On January 11, during his brief speech in the glittering opening ceremony of the FIH Mens Hockey World Cup 2023 at Cuttack’s Barabati Stadium, as a smiling Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik asked, “Aapan Mane Khusi to? (Are you all happy?), the excited crowd roared back with a noisy, Yes. Naveen added, “Mu Bhi Bahut Khusi (I am very happy too).
With the entire state glued to TV sets-roads everywhere including capital Bhubaneswar wore a deserted look even during peak evening time-the CMs brief interaction with the packed crowd reminded of his campaigns for the 2019 polls. The catchy dialogues were an instant hit in the coastal state. Naveen has been repeating the same during every public address.
On the sidelines of the World Cup, cultural events including dance and musical performances by Bollywood actors and musicians along with local artists, in both Bhubaneswar and Rourkela have been lined up. Every effort has been made to make the World cup a memorable experience. Particularly, the youths are enjoying the moment. Not in a mood to the miss the fun, they are thronging the stadiums. They also don’t forget to clicking selfies in the colorful ambience in both the cities.
The outlay for this year’s Hockey world cup is 1098 crores, 16 times of the amount (Rs 67 crore) spent for the 2018 edition of the Cup held in the state. Critics are not amused, though. They say, Naveen’s main target is to earn political capital through this mega event which he is using as a tool to draw the support of the youths and first time voters.
“Naveen Babu does everything for political gain. His real motive behind this show is to attract the young voters,” opined senior Congress leader Panchanan Kanungo. Meanwhile, opponents and activists have alleged that 90 crores from the district mineral fund (DMF) have been spent on development of hockey infrastructure in Rourkela.
“It’s in gross violation of the principles and purpose of the DM Fund. Tribals living in Sundargarh’s villages lack access to proper healthcare, education, and livelihood. It’s unfortunate that instead of addressing these issues the government has spent their money for promotion of sports in cities like Rourkela,” activist Prafulla Samantara told Impact News . “Can anyone justify how it’s going to benefit the poor tribals,” he added.
Sundargarh known as the cradle of hockey is rich mineral deposits- -coal, iron ore, manganese, limestone etc. However, every year, it witnesses scores of youth migrate to cities in other states in search of jobs.
Chulu Barla, Sarpanch of Saunamara GP concedes that like in other areas, migration is an annual fare in his panchayat as well. He says the local youths work as labours in factories and fishing businesses in Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. A fellow villager informs that the youths are least interested to work under the MGNREGA.
Tribals comprise over fifty percent of Sundargarh’s population. With 22.85 per cent of the state’s population, tribals constitute a major vote bank. Incidentally, last year, the BJD had wholeheartedly backed the candidature of presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu as both BJD-BJP tried their best to get maximum mileage from it.
Years before Murmu became India’s first citizen of India, the BJP had its base in Sundargarh. In 2019, along with the Sundargarh Lok Sabha seat, the BJP won three of the seven assembly seats in the district. The saffron party enjoys a strong presence in Odisha’s western belt of which Sundargarh is part.
“We appreciate the government’s focus on hockey’s development. But, it should have been equally serious about resolving our day to day issues,” felt a senior citizen, who had played a major role in identifying many rural talents and shaping up their careers in hockey.
“It’s clear that BJD is eyeing on electoral benefits at the expense of public money,” thought an ex hockey coach in Rourkela.
However, refuting the charges, a senior BJD leader and Sundargarh Special Development Council (SDC) Chairman Binay Toppo, said, “Our CM has proven than an event of such scale can be held in a tribal location. The event will take Odisha and Sundargarh’s name far and wide. It’s matter of pride for every Odia.”
However, in the midst of the euphoria surrounding the World Cup, hockey enthusiasts are concerned about the future of the sport in Sundargarh.
A youth in Lulkidih village, home to two-time Olympian and the current vice captain (women’s team) Deep Grace Ekka and former India players, the Tirkey brothers- Prabodh and Ignace- informs that, today, not a single player from this village is in the sports hostel. In the village ground, youngsters were seen playing football.
For, a die hard hockey buff, Salmon Minz, 83 of Nimdihi village, now the two major distractions for the youths are alcohol and smart phones.
“True,” said, former India player, Lazarus Barla said. “I see the craze for hockey going down,” he added.