For the past few years something has been “missing” at the special investiture ceremony on 29 August at which the national awards for excellence in sport are presented by the President. The date is significant, National Sports Day is observed on the birthday of the “magician with a hockey-stick” — the void is created by the name of Dhyan Chand not figuring on the list of those conferred the most coveted national honour, the Bharat Ratna. When the award was made available to sportspersons in 2011 it was widely accepted that the man who played a key role in India securing its first Olympic gold medal would be duly honoured. Yes, the then recent retirement of Sachin Tendulkar made his receiving the award more “timely”, but surely the matter can be rectified. Gentleman that Tendulkar has ever been he would be among those who wish that Dhyan Chand was similarly honoured: in fact Sachin&’s stature would be enhanced if bracketed with that of the man universally acclaimed as the greatest hockey player of all time. It would indeed be difficult to come across a single genuine lover of sport in India who would not agree that Dhyan Chand merits the Bharat Ratna.
It is conceded that awards must never be demanded and some of Dhyan Chand&’s followers erred in making it a “competition” with Sachin. Yet their indiscretions must not come in the way of filling an embarrassing void in sporting history. Just a few days back, eminent hockey players lamented that void in the run-up to National Sports Day. Dilip Tirkey, now a member of the Rajya Sabha was rather vocal, contending that his sport (hockey) was discriminated against, but rightly pointed out that players received no awards in Dhyan Chand&’s days. Another revered star, Ajitpal Singh, advocated the honour being conferred without delay, pointing out that even before Independence Dhyan Chand had put India on the world stage. How many of the medal winners at Rio realise the significance of the hockey "win” in 1928? Alas, the minister for sports has offered no assurance, maybe we will have to wait for Republic Day for an announcement. Yet since we are hearing talk of a blueprint for the coming Olympic Games can we ignore the man who helped India strike gold three times in a row?
What also rankles is how a political slogan — beti bachao beti padhao — is currently being exploited after the success in Rio of Sindhu, Malik and Karmakar. Each of them took to sport before Mr Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, so only shameless sycophants will link his slogan with their success. Have we so quickly forgotten PT Usha, Shiny Wilson or Anju Bobby George? They too were India&’s betis.