Hockey wizard Dhyan Chand is the most deserving sports personality for the Bharat Ratna award, says the former captain of the Indian men's hockey team Zafar Iqbal.
"As far as sports is concerned, Dhyan Chand is the most deserving candidate for Bharat Ratna," Iqbal told IANS in an exclusive interview.
In 2014, legendary Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar became the first and the only sportsperson to be conferred with the Bharat Ratna. However, even before that, calls have been made over the years to award Dhyan Chand with country's highest civilian award.
"Sachin Tendulkar has been given the Bharat Ratna award. At that time also, we had requested the government to bestow the prestigious award to Dhyan Chand. In fact, we have been requesting the government for decades. I still remember after Sachin was conferred with the honour, we had taken out a procession from the statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Barakhamba traffic crossing to Jantar Mantar and we also sat down at the Jantar Mantar also for quite some time just to remind the government," said Iqbal, who himself has been awarded with the Padma Shri and Arjuna Award.
"Even before Sachin was considered for Bharat Ratna, Dhyan Chand's file had moved from sports ministry to the PMO. But his file could not be processed further. I remember there was an opinion poll to decide which sportsperson should be given the Bharat Ratna. And a majority of the people voted for Dhyan Chand. In fact both him and Sachin could have been conferred with the award. It would not have created any controversy," he added.
Dhyan Chand was part of three gold medal-winning Indian teams at the Olympics -- in Amsterdam (1928), Los Angeles (1932) and Berlin, where he was the captain. For two decades until he bid goodbye to international hockey in 1948, Dhyan Chand's name was synonymous with the sport as he played numerous matches and scored hundreds of goals.
The National Sports Day is observed in his honour every year in the country on August 29.
Iqbal, under whose leadership India won bronze medal at the Champions Trophy 1982 in Holland, said Dhyan Chand -- even though he didn't get the Bharat Ratna -- will still remain a legend known for his "magical game".
"My personal feeling is that even though he didn't get Bharat Ratna, he will still remain a legend. His contribution to the country in the field of hockey is immense and something which we are very proud of. He is recognised by his game and not by Bharat Ratna," said Iqbal.
"Same is the case with Sachin. He is known for his game, not by just Bharat Ratna. Sportspersons are known for their game not by awards," he added.
Asked about the chances of Dhyan Chand getting Bharat Ratna in the near future, Iqbal said: "I don't know. It can be done within seconds. If someone sends a message to the Prime Minister that Dhyan Chand deserves the award, it can be done within seconds. Otherwise, just like in the past, it can go on for years."
"We are still trying and we have been proposing his name for the Bharat Ratna from different sources. However, sometimes our feelings do get hurt and we wonder what's the use of requesting the government," he added.
The 64-year-old further said that Dhyan Chand, who died in 1979 at the age of 74, was a very simple, humble and down to earth man who didn't run after money.
"He was the simplest man I would say in sporting history. He never asked for any money or boast about himself. I was lucky to have a chat with him. We used to stay in the same colony in Vasant Vihar. We often chatted."
Recalling an incident from 1978, Iqbal revealed how Dhyan Chand, his son Ashok Kumar and he travelled in a general compartment of the Indian railways from Delhi to Jhansi.
"In 1978, we travelled with him from Delhi to Jhansi. Ashok was also there. We had to play a match there. We got into a third class (general compartment) and it was fully packed. There was no place to sit. Dhyan Chand, however, kept standing and didn't say anything to anyone. After some time, we requested a person to offer us a place to sit. Such was his simplicity," said Iqbal.
"We didn't have enough money to travel by first class. But Dhyan Chand never created any fuss," he added.