Prime Minister Narendra Modi renamed the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, India’s top athletic honour, after hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand on Friday, igniting a political spat with the opposition Congress.
The Prime Minister stated that the men’s and women’s hockey teams’ “exceptional performance” at the Tokyo Olympics will reignite interest in the sport in India.
The Congress applauded the move, but claimed that the Prime Minister “should not have dragged the name of a celebrated player like Major Dhyan Chand for his myopic political motives”.
It requested that stadiums around the country, including the Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad, be renamed after sports figures. The party accused the Prime Minister of attempting to deflect attention away from matters such as the Pegasus scandal, farmer demonstrations, and price hikes.
The Prime Minister spoke to the Indian women’s hockey team just hours after they fell to Great Britain after a courageous struggle for third place. He then tweeted that “the exceptional performance of the Men’s and Women’s Hockey Team has captured the imagination of our entire nation. There is a renewed interest towards Hockey that is emerging across the length and breadth of India. This is a very positive sign for the coming times”.
Stating that he had been getting “many requests from citizens across India to name the Khel Ratna Award after Major Dhyan Chand,” Modi said: “I thank them for their views. Respecting their sentiment, the Khel Ratna Award will hereby be called the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award! Jai Hind!”.
“Major Dhyan Chand was among India’s foremost sportspersons who brought honour and pride for India. It is fitting that our nation’s highest sporting honour will be named after him,” he stated. He didn’t say what the award’s complete name was that he was renaming.
The Congress applauded the move because it was made in a strategic location. Its leaders, on the other hand, had a different reaction. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told media: “A Prime Minister of a country like India should not have shown such narrow mindedness. In Ahmedabad, a stadium is named after Narendra Modi, a sitting Prime Minister… so first that stadium should be renamed after a player.”
“We all respect Dhyan Chandji. Dhyan Chand, Milkha Singh… They all have brought laurels for our country and made our country proud. But that does not mean that you will change the name of the award named after a former Prime Minister. He could have instituted a new sporting honour in the name of Dhyan Chand,” he said.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, in a Twitter post, said: “First the Sardar Patel cricket stadium in Ahmedabad was renamed as Narendra Modi stadium. I was surprised he named it (the award) after Dhyan Chandji. I was hoping he would rename the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award as the Narendra Modi Khel Award.”
The move was greeted positively by Congress in its formal response.
“The Congress welcomes the decision to name the Khel Ratna Puraskar after one of the most celebrated sportspersons… Major Dhyan Chand ji. But Modiji should not have dragged the name of a celebrated player like Major Dhyan Chand for his myopic political motives. Rajiv Gandhi is not known for any awards… he is known for his sacrifice, his ideas, his commitment to India… and above all, the manner in which he transformed India into the 21st century,” Randeep Singh Surjewala, AICC communications in-charge, said.
He reminded Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the Dhyan Chand Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sports and Games already exists.
“You reduced the sports budget by Rs 230 crore in an Olympic year and now you are trying to deflect attention from the issues of farmers… the runaway inflation and the Pegasus spyware scandal. Now that a new beginning has been made… we sincerely hope that Modiji will announce changing the names of the Narendra Modi stadium and the Arun Jaitley stadium and name stadiums in India after legendary sports persons like Sardar Milkha Singh, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Leander Paes, P T Usha, Mary Kom, Abhinav Bindra and many others,” Surjewala said.
RJD leader Manoj Jha told media: “I find it (renaming the award) a little bizarre. I mean do something big rather than what is available. There is also a tactic. They thought the discourse will shift to this. It is not Major Dhyan Chand versus Rajiv Gandhi. Both are in different leagues and both contributed immensely in their fields.”
“Tomorrow if the Congress or the Opposition comes to power and starts changing the names of Deen Dayal coach or Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, where does it end? I think politics should be a game-changer and not a name-changer,” he said.