In a country where cricketers are most revered, Vijender Singh not only made his presence felt but also brought boxing to the limelight by winning laurels to his country. He became a sort of a national hero when he won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, emerging as the first Indian boxer to win a medal and thus receiving a heroic welcome. Unfortunately, his links to a heroin scandal could come as a big blow to his stardom image.
Vijender Singh has been linked to a multi-crore drug scandal that came to light last week following the arrest of a drug peddler, who alleged that he supplied heroin to the boxer and his friend Ram Singh.
The police arrested Anup Singh Kahlon and Kulwinder Singh for possessing 540 grams of heroin on 3 March. Upon further investigation, 26 kg of heroin worth ₹130 crore was recovered from a flat owned by an NRI businessman in Zirakpur of Mohali district.
Born on 29 October, 1985, Vijender became popular after winning a bronze at 2006 Asian Games in Doha, but it was the Beijing Olympics medal that turned him into a stereotypical pin-up boy.
The 29-year-old from Haryana was also announced the top-ranked boxer in the middleweight category list with 2800 points by the International Boxing Association (AIBA), after he won bronze medal at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in 2009. He went on to win gold medal along with five other fellow Indians at the 2010 Commonwealth Boxing Championship. He also scored a bronze at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Vijender Singh was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award - India's highest sporting honour - along with wrestler Sushil Kumar and boxer Mary Kom in 2009. He was recommended for the Padma Shri award in the same year but was rejected. This triggered furor from the public with many alleging that Indian government promotes only a few sports. He was subsequently awarded with the Padma Shri in the next year.
He then joined the Haryana Police department, and he is currently serving as Deputy Superintendent of Police in the state.
Unlike his counterparts, Vijender Singh welcomed glamorous professions, claiming that it was his way of promoting boxing. He took up commercials, modelling and it even rumoured that he would enter into films.
It was reported that he would act in "Patiala Express," an upcoming film directed by South Indian director Anand and produced by Percept Limited. Actor Govinda had also confirmed that the boxer would act with his daughter.
However, the film was reportedly shelved after Vijender married Archana Singh, a software engineer, in 2011. Makers of the film felt that his popularity among female fans would fall considerably after his marriage.
Last year, Vijender Singh said that he had no immediate plans to take up films before the 2012 London Summer Games were over. He did say that anything could happen in the future, giving hint that he may make a Bollywood debut.
Mary Kom, who won bronze medal in the first ever women's boxing at the 2012 London Olympics and has five world championship titles to her credit, is more successful than him. But she never enjoyed the kind of media attention Vijender had. He popularised boxing in India before Mary joined the fray with an Olympic medal last year.
The recent allegations of his link with drug peddlers will surely bring down his image. The boxer has denied his association with them but the latest developments suggest otherwise.
His close friend and fellow boxer Ram Singh, who was questioned by Punjab police over the allegations, has reportedly confessed that he and Vijender Singh had met Kahlon several times since December and bought heroin from him.
Suspicion of Vijender Singh's links with drug peddlers emerged after a car registered in his wife's name was found outside the flat where heroin worth ₹130 crore was recovered.
The police have arrested five more people - Sunil Katyal, Manpreet Singh alias Mani, his friend Gabbar Singh, and two more persons - while carrying out several raids to nab the alleged kingpin Jagdish Bhola.
The police also found out that Vijender Singh spoke to Kahlon as many as 12 times in a month and Ram Singh for over 50 times. Vijender Singh was also to be a regular vistor at Kahlon's house where the police recovered a huge amount of drugs.
It was reported that the Punjab police is likely to question the Olympic bronze medalist either at the Haryana Police headquarters in Panchkula or the Punjab Police headquarters in Chandigarh, over the allegation of his connection with the drug scandal. Sources said that he would be brought face-to-face with Kahlon and Ram Singh during the interrogation.
If news of his drug use turns out true, Vijender Singh's image as a national hero will surely take a beating. His journey from being a hero to using heroin is going to be a letdown for many youngsters who look up to him as a role model and an inspiration.