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Father of Mizo football Tetea Hmar hopes to bring a new revolution in Mizoram through Lok Sabha polls
It was earlier in March, in a packed auditorium of Aijal Club in Aizawl, Lalnghinglova Hmar, who is revered as the father of Mizo football announced that he would contest for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. A sports journalist, associated with Vanglaini, the popular Mizo daily and the honorary secretary of Mizoram Football Association, Hmar filed his nomination for the lone Mizoram Lok Sabha seat as an independent candidate backed by the Congress-Zoram People's Movement (ZPM) combine. Fondly called as Tetea Hmar, the 42-year old was not into active politics, and did not want to contest in the elections as a political party candidate. So what made him join politics? "I've never considered of becoming a minister or a member of the Parliament of the central government. But, I've always wanted a good, young and energetic MP to represent us at the Centre," says Hmar. He adds to his interview with The Bridge, "I have always been associated with football in the state. Since Mizoram has just one Lok Sabha seat, I thought it's time to step up and try to serve the Mizo people on a wider scale. One particular concern that has always bothered me is the way the central government is trying to pass the Citizenship (Amendments) Bill." In January, the Bill was passed in Lok Sabha. Soon after that, thousands of protesters hit the streets in Mizoram to protest the Bill that they felt would endanger the existence of the Mizos. Though the Bill lapsed in Rajya Sabha in February, it continues to be a significant issue this election in Mizoram. "In February, the BJP president Amit Shah mentioned at a rally in Assam that if the party is voted to power, they will put up the Citizenship Bill in Parliament again. I will be there to fight such arrogance, which haunts the existence of our tribes and minority communities," says Hmar. The road will not be comfortable for Hmar who will face a strong opponent in the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF). Chief Minister of the state, Zoramthanga, announced 62-year-old C. Lalrosanga as their candidate, a former Doordarshan Kendra director general, popular among the Mizos for his news show on the radio in the 80s. Hmar slams the MNF saying, "Though the chief minister said that they would oppose the Citizenship Bill, how can they do that being a part of the North-East Democratic Alliance (NDA)? I will fight the BJP's pro-Hindutva stance since I support an all-inclusive environment for every religion." Football is very close to Hmar's heart. The Congress and Zoram People's Movement has branded Hmar as the 'People's candidate'. "I will try my best to uplift the state in different fields if elected to the Lok Sabha. The condition of the farmers in the state is in a mess even though the majority of its population is dependent on agriculture. I want to bring better services to them from the outside. Training farmers, providing proper education to their children are my concern. I want to bring about scientific innovation in farming as well," says Hmar. Suicide rates, HIV AIDS, along with drug abuse remain other major crises Mizoram has been battling with.
Mizoram had the highest adult HIV prevalence among states in India in 2017-18 with the infection being detected in 2.04 per cent of the people whose blood samples were tested. It was reported by the Mizoram State AIDS Control Society (MSACS) last year. Furthermore, drug abuse, over the past three decades, has taken an endemic form in the state. With a toll of over 1,500 deaths in Mizoram since 1984, drug abuse in Mizoram has been showing an upward trend. Hmar points out that the root cause of these crisis lies in unemployment and the demotivated youth of Mizoram. With lack of MNCs operating in the state, government jobs are the only reprieve for the youth. "To be honest, the only sector one can afford to get a job here is in the government sector. Mizoram doesn't have any MNCs. Those who are unable to make it into government jobs remain unemployed. I want to cultivate the interest of entrepreneurship in the state. I will try to knock the doors of PSUs and corporates to help the youth of this state with job creation along with their CSR initiatives," says Hmar to The Bridge. Hmar's reputation stems from his immense contribution to football, the most popular sport in the state. It was the friendly Tetea who engineered a revolution in the game in Mizoram. Despite football's popularity in Mizoram, lack of funding, poor infrastructure and a shortage of good coaches, resulted in no professional development of the game. Hmar always wanted to find a breakthrough so that the youngsters could turn their passion into a career. He wanted them to continue playing the game, but not just as a hobby. The history graduate from St.Edmund's College in Shillong never held back; whatever the obstacles were. He fought relentlessly to give a shape to his vision. When the Mizoram Premier League started in 2012, he convinced Zonet Cable TV Pvt. Ltd to live telecast all the matches. He signed a five-year deal worth Rs. 1.25 crore, which was, at the time, one of the most lucrative sports deals in North East India. In its seventh season today, the Mizoram Premier League has become one of the best grounds to hunt local talents for the top clubs in India. What explains Mizoram's phenomenal rise as a factory of football talent in India? The Mizo sniper Jeje Lalpekhlua, who is the second highest paid Indian player after Sunil Chhetri considers Tetea as one of the most important persons of his life.
Today, suicide has become one of the most alarming trends in the state. Nearly five people on average committed suicide each month last year among whom the majority were between the ages of 20 and 30.
Today, Hmar is an executive member of the All India Football Federation and a member of the Confederation of Indian Industry's national committee on sports. Hmar feels, he needs to play a more significant role to make sports more popular and a way of life in the state. "If elected to power, I cannot concentrate only on football now. I am a sports lover, and I feel there are plenty of areas we can improve," says Hmar. Talking about hockey, he adds, "Hockey is also an important sport in the state. Yet we have only two astroturfs. Today several of the Mizoram players are playing at the international level. But only a few villages participate in the game. If we introduce the game on a bigger scale, then of course, we can produce more hockey stars." For sports in the state to develop, Hmar believes it is all about building its ties with the rest of India. "Today we know the who's who of football in the country and are a force to reckon with. I want to establish similar connections in other games like hockey, volleyball, basketball, among others. I can urge PSUs and multinationals to invest in our sports," adds Hmar. With huge dreams and aspirations, Tetea Hmar hopes to build a new Mizoram if he gets peoples' support.
Hmar has introduced grassroots football in the state, founded the first ever Futsal league in the country. After introducing the Mizoram Premier League, the state lifted the Santosh Trophy for the first time in its history. They also went on to win the gold medal in football at the National Games. Aizawl FC went on to become the first northeastern team to win the country's top-tier football league, I-League.