Jaipal Singh Munda

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Ronojoy Sen

From the archives of The Times of India: 2008

The most remarkable of the Olympians is Jaipal Singh, captain of the hockey team that won India its first Olympic gold medal — several years before Independence — in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Born in a remote village in what is now Jharkhand, Jaipal was taken to England by the English principal of his school in Ranchi. After two terms at a college in Canterbury, Jaipal joined St John’s College, Oxford, where he made a name for himself as an ace defender in the university’s hockey team. When he was chosen to play for India, Jaipal was a probationer in the Indian Civil Service. The decision to captain India, however, meant taking leave from the India Office in London. “I did not get leave! I decided to defy the ruling and take the consequences,” he writes in his autobiography.

The Indian team, which included Dhyan Chand, would go on to win the Olympic gold medal convincingly. But by a twist of fate Jaipal did not play in the final. Dhyan Chand later said, “It is still a mystery to me why Jaipal Singh, after ably captaining us in England, and in two of the three matches in the Olympic Games, suddenly left us. I have heard many stories, but so far I have not had the truth.” Jaipal himself did not throw any light on his sudden withdrawal. He merely says in his autobiography that on his return to London from the Olympics, Lord Irwin, Viceroy of India, congratulated him personally.

Jaipal’s story does not end there. After the Games, he was told he would have to stay one more year in England because he had taken unauthorised leave. He immediately quit the ICS. After various jobs that took him from Calcutta to Ghana to Bikaner, Jaipal returned to Ranchi. There he took a decision that changed the trajectory of his life. In 1939, along with a few others he formed the Adivasi Mahasabha which sowed the seeds for a separate Jharkhand. A Constituent Assembly member and a fourtime MP, Jaipal remained till his death in 1970 an eloquent defender of Adivasi rights.

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