Ever since sports was included among the categories eligible for Bharat Ratna in 2011, there has been a clamour for awarding the country’s highest civilian honour to hockey legend Dhyan Chand.
A day before the country celebrates National Sports Day on his birthday, several former hockey greats came together to reiterate the demand on Sunday.
Led by Dhyan Chand's son and World Cup winner Ashok Kumar and former India captain and Rajya Sabha MP Dilip Tirkey, the assembled Olympians hoped the central government would take note of Dhyan Chand’s achievements and confer the honour on the legend who led India to consecutive Olympic gold medals in 1928, 1932 and 1936.
“I feel there is discrimination against Dhyan Chand, discrimination against hockey and there is a general discrimination between sports. When he played hockey, it was for the love of the game and to make India proud on the international stage and not for any personal benefit. He played when there were no rewards for winning. We request the Government of India to rectify this shortcoming at the earliest,” Tirkey said.
Ashok said it was sad they had to demand honour for someone who did so much for the country. “Every year there is this discussion whether Dadda (as Dhyan Chand was known) would get it or not. I think it is disrespectful for someone of his stature. I don't know why we have to even ask for it, the government should have itself taken a decision on this long ago. Players like Dhyan Chand are rare and [we] request and expect the government to not neglect such people,” he added.
Then sports minister Jitendra Singh had recommended Dhyan Chand as the first sports recipient for Bharat Ratna back in 2013 when UPA was in power, but Sachin Tendulkar was chosen instead. Asked whether he expected a positive response from the present government, Ashok said he hoped so.
“It was good to hear Prime Minister Narendra Modi talk about dadda in his Mann Ki Baat address. It shows he acknowledges the greatness. So I am hopeful,” Ashok said.
Modi had said “Major Dhyan Chand was a live example of true sportsman spirit and patriotism” and noted that great players from other games like cricket also used to praise Dhyan Chand.
“In 2014 also PM Modi had supported our cause but it hasn't worked out so far. Dhyan Chand is at par with Don Bradman in cricket, Mohd. Ali in boxing and Pele in football. Even players from other sports agree he deserved the Bharat Ratna before anyone else. We wish the government would take steps to do so,” Zafar Iqbal said.
Former captain Ajitpal Singh added that for anyone who knew anything about sports, Dhyan Chand’s name would automatically be on the top of the list of people who deserved Bharat Ratna. “That didn't happen, but it should happen now. I don't want to compare any player. But Dhyan Chand played when India was not even an independent nation and yet he put India on the world stage. That must be recognised by the government,” he said.
Several former internationals flew in from across the country to join the demand including M.K. Kaushik, Ashish Ballal, A.B. Subbaiah, Mohammed Riaz, H.J.S. Chimni and Mukesh Kumar. Renowned sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik also presented an artwork on the occasion to support the demand.