In December of 2011, the ruling Congress party expanded the scope of the nation's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna. While once it had been restricted to achievements in the arts, science, literature and public service, the award was opened to people who had demonstrated outstanding achievements in "any field of human endeavour".  It seemed natural to assume that hockey legend Dhyan Chand, arguably India's greatest-ever sportsman, would be on the next honours list.

However, as Right to Information documents and media reports have shown, Rahul Gandhi did a last-minute change and recommended cricketer Sachin Tendulkar’s name instead. As Tendulkar was playing his farewell test with the entire nation glued to its television screens, Gandhi made a quick decision and had all the paperwork completed in a day. Dhyan Chand was dropped.

This year, as Independence Day approaches, the Home Ministry has recommended Dhyan Chand’s name to the Prime Minister's Office for a Bharat Ratna. Hockey fans are hoping that they won't be in for another disappointment.

Who is Dhyan Chand?

Dhyan Chand is considered the greatest hockey player of all time. Chand means the moon and the sportsman proved as luminous as his family name. He was born in 1905 in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, to a Rajput family. His father was a subedar in the British Indian army and also played hockey.

His father, Sameshwar Dutt’s numerous transfers meant that Dhyan Chand had to terminate his education by class 6. The family eventually settled in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, where Dutt was given a small plot as a reward for his army service. Dhyan Chand started playing hockey to pass the time. He and his friends would make hockey sticks from the branches of trees and the balls from ragged clothes.

Around the age of 14, Dhyan Chand and his father attended a hockey match. As one team trailed by two goals, Dhyan Chand insisted that he be allowed to play for them.  He ended up scoring four goals. Captivated by his skills, an officer offered him a position in the army. In 1922, at the age of 16, he was inducted into the Punjab Regiment as a sepoy.

From 1922-1925, under his coach Pankaj Gupta, blossomed. In one notable match, he  helped his team overcome a two-goal deficit by scoring three goals in the last four minutes. After this, he became known as the "wizard".

National team and Olympics

On the basis of his performance in the first inter-provincial hockey tournament in 1925, he was selected for the Indian team. From then on, there was no looking back.  Over the next 11 years, Dhyan Chand and India went on to dominate the sport. The country won gold at the Olympic games in Amsterdam in 1928 , Los Angeles in 1932 and Berlin in 1936.

The biggest moment of Dhyan Chand’s career was in the final of the 1936 Olympics against Germany. Adolf Hitler was on hand to cheer Germany on and to meet Dhyan Chand. In the first half, India managed to score only one goal. Not being able to run on the field properly, Dhyan took off his shoes at half-time and went barefoot. He netted three goals in the second half to lead India to an 8-1 win and a third successive gold medal.

Hitler was so impressed by his performance that he offered him German citizenship and a promotion to the rank of Colonel. Chand immediately rejected the offer and told Hitler that India would be his home till the day he died. it is said that Hitler tried to buy Dhyan Chand's hockey stick.

He didn’t play another Olympics but he did continue playing from the national team in 1948, at the age of 43. After meeting him, cricketer Don Bradman said, “He scores goals like runs in cricket.” In 1956, aged 51, he retired from the Indian Army with the rank of major and was awarded the third-highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan, the same year.

The All India Major Dhyan Chand Hockey Tournament and the national stadium in Delh are named after him. Last year, National Sports Day celebrations were held for the first time to commemorate his birth anniversary.

In 1979, weakened from liver cancer, Dhyan Chand went to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. He was getting by on a pension of Rs 200.Since no one recognised him, he was placed in the general ward and died 12 days later.

Two months before, he had expressed his disappointment at being neglected.  “When I die, the world will cry, but India’s people will not shed a tear for me, I know them,” he said.