It was a mixed bag of emotions for hockey player Dhyan Chand's family on Tuesday after the home ministry recommended his name for the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in the country.
Minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju informed the Lok Sabha his ministry had forwarded Dhyan Chand's name to the PMO after receiving recommendations from various quarters.
"There will always be the pain that Dadda (one of the monikers popularly used for Dhyan Chand) deserved to be the first sportsperson to get the award, but he didn't get it… (he) should have been the first sportsperson to get the Bharat Ratna but I am happy that the BJP government has rectified the mistake of the UPA government," said Dhyan Chand's son and Olympian Ashok Dhyan Chand.
Ashok' brother Devendra Dhyan Chand shared his discontent with the erstwhile Congress-led government. "The Congress government played dirty politics… We all know how Dhyan Chand's name was removed from the list (of Bharat Ratna awardees last year to accommodate Sachin Tendulkar's name)," he said.
"There has been no official confirmation, but we are hopeful. Whatever we are getting to know, it is from the newspapers and TV channels only," he added.
Ashok said he felt relieved after having repeatedly raised the issue in the past. "I would like to thank Madhya Pradesh's hockey enthusiasts, international hockey players and Olympians from across the country for struggling hard to make it possible," he said. "The state government also supported us".
He said the move to honour his father would also benefit hockey. "It is sad that Dhyan Chand is not alive today to receive the honour, but this move will definitely help the revival of hockey… Now youngsters will be attracted towards (the game)."
Ashok played for India in the World Cup four times and scored the all-important winning goal in the final against Pakistan in Malaysia (1975) to clinch what has been India's only World Cup title till date.
Born in Allahabad in 1905, Dhyan Chand is remembered most for his extraordinary goal-scoring feats, in addition to earning three Olympic gold medals (1928, 1932, and 1936) in field hockey, during an era where India was the most dominant team in hockey.
Known as 'the wizard' for his superb ball control, he played his final international match in 1948, having scored more than 400 goals during his international career.
Eight years later, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan. He retired from the Indian Army with the rank of Major. He passed away in New Delhi in 1979 at the age of 79.
It is said that Dhyan Chand used to practice ball control by sprinting along the length of railway tracks while balancing the ball on the track.
According to reports last year, the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government made a last-minute change to ignore Dhyan Chand's name for the Bharat Ratna by replacing the hockey wizard's candidature with that of cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.
On July 16 last year, then sports minister Jitendra Singh had recommended the hockey legend's name for the Bharat Ratna which was acknowledged by former PM Manmohan Singh.
Reports said Dhyan Chand's name was making the rounds as a possible awardee till early August 2013 but on November 14, the PMO asked the sports ministry for Tendulkar's CV.
With Tendulkar's retirement, Dhyan Chand's name was put on the backburner as the then prime minister himself recommended the Little Master's name for the award, reports said.
Another of Dhyan Chand's seven sons, Virendra, also praised the new BJP-led government on Tuesday. "My elder brother Ashok was called in for Narendra Modi's swearing-in ceremony. This government has given us the respect we deserved."
Former hockey players too said the wizard of hockey deserved to be acknowledged for his genius.
"Dhyan Chand should get the honour. I don't have any issues with others getting it but Dadda certainly deserves it," said Razia Zaidi, former captain of Indian women's hockey team.
Former hockey player Sayyed Ali said, "I am sure Bharat Ratna will be conferred on Dhyan Chand."
Several celebrities and sports persons had criticised the fact that Tendulkar was considered for Bharat Ratna ahead of Dhyan Chand.
India's athletics icon Milkha Singh had said he would have been happier if hockey legend Dhyan Chand was the first recipient instead of Tendulkar.
Dhyan Chand's encounter with Hitler
When Hitler wanted to meet the hockey legend after his brilliant performance in a match in Germany, Dhyan Chand became so worried that he could not eat properly and spent a sleepless night before meeting him.
The story goes that Hitler offered him a high post in the German army and requested him to come and live in Germany when Dhyan Chand went to meet him the next morning.
Dhyan Chand politely refused saying that his family is settled in India and it will be difficult for him to relocate to Germany. Hitler said he understood his position and ended the meeting.
Another anecdote about Dhyan Chand's brush with Hitler is that the German dictator had closely examined his hockey stick to check whether the player had applied glue to it after the latter scored three goals to help India beat Germany 8-1 and win gold in Berlin in 1936.