In Maharashtra wrestlers throw their hat in the political ring

In Maharashtra wrestlers throw their hat in the political ring

PuneIn rural Maharashtra, the glitz of film stars and the charm of celebrities take a backseat during election season. Instead, it’s the mighty wrestlers who captivate the masses. These wrestlers are not just athletes but also political powerhouses who shape the course of local and national election campaigns with their endorsements.

Recently, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar engaged in a strategic meeting with wrestlers in Pune district, urging their support for his party’s Lok Sabha candidates. Similarly, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has made a fervent plea to the wrestling community to stand by the party in Maharashtra. Wrestlers are key figures in election campaigns, often seen as local heroes. The fascination with wrestling runs deep in the State, where it remains one of the most popular sports.

Traditional talims (wrestling arenas) are a common sight in hundreds of villages. These talims are not just places for physical training; they are also the epicenter of political activity.

“Mud wrestling, a beloved sport in rural Maharashtra, takes centre stage during annual village fairs, drawing thousands of spectators. Wrestlers, often revered as celebrities, command immense respect in these communities,” says Prashant Patil from Kolhapur, the city which has been represented in the Lok Sabha by wrestler politician Sadashiv Mandlik.

From campaign to candidates

Reflecting this, Shiv Sena has nominated wrestler Chandrahar Patil, a two-time winner of the prestigious Maharashtra Kesari title, as its LS candidate from Sangli, while the BJP has nominated Muralidhar Mohal, a former wrestler from Pune.

“All parties have used wrestlers all these years, but no one cared for their welfare. I have decided to contest elections, and I am sure that people will support the active participation of wrestlers in elections,” says Chandrahar Patil.

Ajit Pawar admits that all parties need the support of wrestlers. “We need wrestlers’ support, and we are also supporting their welfare. We want wrestlers to be active in politics and contest elections. We would love to see a wrestler from Maharashtra in Parliament,” said Pawar.

Political apathy

However, the seasonal interest in wrestlers by politicians during the election season stands in stark contrast to the long-standing neglect faced by the wrestling community. The incomplete memorial of wrestler Khashaba Jadhav, India’s first individual Olympic medalist, who hails from Karad in Maharashtra, serves as a poignant reminder of this apathy.

Despite the Maharashtra government’s announcement of a wrestling stadium in Jadhav’s memory fifteen years ago, the project remains unfinished, despite numerous assurances made by politicians during election campaigns.

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