Friday, September 02, 2011

‘No accountability please’

[Written for Sahara Time]

What was Ajay Maken thinking? Did he seriously think that his colleagues would jump at the opportunity to be made accountable and help him push through the National Sports Development Bill? Did he seriously think that some of the most powerful politicians in the country would suddenly slip on the veneer of honesty and help Maken become a hero? How naive! How very naive!

Think about it. Vijay Kumar Malhotra, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Praful Patel, Jagdish Tytler, Satish Sharma...and many others. They care a damn about sports or sportspersons. Much like Uma Bharti or Mani Shankar Aiyar or MS Gill – recent sports ministers who considered their jobs ‘punishment postings’ and made it clear that they didn’t want to do what they had been asked to do. Come on, who are we fooling? It’s one of the oldest known secrets that politicians choose to become part of sports federations for two reasons and two reasons alone: one, because of the funds that come in, and are not really accounted for; and two, because of the free foreign tours that come as one of the fringe benefits of the job. Period. And Maken actually thought that the politicians would chuck up years of ‘hard work’ and become accountable and transparent? Ridiculous!

I don’t hold any brief for Maken, but it’s obvious that his intentions are noble. But much like the Jan Lokpal Bill propagated by Team Anna, Maken’s method is naive. Ill-informed. Do I know what the right way is? No. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see that this way is ineffective. Because it will never work. Any Bill – Jan Lokpal or Sports Lokpal – needs the nod of Parliament to come into effect. When Parliament itself, or the people who make up Parliament, stand to lose so much, why would they give the nod?

So far, among the people I have spoken to, Vijay Kumar Malhotra has cried hoarse about the ‘age and tenure’ clauses of the proposed Bill that affect him both on the count of age (he’s 80, 10 years past the mark) and tenure (he has been President of the Archery Association of India for close to 40 years). His argument was “What’s my age got to do with anything? Our archers are winning medals in international tournaments. What else do we want?”

Well, how about that old argument? Medals are won despite the administration, not because of it, Mr Malhotra. I tried to suggest that, humbly. The old BJP hand said to me, though not in as many words, to “stuff it”! I suspect I would have received similar answers from the rest of the men named earlier.

And I haven’t even started on the BCCI yet. “We don’t take any funds from the government,” grandly announced Congress MP and BCCI Vice President Rajeev Shukla. “If we (my real employers, the BCCI) don’t take help from the government (my part time job as Minister), then why should the BCCI be answerable to the government?”

How about this, Mr Shukla? One, because the BCCI gets lands at subsidised, often nominal, rates from the government, and this is where stadia as well as academies are built. Two, because none of your international matches or the IPL would take place without the security that is arranged by the government. Three, because of the tax exemptions the government extends towards you, and helps your crores multiply. And four, that stupid old thing about our boys not representing the BCCI but India. Does any of it make sense?

Importantly, the sports fraternity has come out in complete support of Maken, and that might make a difference as we go along. Four-time world champion cueist Michael Ferreira says, “It’s vested interests and nothing else that is making the politicians reject the Bill.” Former India captain Kapil Dev lauds the BCCI for what it has achieved, but adds, “Why should it have a problem coming under the ambit of the Bill if it has nothing to hide?” Former India all-rounder Ajay Jadeja asks, “How can there be different rules for different people?” While former sprinter Ashwini Nachappa says, “A clean-up is necessary and there is no doubt on that front. Politicians should come out and set an example.”

Let me pick up Kapil Dev’s statement and expand a bit. “If the politicians have nothing to hide, why are they worried about coming under the RTI?” Can’t argue. We are not talking about sensitive and confidential matters of the Defence Ministry or the PMO here. We are talking about sports. Simply about money coming into the federations and associations, and being disbursed for the development of sports. That’s the brief for the politicians in question. If they have been doing their job, as Malhotra so eloquently told us, then they should use the Bill to blow their own trumpets.

Truth though is that there isn’t much to boast about. Truth is that, as mentioned earlier, the big money that comes into the federations are frittered away, wasted, or worse. No one cares as long as a few stray cynical journalists sit back and say these things over a drink or two. But once it reaches the public domain, things become problematic. And remember, as Kirti Azad says, “the RTI is not about the government, it’s about being accountable to the public”.

Who wants to be accountable to the public? Not us!