At a time when the UPA government is trying to save its face from further embarrassment stemming out of our ill-preparedness for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, one man – Mani Shankar Iyer – who publicly opposed the idea of hosting the mega sporting event, is having the last laugh. In an exclusive chat with Swati Chaturvedi on her programme Kahiye Janab, the former Union Minister of Sports, opens up on the CWG mess. Here are the excerpts:
Swati: You were the first person to oppose the idea of hosting the Commonwealth Games in India and whatever you said has now come true. You tell us whether the Commonwealth Games should take place or not?
Mani: I had said this four years back that we should not hold the CW Games in India, but nobody listened to me then. When I had said that the Organising Committee is not capable of holding an event like CWG, no one paid any heed to me. People slammed me for unnecessarily opposing the event. I was even accused of projecting my self as the “Messiah of the Poor”. I told them that the country’s reputation is linked with this event, so let’s drop the idea.
I opposed the events at a time when it was proposed that Rs 6000 cores will be spent on the events, but now after sacking me, the government has realised that Rs 70,000 cores have been spent in the name of CWF. However, I am not including in it the cost of some 39 plots bought by the government that were to be converted into hotels for the CWG and thousands of crores of rupees that were invested into these. I was recently informed by a member of the Delhi Arts Commission that out of 39, only one plot was sanctioned for building a hotel.
Swati: A foot bridge collapsed near the stadium. Had athletes used the bridge they would have certainly met the same fate as the poor labourers. After the incident, the Delhi CM said that the “village was not for athletes and officials, but for the public”. Don’t you think all this a bad joke?
Mani: I am ready to express my grief over the incident, but I would refrain from using adjectives against anyone. See, when Delhi Chief Minister was asked if the bridge was meant for athletes she said it was for the spectators, but even if she said that it does not imply that she (Sheila Dikshit) is not concerned. Her statement has been fabricated and she has been misquoted by the media.
Swati: Recently Sheila Dikshit also said that her government is facing problems related to CWG since we had a sports minister, who was least concerned with sports. In a way, she has blamed you for the present chaos at the Games?
Mani: I am just trying to put before you the truth and the facts related to the Games. It was told in our bid document that all facilities related to the CWG, except the Games Village will be ready by 2007 but now we are getting to know, (and I knew it earlier) through a book authored by Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta (Sellotape Legacy) that the construction plan for the CWG was first presented before us in January 2008. I was expelled in March and the Master Plan was presented before the government in November 2008. Several months were wasted since I was expelled. And now when everything is in shambles and the cost has overrun, I am being blamed for all that.
Swati: The damage which Sheila Dikshit and Suresh Kalmadi have done to Delhi’s reputation is much worse than the injuries which invader Nadir Shah inflicted on it? What do you have to say about this?
Mani: You know everything yourself. I have nothing new to add to this. See, what I objected to was the government’s decision to award construction contract to foreign companies. Why were Indian contractors not awarded the contracts? Had this been done the situation would have been much better. I fail to understand why, out of the whole world, the government picked up Dubai based firm EMMAR for the entire construction related to CWG.
The government then claimed it was the best firm and will make the best Games Villages. However, in 2008 the global meltdown badly affected the business of EMMAR and then the UPA government secretly (I am shocked to know this from the book) decided to bail it out by giving Rs 7066 crores in the name of buying some 333 additional flats from the firm. This decision was taken in May 2009 during Lok Sabha elections when GoM could take place. If I were the minister then, I would have dragged the Dubai-based firm to courts and sought compensation.
Swati: But when you introspect how you do feel about all this?
Mani: I think the biggest mistake by the UPA was to appoint me as the Sports Minister in 2006 since I was never in favour of CWG. I do not hold a similar opinion as those who are in Kalmadi’s camp. I hold a Socialist viewpoint and for an event like CWG a capitalist or a rich businessman should have been assigned the task. But when I was told to accept the job, I started functioning in my own way.
I was also told that we will go to attend the 2006 CWG in Melbourne and have fun. Although, I did not go there, I came to know a whopping Rs 29 crores were given to Bollywood stars Saif Ali Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Rani Mukherjee for holding the banner for the next events in India. You would be shocked to know that the entire money that was spent on our athletes was just Rs 3 crore.
Swati: I just came to know that our Olympic Gold medallist Abhinav Bindra was repeatedly referred to as “Avinash” by the IOA chief when he met him. For someone like Kalmadi, who has been the country’s biggest serving sports administrator, behaving in this manner how correct is this?
Mani: You see when Bindra clinched a Gold medal, the Sports Ministry was so overjoyed that nobody actually cared for me. I recently went to Mauritius and met a senior Indian Embassy official who was posted in Greece when 2004 Olympics were held there. Through him, I got to know that Kalmadi did not even spare a very honest and a noble human being like Sunil Dutt, who was then Union Sports Minister. Kalmadi insulted Mr Dutt while in Greece. Imagine how it feels when the Indian Olympic Association makes people like Sunil Dutt suffer and feel unwanted at the Games.
Swati: Nowadays we are receiving bad jokes, SMSs on Kalmadi and the whole CWG mess. What should be done now since it (CWG) has been a global embarrassment?
Mani: The government should pledge that we will never host any major event like this until we are fully prepared. Look, Rs 70000 crore has been spent but we are still not ready. Even if only 10% of that amount is spent on providing better facilities and training to our children, no one could stop us from becoming a sports power like China. I would not mind hosting Olympics if we prepare ourselves as China had prepared before they hosted the Beijing Olympics.
I once approached the Planning Commission with a draft proposal that Panchayats should launch “Khel Krida Abhiyan” at the village level. I sought Rs 600 cr from the Commission for providing basic facilities to our children interested in various sports in every village. However, the plan was rejected and I was told that India is a poor nation. Now, I regret that those who opposed me that time have given a lot more to some other people.
When National Games were held in Guwahati, I was invited but not allowed to address a meet of sports officials by the IOA. When I opposed the bid for 2014 Asiad Games, I was told to prepare a comprehensive sports policy to improve the state of sports. The instruction came from the high command and I was very happy with the development. I prepared the draft of the policy in three months and approached Kalmadi for his opinion. To my surprise I waited for his opinion for several months but did not get any reply from him. Then I presented the draft of the policy to the cabinet. But it was never accepted and the new Minister of Sports put that in back burner.
During those days, I got an invitation to address a conference on sports in Auckland, New Zealand. I got standing ovation when I completed my speech which outlined our future road map for sports. When I was in Hong Kong, I got an email telling me that I was ousted from the cabinet.
During one of the meetings of Commonwealth Games committee in Montego Bay couple of years ago, Suresh Kalmadi announced that on behalf of Indian Olympic Association (IOA), they would give one million dollars to all the participating nations. His close aid Lalit Bhanot later told me that it was only incentivisation (inducement). I consider this as a bribe.
Swati: Our PM has had a very clean image and the CWG is surely a blot on his reputation. Why was it that nobody in your party ever got to know about the alleged financial irregularities committed by the Organising Committee? Had he turned a Dhritrashtra (a blind character in epic Mahabharata)?
Mani: I do not know how things unfolded after my ouster from the cabinet. I cannot really comment on that. I think had the government acted the way Asiad games were handled by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1982, things would have been much better. Indira Gandhi formed 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. Rajiv Gandhi and people like Arun Nehru were in that panel who took personal interest in overseeing the construction of JLN Stadium with just Rs 30-40 crores. But Kalmadi’s panel has spent nearly Rs 960 crores on its renovation.
Swati: Waka Waka added glory to the Football world Cup in South Africa but even music maestro like AR Rehaman failed here why?
Mani: I must tell you that in 1982, renowned classical singer Pt Ravi Shankar was approached to prepare the theme song for the Asiad Games. The "Swagatam Suswagatam" tune which he prepared is immensely popular even today and for his services he did not even charge a single Rupee. However, this time Rs 5 crores have been spent on preparing the theme song. Money has spent mindlessly on everything.
Swati: So, after all this where do we go from here?
Mani: See the Games will be over in 10-15 days and the government should learn from its mistakes and reconsider the comprehensive sports policy which I drafted for the improvement of sports in India. I recently asked Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh why the poor people living in the colonies right opposite the Games site on the banks of Yamuna were dislocated. I was told that due to security concern. I stress that we need to change our attitude that if one is poor he is a terrorist and if one is a billionaire then he is an esteemed citizen. We need to bring a change in our work culture. Only if we will remain serious in our approach, only then will we succeed in turning India as the new sports super power.
Adapted by Ritesh K Srivastava