Sports champ to disgraced criminal: The fall of wrestler Jagdish Bhola | sports | Hindustan Times
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Sports champ to disgraced criminal: The fall of wrestler Jagdish Bhola

Bhola was just a child when two of his uncles who stayed with his family committed suicide. Bhola's story is like many others in a long list of Indian sportspersons who after retiring or failing to make a mark in the arena, have channelised their strength and used their familiarity to rule the underworld.

sports Updated: Nov 02, 2014 18:53 IST
Jasvinder Sidhu
Jasvinder Sidhu
Hindustan Times
One-of-Jagdish-Bhola-s-inset-posh-residences-in-Mohali-HT-Photo
One-of-Jagdish-Bhola-s-inset-posh-residences-in-Mohali-HT-Photo

Jagdish Bhola was just a child when two of his uncles who stayed with his family committed suicide. It was alleged that both were linked to an illegal drug-trafficking business.

Bhola was born and brought up in such surroundings in the Malwa plateau region of Punjab. Once he grew up, Bhola shifted base to Ludhiana to hone his skills as a wrestler. He enrolled in an akhara run by a former wrestler who went by the name of Major Singh.

Coincidentally, he too was allegedly involved in a drug- trafficking racket.

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Jagdish Bhola (encircled) poses for a photo along with his fans. (From his Facebook account)

Slowly, Bhola got sucked into a quagmire of the underworld. Bhola's story is like many others in a long list of Indian sportspersons who after retiring or failing to make a mark in the arena, have channelised their strength and used their familiarity to rule the underworld.

The laurels

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Apart from competing at the Worlds, a silver medal in the Asian Championships in Delhi in 1991 and a gold in the Commonwealth Championships soon after made Bhola a hero.

The Arjuna Award followed as recognition from the government. But it seemed Bhola wasn't content. Desire for a fast buck rekindled his links with crime. When Mumbai Police caught him in 2008 for peddling, the ministry took away his Arjuna.

The Punjab Police suspended him from the post of DSP and soon after he was out again; he went back to drug trafficking, only this time the scale was much bigger. When the Punjab Police again arrested Bhola along with boxer Ram Singh last year for their alleged involvement in a Rs. 700 crore synthetic-drug cartel, the former had his assets sorted.

According to a close friend, Bhola owned at least two posh bungalows in Punjab and a fleet of swanky cars having single-digit VIP registration plates. He had installed high-resolution CCTV cameras around the perimeter of his house and a group of bodyguards followed everywhere their 'esugar-mill owner' boss went.

Bhola was allegedly running a drug factory from his home. His wife and kids are Canadian citizens. "He was a well-behaved wrestler. He was junior to me. He was good to others also. But since childhood, Bhola had been witness to so many unhealthy things. I think that lured him to a shortcut in life, to become rich, no matter how," says former Asian Games gold medallist and Punjab Police officer, Kartar Singh.

Still has friends by his side

Unlike Bhola, an international boxer also from the Punjab Police, Ram Singh, who was arrested along with him came from a middle-class family in rural Punjab.

Ram Singh was Olympic medallist Vijender Singh and Jai Bhagwan's roommate at NIS Patiala when he was arrested on charges of trafficking. But his roommates still stick by him.

"We both trained together for 12 years. He is a good human being and boxing is his passion. The last time I met him was before the London Olympics. He was wearing the same old shoes he had bought a few years ago. If he had made so much money I think it would have shown. I believe, something terribly wrong happened in the case of Ram Singh," says Jai Bhagwan.

Pehlwan the don

Anil Pehlwan's story though is the most thrilling. A national-level weightlifter who wanted to help budding lifters, he invested heavily in a modern gym at Nangal Dewat Village in Delhi before he was arrested last month following an encounter with the police in Dwarka on charges of extortion, murder and robbery.

"Three years back, Anil called up a businessman and asked him to pay something to the tune of more than a crore as protection money. Maybe, Anli was a little polite and the businessman didn't consider him a threat. The next day, he fired two shots at him and called him again and said, "Marney ke liye nahin, tere ko batane ke liye goli chlayi thi ki tere ko goli maar doonga" (I did not shoot to kill you. I just wanted to warn you). Obviously, the businessman agreed to pay up," said Inspector Kulvir Singh, who was part of team which arrested Anil.

"He was always well dressed and liked to drive big cars. When we arrested him, he was driving a Scorpio," he added.

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