Disgrace brought to Commonwealth Games: Aiyar

A number of evidences have been pointing towards lack of preparations and transparency in organising the Commonwealth Games. A Congress MP had created a furore by saying that he would be unhappy if the Games are a success.

In an exclusive interview with Swati Chaturvedi of Zeenews.com on her chat show Kahiye Janab, Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar suggests the formation of a high-level committee to ensure that the sporting event is corruption-free. Here are the excerpts of the interview:

Swati: You have ended your maun vrat now when the government is ready to listen to the suggestion you gave as the sports minister. What is that suggestion?

Aiyar: When we (India) organised Asian Games in 1982, the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had decided to form a Special Organising Committee (SOC) under the chairmanship of the then sports minister, Sardar Buta Singh. The ministers, who were associated with the Games, were asked to be a part of the committee. The Cabinet then passed a resolution through which all the concerned ministers were empowered to organise Asian Games.

Swati: It is said that Suresh Kalmadi-run OC (Organising Committee) has become a mafia of the Games. Kalmadi has even called you ‘anti-national’. Now, as a citizen and distinguished Rajya Sabha Member, Mani Shankar Aiyar is saying that a high-level body should be formed to prevent the Games from becoming a certain disaster.

Aiyar: Smt Gandhi had found a constructive solution to organise such Games. In 1982, she had formed such committee and inducted her son Rajiv Gandhi into that. The Asian Games were organised successfully and without any scandal. When I became the (sports) minister, I got to know about the proposal passed by the Group of Ministers to make a high-level apex committee. So, in 2006, I advocated for such a committee at the top-most level in a bid to control all the work related to the Games. A person or a committee should be made responsible as well as held answerable for all the tasks.

But I had put forward this constructive suggestion many a times before the Cabinet and the Group of Ministers. But it was not approved. And then I forgot about it. But the other day, I recalled my trip to Sydney during my last days as sports minister. The then Australian sports minister had taken me to the Olympic Stadium, where I was told that the government officials had decided Australian Olympic Committee could not run the Games properly. And the government should take full responsibility and be completely answerable for organising the Games. When I recalled this, I sent an e-mail to my friend, who was the then (Australian) sports minister. The reply is in my hands. And I assure you, it is authentic, not doctored. The reply reads – Dear Mani, Yes, you are right. The (Australian) government took over Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games in the lead-up by appointing the Minister for the Olympics in New South Wales as a check.

Amazingly, the minister wrote ‘lead-up’, which means that the government decided to take up the whole responsibility of the Games at the last moment. And they formed a Sydney Special Organising Committee under the chairmanship of the Olympics minister. It means that they (Australia) did exactly which was done by Indira Gandhi.

Australian Olympic Association has earned fame in the world. It was decided that Australian National Olympic Association Organising Committee cannot organise Games on its own and it was necessary to control three different agencies. So, it is my suggestion that a high-level apex committee should be formed to oversee the upcoming Games in a way as done by Smt Gandhi during Asian Games. Probably, we can find a way out of this mess.

I am not sure, but I think that as I have been tagged as ‘anti-national’, I should display my honest nationalism. This constructive suggestion was passed onto me and that too from Australia. This is my duty to present it before the entire nation.

Swati: A very important question. You have been the country’s sports minister. Many top-level athletes say that whatever has happened earlier and after your stint is unfortunate. Your sports policies have been hailed. Then why were you removed from the ministry?

Aiyar: You should put this question before someone else. But I am ready to share the facts with you. I was completely against Suresh Kalmdai’s decision to bid fro 2016 Asian Games. I prepared a note for the Cabinet in which I raised my objections. Dr Manmohan Singh gave me a total of 45 minutes to express my concerns. But I did not receive any support from the ministers. It was decided that Mr Kalmadi can go ahead and bid for the Asian Games. As a lollypop, the PM asked me to prepare a Draft National Sports Policy. I was happy that I did not only get the permission to do what I wanted but also a directive. I prepared the draft within three months. From 2007, I started requesting Kalmadi to come over and give his comments on the policy so that I could include his views in it. He did not cooperate with me for eight months.

Swati: He did not even meet you.

Aiyar: Yes, he did not even meet me. In fact, it was said that he (Kalmadi) won’t meet anyone from the sports body. My friend, KP Singh Deo, the president of Rowing Federation of India, sent me something in written. I collected the comments given to the newspapers and included those in the Draft. In March 2008, we presented the Draft in front of the Cabinet.

Later, I came to know that Kalmadi was coming (to discuss the Draft). I was scheduled to speak on this very issue at an international seminar in New Zealand on that day. I asked for postponing the meet by a week in the wake of my trip. When I reached the Hong Kong airport while on my way to India from New Zealand, I was told I have been dismissed from the sports minister’s post. I was later told that the Draft was not even shown to anyone, let alone discuss it.

Swati: Let me ask you a direct question. I had once asked Suresh Kalmadi on this very show if he is a sports mafia. He denied. Now, it is being said that you are trying to clip his wings.

Aiyar: I have never blamed him. I think the Sports Ministry and the Indian Olympic Association have their own prestige. But the Association cannot be the sports minister. Because I was responsible as well as answerable to the Parliament to brief them about what’s going on. The Olympic Association and Organising Committee are not answerable to the Parliament. So, when I am responsible, I should be given all the control. If you are not ready to give me that authority, how can I be held answerable? That is why, I left it all upon them and told them I will make my own comprehensive sports policy, and you organise Commonwealth Games.

It is sad to see that disgrace has been brought to honesty and capability of the Commonwealth Games’ organisers. And my comprehensive sports policy has been buried.

Swati: You have been in the government for years. Tell me one thing. Ours is a very poor country. This whole drama is going on. (Delhi Chief Minister) Sheila Dikshit says Delhi will reap benefits. Kalmadi says India will change. Why has so much been wasted in the name of Commonwealth. Toilet paper is being recycled and sold for Rs 4,000.

Aiyar: I won`t reply to this anymore. Your question was my reply before I vowed silence.

Swati: But Mr Aiyar, you said you have not met the PM for 14 months. He is said to be an honest person. Isn’t there anyone to oversee the Games in this country? Who will finally be answerable to the common people of this country at last?

Aiyar: A Group of Ministers (GoM) was formed before I took over as a minister. In UPA-II, the group was reinstituted and its chairmanship was given to Sh Jaipal Reddy. But this GoM meets at regular intervals not daily, as happened in the case of SOC for 1982 Asian Games.

I have a small suggestion to make. Let bygones be bygones. You are free to dismiss or accept it (suggestion). I have no objections. I have fulfilled my duties as an ex-sports minister and as a parliamentarian.

Swati: Sheila Dikshit says she has nothing to do with the Olympics Committee. Kalmadi says what he can do if an athlete breaks his leg while running in a stadium. The stadium is being overseen by Sheila Dikshit, MS Gill, DDA. Is this a joke?

Aiyar: You are calling it a joke. I am saying one should shed tears in this situation. I recommend that in order to avoid such circumstances, a high-level apex committee should be formed if the government agrees. That would change the pathetic condition. At least, we will be able to save our face.

Swati: You had underlined a basic issue. You have also said this earlier and now (Sports Minister) MS Gill is saying that we should not bid for Asian Games. Should we do it?

Aiyar: I have already said this and am repeating it that we should neither bid for the Asian Games nor the Olympics. We should first become a country of sportsmen like China. When China organised the Olympics, most of the top-most positions were held by the Chinese athletes. Now, we are competing with Antigua, Barbados, Saint Kitts and Nevis.

I am saying that the children of this country should be given Rs 35,000 crore to learn games. And then I challenge that no one can defeat us in sports. So, we have to choose between becoming a country of sportsmen or an organiser of a circus of sportsmen.

Swati: People are claiming that you are clipping Suresh Kalmadi’s wings. What do you have to say on this?

Aiyar: I do not want to clip anybody’s wings. I am saying that the Olympics Organising Committee, the Olympics Association should decide themselves how to institute the organising committee. I leave it to them. I don’t have anything to say about Kalmadi’s stint. I am saying that there should be a high-level apex committee to keep a check on around 30 different agencies related to CWG work. I am not saying that you should suspend or remove anyone. I am saying that set up a high-level apex committee so that in the run-up to Commonwealth Games, there could be some cooperation among the agencies. It will help reduce the disgrace and organise a successful Commonwealth Games.

Swati: I don’t know how true it is. But rumours claim that Suresh Kalmadi sent an SOS to (AICC general secretary) Rahul Gandhi months back, requesting him to rescue Commonwealth Games. What do you have to say on this?

Aiyar: I have no information about it.

Swati: What were the high and low points during your tenure as the sports minister?

Aiyar: The low point was when I was appointed because I was not interested in sports. There was no high point. I was highly disappointed when the policy we prepared, which would have helped children get something, was vexed. I was dismissed. Why? I was not heard when I was showing my disinterest in the ministry. And at the last moment, when I tried to put forward a constructive suggestion, make a policy, the Cabinet did not allow me to discuss it. I was dismissed.

Swati: You have suffered a lot. What is your piece of advice to Suresh Kalmadi?

Aiyar: I don’t want to give any advice. I just want to give him my best wishes. He is an old friend of mine. We have known each other for 25 years. We have been to each other’s homes as well. He throws amazing parties. That’s why, I want to personally wish him. He says he is honest. I wish that he comes out of this mess with a clean image.

Swati: You won’t be in Delhi during Commonwealth Games.

Aiyar: I am running from here. I am not interested in. Thank God, I am incidentally being invited to London and Uganda, Africa. I am leaving on September 28 and returning on October 15.

Adaptation: Kamna Arora

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