As elections near, Haryana wrestlers enter political arena
Mud-soaked, sweaty boys, some as young as 12, are seen wrestling in an akhada in Panchkula. This Haryana town, not far from Chandigarh, is gearing up for assembly elections, much like the rest of the state.
Haryana's akhada culture has given India a number of national and international wrestlers. But come election season, the crowds at these akhadas start thinning out as most wrestlers skip their practice sessions to help politicians in their campaigning.
For netas cutting across party lines, wrestlers are most sought after for they provide both man and muscle power. But what do the pehalwans have in it?
Jagdish, who wished to be identified by only his first name, is the coach at this akhada. He furiously instructs the boys as they wrestle, work out, lift dumbbells and run with weights tied to their waist.
"Most youths who practice here come from poor families. There is no government support and they have to fend for themselves. It is their passion that keeps them going. A wrestler needs to spend Rs 1,500-2,000 for food every day," Jagdish says.
The average diet of a wrestler consists of milk, almond and ghee in ample amount. They also need daily massages.
"Every wrestler can't bring an Olympic medal, reach the national level or land government jobs. Therefore, they help out politicians to meet their costs. They do not go to create trouble. Politicians also reciprocate sometimes by helping them land jobs," Jagdish added.
Politicians give their own reasons for hiring wrestlers during campaigning. Satinder Singh Tony, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) candidate from Kalka assembly constituency, says the state government does not ensure security for them.