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From Sidhu to Pargat: Sportstars liven up Punjab assembly polls contests

The state assembly will possibly be the country’s first to have three Arjuna awardees and a former Test cricketer as its members.

assembly elections Updated: Jan 18, 2017 08:48 IST
Saurabh Duggal
Saurabh Duggal
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab assembly elections 2017,Navjot Sidhu,Pargat Singh
(L to R) Simrajeet Singh Bains, Olympian Pargat Singh, cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu and Balwinder Singh Bains in Chandigarh. Pargat and Sidhu are among the former sportstars who are contesting the Punjab assembly polls. (Ravi Kumar / HT File Photo )

They were flag-bearers of Punjab’s rich sporting tradition and proud wearers of India’s trademark blue jersey. They ruled the sports pages, and often the front page, in their youth.

They are now seeking to make headlines again, but on the political page.

Hockey star Pargat Singh, freestyle wrestling great Kartar Singh, former basketball captain Sajjan Singh Cheema, and retired cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu could possibly set a record, if they win the February 4 polls in Punjab.

The state assembly will possibly be the country’s first to have three Arjuna awardees and a former Test cricketer as its members.

Pargat, who shouldered India’s hockey dream in 313 matches with his favourite and lucky number 13 on his back, and cricketer-turned-comedian Sidhu aren’t political novices.

The 51-year-old former fullback and captain made his political debut in the 2012 assembly elections, winning the Jalandhar Cantonment seat. He was with the Shiromani Akali Dal then.

Being from a sports background is an advantage in electoral politics. Sports teach you to be a team player and groom you as a leader. Both are crucial to be successful in public life. People show faith in you if they see you as their leader, who will take them along as a team,” he said.

Kartar, the winner of two Asian Games gold medals, and India’s top basketball player Cheema are debutants too. They are with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is making its Punjab assembly elections debut.

Three-time Olympian Kartar will contest from Tarn Taran, while Cheema is trying to win the Sultanpur Lodhi constituency.

“Because of sporting achievements, people recognise you and it gives you great access. So, nobody treats you as a newcomer or an unknown identity. People show trust in you for toiling hard in making the country proud. And they are confident that, like in the sports arena, we will fight for them till the last whistle blows,” said Kartar, who was conferred the Arjuna award in 1982.

Apart from Sushil Kumar and Yogeswar Dutt, he is the only other Indian wrestler to compete in three back-to-back Olympics — 1980, 1984 and 1988.

The 64-year-old joined the AAP last year after retiring as the state’s inspector general of police.

Cheema, who is in his early 60s, received his Arjuna in 1999. He comes from a family of basketball players. Brothers Balkar Singh and Gurmeet Singh and cousin Kuldeep Singh Cheema played at the international level.

Sidhu, a three-time BJP parliamentarian, is making his assembly polls debut with the Congress from the Amritsar East seat — a constituency his wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, won in 2012.

Hailed as the world’s number one defender, Pargat’s hallmark aggression gave hockey one of the greatest fightbacks ever in the 1985 Champions Trophy in Perth when India were down 1-5 with eight minutes to go against Germany. The left-fullback scored thrice and his team secured the equaliser in the dying moments.

The nation honoured him with the Arjuna in 1989 and the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award, in 1998.

First Published: Jan 18, 2017 08:48 IST