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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

Rookie Babita Phogat wrestles in all-Jat fight

cities Updated: Oct 11, 2019 23:14 IST
Hitender Rao
Hitender Rao
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh

Commonwealth gold-winning wrestler Babita Phogat (29) has overcome many tough challenges on the mat during her international sporting career. But for the debutante BJP nominee from Dadri assembly constituency in southern Haryana, this is no hand-to-hand combat. The rookie is still learning the manoeuvres of the new craft she has thrust upon herself.

The Dangal girl locked in a four-cornered all-Jat electoral contest with battle-scarred competitors is slogging it out, banking on a lot on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma and his upcoming October 15 visit to Dadri.

Her much-experienced rivals — Maj Nirpender Singh Sangwan (retd), 64, of the Congress, Satpal Sangwan, 77 of the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) and BJP rebel Sombir Sangwan (52), an Independent — are dismissive of her political standing.

Both Nirpender and Satpal are former MLAs and Sombir finished a close second in 2014 assembly polls.

“She is a great sporting icon. We respect her and wish her well in her sporting endeavours. But will she be able to take time out from sporting activities to address the issues of people of Dadri. There is a big difference between sports and politics. I’ll leave it to you to decide,’’ asks Nirpender at Atela Kalan village.

BJP rebel Sombir, who was denied a ticket this time, says: “Babita is a kid, a novice in politics. She has been para-dropped by the BJP in Dadri. She is a good sportsperson and I myself have honoured her on at least three occasions. But does she qualify to become a public representative?”

Sombir, who has been expelled from the BJP, says that his agenda is very clear. “I have been wronged and people of Dadri cheated by denial of a ticket to me.”


Modi finds mention in every second sentence Babita, an Arjuna awardee, speaks during her public addresses. “Never before a prime minister visited Charkhi Dadri,’’ says Phogat only to be corrected by a motley group of villagers in Ranila who remind her of Indira Gandhi’s visit long ago.

The Olympian also makes repeated references to Modi’s “brave” move to abrogate Article 370, the sacrifice of soldiers on our borders and his commitment to make Kashmir a paradise once again. It is almost as if she is reading from a script. “I promise to turn Dadri into a paradise,’’ she tells a gathering at Sanjarwas village.

Two-time MLA Satpal Sangwan of the JJP, a known party hopper who invokes arch-rivals, Bansi Lal and Devi Lal in the same breath during canvassing, says “Whats Modi going to do here? Modi will talk about national and international issues. What does he know about the problems of the local people? A government college and augmentation of resources for the government hospital are the kind of issues that need immediate attention. The BJP during its five-year rule ignored Dadri,’’ he says before leaving for a door-to-door campaign at Sainipura.

Nripender Sangwan (Cong) too attacks the BJP strategy to invite Modi for a rally. “People have seen through the BJP agenda and won’t get swayed. This is one of the most backward areas of Haryana and needs development impetus. Why don’t the BJP talk about their manifesto? Whipping nationalism won’t help every time,” the former MLA says.

Phogat often feels uncomfortable while tackling villagers who question her. During her address at Ranila, a couple of villagers interrupted her to raise the issue of scarcity of water. BJP MP from Bhiwani-Mahendergarh, Dharambir Singh, however, came to her rescue: “She has come to seek votes for the first time. You can question her the next time if she does not perform.”


So why did she take a plunge in electoral politics? “Sportspersons have a shelf life. I wanted to get into active politics because there are a lot of social evils and systemic deficiencies which need to be corrected. For doing so one has to get inside the system,” she says.

Is her father and mentor Mahabir Singh Phogat teaching her the ropes of politics also? “Politics is not new for our family. My mother has remained a village sarpanch for long. I had learned the manoeuvres of wrestling and politics since my childhood,’’ Phogat says.

And which one is difficult for her — wrestling or politics? “In fact, both are equally demanding. One needs to toil hard to succeed. There are no shortcuts. The more you sweat, the more you shine,” she concludes.

First Published: Oct 11, 2019 23:14 IST

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