Calcutta, May 25: A Sangh parivar constituent has chosen the Sports Authority of India to tap the “rich natural pool of sports talent” and strike its roots deep in the tribal belt of Bengal and areas across the country known to be under the influence of Marxists or Christians.
One hundred and forty-six archers from tribal-majority areas of 17 states competed for a SAI scholarship at a meet organised by the Purvanchal Kalyan Ashram, the eastern-India wing of the Vananchal Kalyan Ashram (the Sangh arm that works in tribal areas).
After several phases of competition over the past six months, 20 archers — from families that dwell way below the poverty line — were shortlisted by SAI for a life they probably never dreamt of.
The programme — the third phase of which is now on at the SAI centre at Salt Lake in the city — started with the National Vananchal Archery Competition. The meet was held in the city in December. The archers — hand-picked and invited by the Vananchal Kalyan Ashram to participate — came from 17 states, including Nagaland, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
The Vananchal Kalyan Ashram is the same organisation that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi had used to telling effect in the Assembly poll earlier this year to wean away tribal votes.
Representatives from the All-India Council of Sports, New Delhi, and the SAI brass attended the meet, which whittled down the list of 146 to a more manageable 53 on the basis of the performances at the December meet, the Ashram leaders said.
Of the 53 chosen, 35 turned up for the second phase of the programme held at the Salt Lake complex for over three weeks from April 17. The performances were compared with previous records and the pool was pared down to a final 20. These 20, including two girls from Bengal, are now attending the third phase of the programme. After the three-week programme, the archers will return home on May 29.
“The official intimation from SAI is expected to reach them (the 20 selected) in a few days and a new life will begin shortly,” Kshetriya Krira Pramukh (zonal sports head) of the Ashram Prabodh Nanda said. “SAI will take custody of their lives and everything. Medical expenses to education, everything is now going to be taken care of by the government,” he added.
For the selected 20, SAI is a different world. One of the two girls selected from the state is Bimala Hansda. A Class-VIII student at Bansitar village of Bagmundi in Purulia, she was waiting to be married off by her wood-cutter father. He had to walk 30 km everyday, from the forest to the market, for a living. At SAI, besides being trained by the best in the field, Bimala is having non-vegetarian meal six times a week. “No one in her village can ever hope of anything like that,” said officials.
Ashram leaders said they were eager to develop an interest in traditional Indian sports and inculcating in citizens a sense of pride in the nation.
But the mass-contact benefits they are reaping in areas with a particular affinity for Left politics and Christianity can never be underestimated. Some of them admitted as much.