“In order to get power and retain it, it is necessary to love power; but love of power is not connected with goodness but with qualities that are the opposite of goodness, such as pride, cunning and cruelty,” says Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy.
One couldn’t have looked for a more appropriate quote in view of the greed that our political leaders and their relatives exhibit in India. A case in point is the recent spat between brothers Ajit Banerjee and Swapan Banerjee for dominance in the Bengal Olympic Association (BOA). The media in Kolkata has been bustling with this family feud that has come out in the open and filtered right to the Maidan. The reason is simple: Both Ajit and Swapan have a strong political connection. They are brothers of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and hence the buzz in the media.
After a hard-fought battle, Swapan managed to beat the candidate backed by his elder brother (who also happens to be the president of BOA) to bag the plum secretary’s post. The fight between the two brothers certainly doesn’t augur well for the future of sports in the state. But does anybody care? There were reports in the media that the Chief Minister was upset with the clash between his brothers. However, that hardly worked and the war of words continued till the end.
When in power, grab the maximum and this age-old notion is strictly being adhered to by state ministers and their relatives as well. If we look beyond sports, Tollywood or the Bengali film industry is unofficially controlled by a powerful minister in the state cabinet, who seems to enjoy tremendous popularity with actors, directors and producers. His brother takes care of the technicians and is often at loggerheads with production houses over recruitment of local technicians. Little are we aware of their knowledge about films or filmmaking, yet nobody dares to raise a voice.
Similarly, it would be a herculean task to track the sporting history of Swapan and Ajit. Heading a sports body isn’t a matter of joke because you need vision and knowledge. But in India and Bengal, what you need is political backing. Can you imagine a former Olympian like Gurbux Singh is out of the BOA? So is ex-Indian footballer Kartik Seth. Both bit the dust in the polls. It’s not about experience but connections. And to elaborate, the scams that Didi’s party has been embroiled in, haven’t had any effect on some of her committed supporters from film and other fraternities. Former Bengal Ranji Trophy skipper Laxmi Ratan Shukla not only contested the Assembly Elections on a Trinamool Congress ticket, but is also junior sports minister in Didi’s cabinet. And guess who the sports minister is. It’s CM’s trusted lieutenant Aroop Biswas.
But why just blame the Banerjees? Look around and you have plenty of political leaders heading various sports bodies. Anurag Thakur (Board of Control for Cricket in India), Praful Patel (All India Football Federation), Sharad Pawar (Mumbai Cricket Association) and Akhilesh Das Gupta (Badmintion Association of India), to mention a few.
Looking back while Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the president of the Gujarat Cricket Association, his Man Friday Arun Jaitley had a controversial stint with the Delhi & District Cricket Association. The list is endless though. We have also had leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Farooq Abdullah, Abhay Singh Chautala and others who have used their political clout in sports.
Barring cricket, there’s hardly any sport in India that has seen a consistent flow of performers. But still, politicians either directly or through their friends and relatives show their might in sports bodies in India. “It is a sad commentary that people who are administrators of the game have nothing to do with sports and they run the bodies at the cost of the game. Sports are run by private individual persons. Private individuals are controlling the games in India. Can the game be held hostage by private interest? This is why hockey has come down and the team is struggling to qualify for the Olympics where we used to win gold medals,” the Supreme Court had said in 2013. But who cares. On the contrary you have the BCCI president saying, “If politicians can run the country, they can run the sport bodies also.”
A country which is satisfied with just a couple of medals in the Olympics, it’s not surprising that unqualified people are in charge of important sports associations. You have the Union Sports Minister, Vijay Goel who embarrassed the country at the Rio Olympics. Such was his obsession with taking selfies with members of the Indian contingent that he was even warned by the authorities. And by no stretch of imagination, the Banerjees are toeing the line of their seniors. To quote Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika, “The BOA elections may be over, but there’s no golden lining in Bengal sports. The state Olympic association is divided into two factions, courtesy the brothers.”
The current state of affairs in Indian sports quite convincingly justifies what Tolstoy said.