By: Shubham Ghosh
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is known for giving master strokes. At a time when his government has faced pressure from the opposition over the alleged Pegasus snooping row and the monsoon session of the parliament has been disrupted by the opponents who hoped that things will now turn for the better for them, the prime minister came up to rename the country’s highest sporting award after hockey wizard Major Dhyan Chand.
He said the move was made after he received requests from several citizens to rename the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award after Dhyan Chand, whose birthday (August 29) is observed as the National Sports Day in India every year.
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An innocuous decision apparently but something that will deeply hurt the Indian National Congress, Modi’s main opposition.
Twitter was polarised over Modi’s announcement with many saying while it was a welcome step since a sporting award should be ideally named after a sportsperson, others asked whether the prime minister would do the same with the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad in his home state Gujarat, which is the world’s largest stadium. Even the Feroz Shah Kotla Cricket Ground in Delhi had been named in 2019 after former Indian chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley, who is currently no more. In that stadium, stands are named after some prominent local cricketers, including current Indian captain Virat Kohli who has done more for the game than Jaitley.
Modi played it smart here. He cashed in on the hockey sentiment at a time when the country has just done exceedingly well at the ongoing Tokyo Olympics by winning a medal after 41 years. In the women’s section too, the team came too close to a medal. So when India was bowled over by the nostalgia and sentiments, the prime minister gave a stroke that would earn him accolades, nullifying whatever the opposition was planning to do to derail his administration over issues like Pegasus, coronavirus pandemic, economic slowdown and unemployment. It was also in a way that Modi united the national sentiments on the second anniversary of the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which has hurt his government’s reputation in Jammu and Kashmir.
The country’s sporting fraternity has already congratulated Modi for renaming the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award. This will invariably bring the Congress’s dynastic politics under the public lens yet again and give Modi a boost. The grand-old party is always accused of prioritising the ‘first family’ over the country by naming almost each and everything after its members. It is a sort of elitism that the populist India of today hates and Modi knows to use the same weapon against the Congress, time and again. Modi loves to build his legacy and his contribution will be remembered as long as people remember India’s exploits at the Tokyo Games.
The BJP has also named cricket venues after politicians but Modi has his luck. He has just merged the hockey euphoria with his party’s anti-Congressism. At the time of the snooping row, this will renew the people’s trust in the incumbent prime minister.