He is one of the best marksmen India has produced, an Olympic medalist who gave the country its first ever individual silver after Independence at the highest sporting event. She is also an Olympian, the current national record-holder in discus throw and the first Indian woman to win a Commonwealth gold in track and field. This election, these two champion athletes—Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Krishna Poonia—are facing off in an electoral contest for the Jaipur Rural Lok Sabha seat in what is being billed as a battle of the legends. And it is shaping up as one of the most exciting contests this election season.
Yet, both are not new to elections. Rathore is a Union minister, having won the seat with a landslide verdict on a BJP ticket in 2014. On the other hand, the Congress’s Poonia is an MLA from Sadulpur in Rajasthan’s Churu district, a seat she won in December by thumping BJP stalwart Ram Singh Kaswan, a four-time MP. Jaipur Rural’s nearly 41 lakh electorate will vote on May 6, a day after Poonia turns 42.
So how do two sportstars—who have been Team India colleagues at the Olympics and other multi-national competitions and shared the games villages several times—take on each other? With grace, of course. “I will win the contest,” an upbeat Poonia tells Outlook. “I regard him as an athlete. Now, our fields are different. Sport has taught me a lot, so I’ll not use foul language against him, and I’ve no negative thoughts either.” Rathore, 49, busy in campaigning, was not available for comments, but those who know him say the BJP candidate also holds Poonia in high esteem.
So, far Poonia and Rathore haven’t come face to face during their campaign. What will happen if their eyes met? “Don’t know what that situation will be,” she says, laughing out loudly. Poonia, however, adds that she would not spare Rathore while highlighting his “unfulfilled” promises. “He was a minister, but he didn’t live up to many promises he made to the people of this constituency. For example, in 2014 he had promised that he would make a stadium in each village if he won. He didn’t do that. He also promised he would construct halls in schools, but didn’t. I’ll put all that before the people,” says the wife of former national hammer champion Virender Singh Poonia.