Regarded as one of India’s greatest hockey players ever, Mohammed Shahid mesmerised an entire generation with his dribbling skills. He was part of the team that won the gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, went on to captain the team and received the Arjuna Award and the Padma Shri. But all that glory has failed to earn him a promotion in the Railways for the last 18 years.
Shahid, 54, has been working as an assistant sports officer since 1996, and now has only six years of service left. He says he has never written to any politician, or even to the Railways itself, to argue his case for a promotion.
“My father taught me never to speak ill of the one who feeds you. If the Railways feels I deserve something, I will get it. Even if I were to retire as a chaprasi, I would still be known as the player who got the gold for India,” says Shahid, posted at the Diesel Loco Works factory in Varanasi.
But the hurt comes across when he says that in 1981, when he was at the top of his game, he could have chosen to work for any organisation. “It used to be an honour to wear the Railways emblem,” he says, explaining his decision.
He was promoted to senior sports officer in 2006, but the promotion was taken back in 2007 on the ground that it flouted the government policy. According to the policy, one cannot get two ad hoc promotions back-to-back, and an exception can be made only by the political dispensation.
“I was on leave in 2007 when I was informed that my promotion had been taken away. I realised that some people must have acted behind my back. I decided to let the matter rest,” says Shahid. “My well-wishers always advised me to approach ministers, local politicians and even the Railway Board, but I declined. I don’t believe in all that,” he says.
It is learnt that an internal note circulated in the ministry a few years ago made a case for getting the political dispensation to promote Shahid. But no further action was taken.
On the other hand, Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar was given two out-of-turn promotions. Sources said when Mamata Banerjee was Railways Minister, she made the Railway Board seek special permission from the Prime Minister’s Office to grant Sushil Kumar a promotion in 2010.
When contacted, Railway Board Chairman Arunendra Kumar said, “We have allowed more than one ad hoc promotion only in exceptional cases where a sportsperson is getting medals for the country regularly, like in the case of Sushil Kumar. A third ad hoc promotion for him is also in the pipeline… All active sportspersons who did not get promotions will get them eventually, as per policy. For those who are not active and deserve a second promotion, like Shahid, we are open to considering on a case-to-case basis. But as a rule, two ad hoc promotions are not allowed… we have to take special approval since they are national heroes.”
“They give Sushil Kumar the promotions because he is the current hero, while our past heroes like Shahid remain forgotten. It’s a disgrace. If the impediment lies in the policy, what’s the harm in altering the policy to honour a national hero?” said another hockey legend Vasudevan Baskaran, who captained India to victory in the 1980 Olympics and retired from the Railways as a senior sports officer in 2010 .