Mizoram’s opposition party Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) on Tuesday alleged that India’s national football team striker Jeje Lalpekhlua was denied the prestigious Arjuna Award because of his Northeast as well as tribal origin.
The ZPM’s allegation came at a time when Jeje’s Arjuna Award snub is snowballing into an issue in the football-loving state, Mizoram, where a campaign has been launched on social media, with the participation of chief minister Zoramthanga, seeking an answer to the “snub”.
Justice has also been demanded justice for the decorated Indian footballer.
A statement issued by ZPM said it is hard to believe that Jeje has been dropped for the Arjuna Award again this time despite being nominated by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on three separate occasions in the past.
“Jeje was ignored for the Arjuna Award because he belongs to the Mizo community and that he is from the Northeastern region. The ZPM find it hard to accept the fact as it was an outright discrimination against not only Jeje but the entire Mizo community and the people of Northeast,” the statement said.
The party said the former Chennaiyin FC striker and ace footballer has earned 56 caps for the Indian national team, scoring 23 goals and has won many accolades because of his achievements, which include AIFF Player of the Year (2016).
He has been nominated for the Arjuna Award in 2017, 2019 and 2020 but the selection committee focused its eye to lesser-capped footballers, the statement said.
It may be mentioned that many sportspersons from the Northeastern states like boxer Mary Kom and former Indian national football team skipper Baichung Bhutia have been honoured with the Arjuna Award in the past.
On the backdrop of past Arjuna awardees from the Northeast region, ZPM general secretary Lalmuanpuia Punte said, “There is an inherent intention from people in mainland India to discriminate and sideline the people of Northeast especially the Mizos.”
“The past Arjuna awardees from the Northeast were given the award because they truly deserved it and there were no other strong candidates to receive the national award in their respective disciplines,” Punte said.
Jeje’s Arjuna Award snub has now turned into an issue in Mizoram which raised many confusions among budding sportspersons as to why the football star has been overlooked despite being nominated on three separate occasions and holding many honours to his kitty.
On Monday, chief minister Zoramthanga raised the issue with Union sports minister Kiren Rijiju informing the latter that the denial has greatly hurt the sentiments of the Mizos.
“Shri KirenRijiju ji, due respect to past & future awardee of the prestigious Arjuna Award; I stand with the people of Mizoram in their dreams, their contribution towards the upliftment of the Indian Football, the pain felt by a sidelined recognition we all yearned,” Zoramthanga articulated his feelings in a tweet.
On September 4, Mizoram Football Association (MFA) wrote to the Union Sports Minister asking him to disclose detailed criteria for the Arjuna Award and also seeking an explanation as to why Jeje Lalpekhlua has been overlooked despite holding better credentials and records than the other awardees.
The Arjuna Awards were conferred by President Ram Nath Kovind on August 29 to 27 sportspersons in various disciplines.
Jeje was nominated along with Sandesh Jhingan, who bagged the award.
Meanwhile, the 29-year-old striker from Hnahthial town in Mizoram told reporters that he was happy for his friends, who received the award.
However, the announcement left him shocked as he was expecting the award this time due to the absence of other strong candidates, he said.
Born in a football fanatic family, Jeje made his national debut in 2008 and has played for many good clubs, including Mohun Bagan.
Recently, he announced retirement from Chennaiyin FC and was expecting to return to the ground soon.
Jeje has won many honours, including FPAI Best Young Player Award (2010-11), I-League Top Indian Goalscorer (2010-11), AIFF Emerging Player of the Year (2013), Indian Super League Top Indian Goalscorer (2014), ISL Emerging Player of the League (2015), Top Indian Goalscorer in SAFF Championship 2015 (Tied with Sunil Chhetri), Federation Cup Top Goalscorer (2015-16), Federation Cup Best Player (2015-16), FPAI Indian Player of the Year (2015-16) and AIFF Player of the Year (2016).