Tennis legend Leander Paes, who took a plunge into politics during a recent Trinamool Congress rally in Goa, said that he wanted to create a difference in society by thwarting all attempts to divide it on religious and racial lines.
Paes, having proved his mettle in tennis courts, now sought to champion the cause of common people as 'I have always wanted to serve the country in one way or the other'.
In an interview to PTI, he said, "Thirty years ago, I had started out as a tennis player. Then and now, my goal to serve the country remains the same, just that the vehicle or the medium has changed."
The tennis star hailed TMC supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as a 'born leader', who can achieve anything she sets her mind to.
"Back in 2014, I had said that I would like to join politics. From a very young age, I always wanted to serve our country, to make India proud. And now is the right moment (to join politics) as I have already spent 30 years of my life representing India as a sportsperson on global platforms," he said.
The athlete-turned-politician thanked Banerjee for giving him this opportunity.
"Now I have the time, passion and energy to focus on my journey in politics. It is my long association with Mamata Didi that gives me this feeling of comfort to start a new chapter," he stated.
Speaking on the current state of affairs in India, he said politics was being used as a tool to divide people on religious and racial lines, and he, too, had to face questions on his lineage in the past.
"It deeply pains me when I see the divisive tactics employed to create divisions on the basis of religion, caste, and colour. I, myself, have been questioned about my lineage many times.
"Yes, I was born to a Bengali mother and a Goan father, but I am an Indian. I believe that politics should only have one purpose and that is good governance because only healthy, happy people can create a healthy, happy nation," Paes, who has clinched 18 Grand Slam titles, underlined.
The Padma Bhushan awardee, however, declined to give a direct reply when asked if he would be contesting elections in Goa early next year.
"I am a team player here. We ideate, we discuss, we create dialogue, and we also make decisions as a team. So if the captain of our team, Mamata Banerjee, decides to field me as a candidate for the elections, she will let all of us know," he said.
He, nevertheless, maintained that it would be an honour for him to serve his 'fellow citizens' in Goa.
"There are several issues that plague our beautiful state of Goa. Some of them are shortage of potable water and public health facilities. Transport availability, sewage disposal, fair trade for fisher folk and unemployment are also matters that need to be looked into. We need to ensure that education is made affordable for the youth," he noted.
Asked if Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent meeting with Pope Francis would have any impact on assembly polls in Goa, where Christians constitute a sizeable chunk of the population, Paes asserted that 'voters do not get swayed by this kind of news'.
"I have had the good opportunity to meet the Pope in the past. I am very happy that our PM got this wonderful opportunity, too. I feel excited to have heard the news that our Pope might be visiting our beautiful country. I am really looking forward to it," he said.
At the end of the day, all people want is someone who would listen to their problems and offer solutions, the Davis Cup winner emphasised.
Talking about Banerjee, Paes, who was born and raised in Kolkata, said she is a dynamic leader, who keeps her promises.
"She is a sympathiser of the poor and the downtrodden. She's a doer. She believes that it's her job to serve people, and she doesn't expect anybody to be in her service. Mamata Banerjee is one person who is capable of achieving anything that she sets her mind to," the tennis icon added.