender in action," Sandhu told the IANS on Wednesday. "I remember, during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Gandhi would sometimes come to the Talkatora Indoor Stadium unannounced to watch Vijender's bouts.
"Later, he would come to encourage our team members, speak to Vijender and leave. I found him to be a genuine boxing lover," said the former coach.
In 2015, Vijender turned a professional boxer under the WBO banner and has performed excellently since then -- winning 10 bouts in a row. On July 16, 2016, Vijender took on Kerry Hope of Australia at Delhi's Thyagaraj Sports Complex and Rahul Gandhi was present to watch the keenly fought bout.
"As far I know, Vijender was in close contact with Gandhi. He would sometimes go and meet the Congress leader. But I don't know whether that resulted in Vijender getting the party ticket in this election," Sandhu said.
Having two WBO titles, Asia Pacific Super Middleweight Oriental Super Middleweight, under his belt, Vijender now takes on BJP's sitting parliamentarian Ramesh Bidhuri and Aam Aadmi Party leader Raghav Chadha in the political arena.
Back in 2017, during an event organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce in Delhi, Vijender and Rahul Gandhi were engaged in an interesting conversation. Vijender, who was in the audience, had some questions for the Gandhi scion, and Gandhi had some interesting responses. To begin with, the professional boxer asked him that while a lot of politicians were seen inaugurating sport events, they are rarely seen playing any sport.
Gandhi replied that he practised Aikido, which is a modern Japanese martial art, and also swims regularly. Vijender then suggested that Gandhi post videos of his sporting activities to inspire the youth.
What was more interesting though was the second question which also won applause from the audience. The boxer wanted to know if Gandhi would tie the knot anytime soon or only after he became Prime Minister.
The Congress leader almost ducked that, passing it on to "destiny and it will happen when the time is right...", giving the audience something to laugh about.
Vijender pressed and said: "Everybody is waiting for it. It will be quite something if you become Prime Minister and then marry."
Rahul Gandhi himself learned boxing for a couple of months from reputed boxing coach Om Prakash Bhardwaj. In 2008, Gandhi learned techniques of boxing from Bhardwaj for two months with the objective of keeping himself physically and psychologically fit for a busy political life, the coach said.
"In the beginning I was also surprised why he wanted to learn boxing because I was sure that he was not going to box in the ring. But later I realised that he was keen to have some knowledge about the art of self defence," Bhardwaj was quoted as saying.