Even until two months ago, Devendra Jhajharia’s career revolved around sports. With three Paralympic medals won over 22 years as an athlete, Jhajharia was preparing to take part in his fourth Paralympic Games in Paris.

This March though, the 42-year-old made a lateral move. He announced his retirement from javelin throw and entered the world of administration, becoming the new president of the Paralympics Committee of India (PCI).

A few weeks later, he was also named by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as their candidate for Rajasthan’s Churu seat at the national elections.

Now, Jhajharia is up for the first test of his new career as Indian athletes prepare to compete at next week’s Para-athletics World Championships in Kobe, Japan.

Jhajharia expects the 33-member strong team to do well and adds that the competition will be a chance to gauge India’s prospective performance at the Paris Paralympic Games later this year.

“I have high expectations from the Indian team that’s going for the World Championships. I am very happy with the preparation and the spirit of the players going to Kobe.

“We won 10 medals in the last edition and I can say with some certainty that we will win more than 10 medals this time. Once we do that it will give us the confidence to do even better at the Paris Paralympics,” he says.

While his immediate attention is on the Paralympics, Jhajharia says he has long-term goals.

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“I had to struggle a lot for the 22 years of my career. I don’t want the next generation to face the same set of issues as I did,” says Jhajharia.

He admits that while things have improved significantly, there’s more work to be done.

“I didn’t even have enough money to buy a javelin at the start of my career. Today, we are able to conduct junior programs, train students and get scholarships for junior athletes. There are now many foundations and tie-up programs that prepare young athletes.

Because of this, we are able to provide athletes support when they are 16 years old. As a result, they are looking to get results by the time they are 20-22. Once they gets to that age with proper training, there’s no limit to what he can achieve.

“Many junior para-athletes are now going on international tours. Back in our time, we often had to pay ourselves for going to competition(s). But we need more of this. We need more exposure tournaments, more training and more support,” he says.

“There’s already been a big change but this change needs to continue.”

“While my immediate goal is that India exceeds its performance from Tokyo at the Paris Paralympics, I also want India to get a reputation as a team to watch out for at the world level,” he adds.

While Jhajharia thinks he could still have competed at the World level, he says it was time for him to take a step back to focus on his new choice of career.

“I played for this country for 22 years. I’ve won three Paralympic medals for the country, including a gold in Tokyo. I’ve set a world record. The Indian government gave me a lot of respect. I got the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Arjuna Award and became the first para-athlete to get a Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award.

There is a limit to the number of years a sportsperson can compete. I managed to compete beyond that. It was time for me to take on the additional responsibility at the Paralympic Committee of India as a chairperson,” he says.

While Jhajharia will hope to do a good job as president of the PCI, he’s also leaning into what could potentially be a new role in the government.

The Paralympian, who had never conducted a political campaign before, says he’s enjoyed the experience of campaigning in Churu.

“I never thought it would happen. And to be honest, I never thought I would win an Olympic medal. I never even thought I would leave my village in Churu when I was a child. I only thought about what I could do for my country. I was able to do something through athletics.

“It’s been my good fortune that I’ve got the chance to do more as the president of the Paralympic Committee of India. I also hope it will be my good fortune that I have had the opportunity to do it through politics too,” he says.

In Churu, while election campaigning mostly revolved around issues of water and piped gas in what is one of the largest constituencies of India, Jhajharia says he’s tried to include issues of sports as well.

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“I always wanted to do something for the development of sports. There’s a huge craze for athletics in Churu.

We have many international athletes from our region. I have a long-term plan where I want to start at the grassroots. There is a lot of land at the school level which isn’t used very well. I think we can make more use of it,” he says.

While he will have to wait for the election results to know just whether he can go ahead with his plans, Jhajharia says he’s learned enough already. This is true not just in politics but also in his role as administrator and previously as a sportsperson.

“I think there’s a lot in common between sports, administration and politics. I think that as long as your intentions are clear and you think positively, you will succeed in sports, administration and politics. Sports people always say that whether we win or lose, we always learn something in every tournament,” he says.

“When I was an athlete, I was learning until my last day. I’m still learning now that I am in politics or administration. I think we need more people who have come up from the grassroots. We need people who have struggled themselves. They understand what it’s like at the lowest level.”