Thursday, 6 August 2020

Sports And Politicians

Updated: May 1, 2010 2:16 pm

One is not sure whether by the time this column appears Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor retains his job or not. He is deeply embroiled in the politics of Indian Premier League (IPL), the richest cricket outfit in the world.

            Of course, Tharoor, a brilliant student of international affairs and fromer Under Secretary General of the United Nations (he was India’s candidate to succeed United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, and finished a close second out of seven contenders), has not been new to controversy as a central minister. He had allegedly questioned the government’s austerity drive with his “cattle class’ and “holy cow” quips in September last year. He was also “misquoted” to have described the foreign policy of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, one of Congress party’s holy cows, as “ a moralistic running commentary”.

            Tharoor is invariably more sinned than sinning and has never been tolerated by many Congress leaders for his relatively smooth entry into Parliamnet. It is also said that he has not been accepted even by his “baboos” in India’s foreign ministry for having a mind of his own and perhaps better expertise on international relations.

            However, this time he is being taken to task not by his own people in the party and ministry, at least publicly. It is the opposition parties, most notably by the BJP, that are after his blood. They want him to be sacked by the Prime Minister.

            The case is like this. The IPL has recently added two new franchises that will play from next year onwards. One such franchise is one that will be based in Kochi, Kerala, Tharoor’s home state. And one of the partners of the franchise owning the Kochi team happens to be a female friend of Tharoor, with whom he is believed to be romantically linked and plans to marry. The lady concerned, it seems, has not finacially contributed to the franchise. But she has a stake of nearly 25 per cent in the franchise for rendering professional services.

            Tharoor openly admits that he is happy that his home state has got a IPL team, that he did prepare the grounds for it without any pecuniary benefits and that as an elected represenattive of Kerala he had done the right thing. His critics are not prepared to accept the matter as simple as that. The BJP’s needle of suspicion is that the minister, through his lady friend, has earned a fortune of at least 70 crore, which is the value of the lady’s stake and which is bound to grow as the years pass by. The BJP’s point, a point which is shared by the Communists, the principal opponents of the Congress party in Kerala, is that the lady concerned achieved all this because of her close proximity to Tharoor, a central minister.

            Viewed dispassionately, the above line of argument is not sustainable beyond a point. To begin with, it is not a legal point. You cannot pronounce someone guilty on a mere assumption. And in any case, the franchise concerned has no problem with the lady concerned. At the most, the point can be a moralistic or political one. One can argue that ministers and their associates/relatives should be “perceived” to be clean and transparent.

            But then this easier said than done. All those who clamour for clean politics earn public respect provided they practise what they preach. In BJP’s case, unfortunately, the principle of clean and transparent politics has been selectively talked of. It does not behove the party to talk of the impropriety of an associate of Tharoor progressing well in life whereas when the party was in power in between 1998 and 2004, many close associates of many senior ministers did remarkably well in their respective careers; in fact some of them chose new careers that catapulted them to the ranks of millionaires.

            It is instructive to note here that the IPL’s chief executive Lalit Modi, who provoked the entire Tharoor controversy by demanding the details of the stakeholders of the Kochi franchise, has been a close associate of one of the senior-most leaders of the BJP. His rise in the Indian cricket is due to the support he received from this BJP leader.

            The BJP’s argument in Tharoor’s case gives an impression that it is alright if ministers or politicians earn wealth but wrong if their associates do so, whereas taken to its logical conclusion, BJP’s criticism should have suggested that sports like Cricket are higly money-fetching and therefore ministers and politicians must not be linked with it directly or indirectly.

            But that has not been the case. Almost all the bosses of the Indian cricket happen to be politicians and the BJP has no problem with that. The next chief of International Cricket Council (ICC), the game’s supreme body, is going to be Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who, no-long ago, was head of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Congress MP Rajiv Shukla is a senior functionary of BCCI. Several BJP leaders are also part of Indian Cricket. Arun Jaitley is vice-president of BCCI. Hamirpur MP Anurag Thakur is with the Himachal Cricket Association. Gujarat Chief minister Narendra Modi heads Gujarat Cricket Association while Darbhanga MP Kirti Azad is member of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA).

            In fact, it would have made enormous sense for the BJP to demand complete probity in all the IPL franchises, not that of Kochi alone. The nation should know all the stake-holders and their quantums of stakes in all the IPL franchises. In fact, it would have been still better had the BJP, country’s pricipal opposition party, presented before the nation an alternative view, a view which all the knowledgeable persons in the sports circles share, that it is high time for active politicans to distance themselevs from the management of sports in the country. After all, it is the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan who had recently reamrked, while contributing funds to the ailing Indian Hockey Federation, that politicians should not head sports bodies.

            Had it listened to its own Chief Minister, the BJP could have caught the nation’s imagination. Instead, it is selectively attacking a single individual and politicising the entire matter, which, has now brought Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi under its scope. Because , it is being said that Lalit Modi has been trying to shift the franchise from Kochi to Ahemadabad.

            If my memory serves right, during the ruling UPA’s first term, the then Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar ( a post which he was not comfortable with) had proposed a new national sports policy whose principal feature was that Indian sports should be free of politics and politicians. Predictably it did not work out, with politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations, joining hands to oppose the move. After all, Aiyar’s colleagues were all heavyweight politicians, including Sharad Pawar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi and Suresh Kalmadi. All of them control the country’s big sports bodies. In fact, Kalmadi, who has been president of the Indian Olympic Association for the past several years, criticised publicly the move.

            Politicians join the federations under the pretext that they can get things done. But once a politician tastes the spoils of the office of a sports federation, it is very difficult to dislodge him from his perch. And that, perhaps, is the reason, why our record as a sporting nation is so pathetic.

By Prakash Nanda

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