India’s highest sporting honour Khel Ratna Award, which was named after former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, was on Friday rechristened in the honour of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand following the admirable performance of both men’s and women’s hockey teams in the Tokyo Olympics.
While the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party hailed the announcement made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Home Minister Amit Shah calling it a true tribute to one of India’s greatest sportspersons, the Congress too welcomed it but accused Modi of having “myopic political motive” and demanded that he should also change stadiums named after him and late BJP leader Arun Jaitley.
The prime minister tweeted that he had been getting many requests from citizens across India to name the Khel Ratna Award after Major Dhyan Chand.
“Respecting their sentiment, the Khel Ratna Award will hereby be called the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award! 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 tweeted.
The exceptional performance of the men’s and women’s hockey teams has captured the imagination of our entire nation, the prime minister said, adding that there is a renewed interest towards the sport that is emerging across the length and breadth of India.
This is a very positive sign for the coming times, he said.
The prestigious award carries a prize money of Rs 25 lakh.
At a press conference, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said his party welcomes the decision to name the award after the “the most celebrated sportsperson and hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand”.
He then took a swipe at Modi for allegedly having “myopic political motive” in taking the decision.
“We sincerely hope Modi ji should not have used his myopic political motive to drag the name of a celebrated player like Major Dhyan Chand. Rajiv Gandhi ji is not known for any award; he is known for his sacrifice, for his ideas and for commitment to India and for his sacrifice for India and for the manner in which he transformed India in the 21st century,” he said.
“We sincerely hope that now that a new beginning has been made, Modi ji will announce changing the name of Narendra Modi stadium and Arun Jaitley stadium and name them after legendary sportspersons like Milkha Singh, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Leander Paes, P T Usha, Mary Kom, Abhinav Bindra and many many others,” he added.
BJP leaders, however, hailed the move.
“Naming the country’s highest sports honour in the name of the country’s greatest sportsperson Major Dhyan Chand is a true tribute to him. The decision will make proud everyone associated with the sporting world,” Shah said, praising Modi for the decision.
Lauding the commendable step, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said Dhyan Chand is a symbol of inspiration and pride for Indian sports persons.
BJP MP Gautam Gambhir, a member of two cricket world cup winning teams, said the Khel Ratna Award should have been named after a sport’s personality when it was launched.
Our hockey teams have done so well, and the award should be named after whom if not a player, he said, asserting that only the Modi government could have taken a decision like this. “Entire country should support it,” he said.
Attacking the government, Surjewala said it cut the sports budget by Rs 230 crore in an Olympic year and is now draw attention away from the core and fundamental issues of farmers, their agitation, “runaway” inflation and the Pegasus spyware issue.
While the men’s hockey team won bronze, a medal finish for it in the Olympics after 41 years, the women’s team also put up a remarkable show and finished fourth in Tokyo.