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Padma punch hurts Vijender
Vijender Kumar, Sushil Kumar

Jan. 27: Bringing home an Olympic medal is far easier than making it to the Padma list, Olympic heroes Vijender Kumar and Sushil Kumar have learnt.

Neither figured on the list when the Padma awards were announced this week.

Dard hota hai (it hurts). But I can do nothing about it. The time has passed…. It was a dream to get the Padma Shri and it has been shattered. I am training hard to get over it,” Vijender, who won a bronze at the Beijing Olympics, said from Bhiwani in Haryana.

A political clamour has already risen in Haryana to add Vijender’s name to the list but officials in Delhi were not sure if the roster could be revised.

If it cannot be, Vijender may have to wait at least till next year — five years had to pass between Leander Paes’s bronze-winning Olympics and a Padma Shri.

Sources at the Centre said the Padma awards were intended to recognise the achievements of a lifetime, not a particular year, though the latest list has echoes of several contemporary events.

But Vijender said: “The moment was now as it would have helped in the growth of boxing as a sport in the country. I do not know what more one has to do.”

Vijender said that like him, wrestler Sushil Kumar, too,was feeling the same. “Had we received the Padma Shri, it would have been nice. He too deserved it.”

Vijender’s father Mahipal, a bus driver, said the family was shocked. “We were glued to TV, expecting his name to be announced but it did not happen,” Mahipal said. “When it comes to honouring sports persons, the government does not look beyond cricket.”

This year’s list features at least two cricketers (M.S. Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh) and several representing Bollywood — two national obsessions that have done well without government patronage.

Government awards are usually scandal-scarred but the short shrift to Vijender and Sushil stands out because it came against the backdrop of India’s best ever Olympics.

Even gold medallist Abhinav Bindra’s nomination for Padma Bhushan has triggered a controversy with the Indian Olympic Association saying he should have been given “at least” the higher-ranking Vibhushan.

Bindra expressed surprise at the omission of Vijender and Sushil. “I am really surprised,” he told PTI.

The Padma awards are given on recommendations made by the state governments and various departments. Organisations can also make recommendations.

Central officials blamed the state governments concerned — Haryana and Delhi — for not recommending the names of Vijender and Sushil. Sources in the home ministry, which, along with the Prime Minister and the President, approves the final list, said the sports ministry should have made recommendations.

A sports ministry official said: “Please don’t ask us. We have nothing to do with it.”

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