Extreme Dangal

Outlook|October 21, 2019

Extreme Dangal
BJP’s star wrestlers enter poll ring. Congress battles its own demons.
Puneet Nicholas Yadav

As Haryana braces to elect a new government, the buzz in Bhiwani once again revolves aro­ und a question many in this dusty town, situated just over 100 km from New Delhi, have asked countless times over the past decade—will the sports infrastructure here and the lifestyle of its budding sportspersons improve? What’s the connection between an election out­ come and the state of sports facilities in a small town, one may ask? Plenty, and interestingly, it’s not limited to sports.

Back in 2008, local boy Vijender Singh’s bronze-winning bout at the Beijing Olympics drew the world’s attention to the many wrestling akharas and amateur boxing clubs that dot Bhiwani, giving it the moniker of ‘little Cuba’. Besides Vijender, India’s boxing contingent once included Akhil Kumar, Jitender Kumar, and Dinesh Kumar—all Bhiwani boys mentored by Jagdish Singh at the Bhiwani Boxing Club. Over the next decade, Bhiwani and this club produced with remarkable consistency boxing and wrestling sensations—not just men, but women too. This encouraged then chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda to announce on multiple occasions, “padak lao, pad pao” (bring a medal, get a job), a lucrative slogan that encouraged local sportspersons to win medals and get government jobs.

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October 21, 2019