UP Polls: Politics of Hockey in Dhyanchand's Land
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It was a different pitch politicians tried to play this time in Jhansi in their bid to secure victory in a keenly contested election where each vote counts.

Candidates from almost all the parties vied with each other in promising to work for getting the country's highest civilian award Bharat Ratna to hockey legend Major Dhyanchand.

One of the Independent candidates even contested the poll on the symbol of hockey stick and ball, although in reality politics is not all about sports in the rugged terrains of Bundelkhand where basic problems are galore.

A visit at Prem Nagar locality, in Seepari Bazaar of Jhansi town where the hockey wizard was based, explains why the politicians chose to the issue this time. The Jhansi Assembly seat went to polls on February 23.

Sentiments run high in the locality for 'Dadda' Dhyanchand whom, they feel, should be honoured with a Bharat Ratna for his legendary hockey exploits.

Just two months back, a massive signature campaign was launched in the town demanding Bharat Ratna for the hockey wizard as speculations gained ground that the government could consider the award for cricket star Sachin Tendulkar.

Rallies were taken out in the Seepri bazaar in favour of the demand.

"There were some candidates, who gave it in writing this time that they will ensure Bharat Ratna for 'Dadda' if they win. One of the candidates, who got the hockey stick and ball symbol was making it the sole issue of his election campaign," says advocate Arun Kumar Singh, the son-in-law of Dhyanchand.

Singh's house is near the residence of the late hockey wizard. (More)

"During elections, candidates do promise the highest civilian award for him but nothing has happened so far. If anybody has to get this award in the sports category, Major Dhyanchand is the natural choice," says former MP and social worker Pandit Vishwanath Sharma.

Dhyanchand's birthday is observed as National Sports Day.

"I am sorry to say that now this day is not celebrated with enthusiasm. I demand the government of India award him Bharat Ratna and celebrate his birthday across the country with enthusiasm," Sharma, who had raised the demand in Lok Sabha in 1994 for observing Dhyanchand's date of birth as Sports Day, says.

As the clamour gained ground for the country's top award to Dhyanchand a few months back, top politicians supported it. The Sports Ministry also recommended for giving the award to Dhyanchand in January this year. Dhyanchand was awarded Padma Bhushan by President Rajendra Prasad in 1956.

Candidates from BJP, BSP and Congress distributed pamphlets in Premnagar promising they would raise demands for the award to 'Dadda'.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, BJP leader Rajnath Singh and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh have also supported the demand.

BJP MLA Salil Bishnoi had earlier even gone on fast in support of the demand in Kanpur some time back. BSP ministers Ratan Lal and Ramesh Sharma had also spoken in its favour.

Congress leaders, including Satyavrat Chaturvedi from Madhya Pradesh side of Bundelkhand, have also supported the demand.

Dhyanchand inspired a large number of youths to play hockey in Bundelkhand straddling across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Before Dhyanchand breathed his last in 1979, he had already infused passion for the game in the area and youths trained under him earned international fame.

At least 13 local players, who played for the Indian team practised in the Heroes Ground, established by Dhyanchand to train youngsters interested in hockey. It was also here where the mortal remains of the hockey legend were consigned to flames.

Even after more than three decades since his death, a mere mention of Dhyanchand strikes an instant chord with people in Jhansi town.

Dhyanchand's statue on the hill-top near the colony and Heroes Ground stand testimony to the emotion which the locals have for their 'Dadda'.

The statue was installed by Union Minister Pradip Jain Aditya, who currently represents Jhansi Parliamentary seat and had earlier also been MLA here.

Dhyanchand's son Ashok Kumar is a Hockey Olympian and is currently in-charge of the Hockey Academy in Madhya Pradesh.

The game has also opened up government jobs for the youngsters in this region, which has alarming rate of unemployment.

"I want to get a job first. Two female players of the locality have already got jobs in the sports quota. Girls generally do not go very far. The target is to play the nationals to be eligible for some job," says Dhyanchand's granddaughter Jyoti Singh.
Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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