In your interest.
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No beating about the bush.
If you thought that the current controversies plaguing the upcoming Commonwealth Games are shameful, here are some episodes from our sorry sporting past
It is an old rule in politics - if you are caught out in activities which are fairly par for the course, often involving the misuse of funds or assets belonging to the public exchequer, then you have to be able to defend yourself without letting any muck escape upwards. If you try to point fingers at those who are above your horizon, then you will simply not be allowed to go off into the sunset in peace, as all upward trails will be obscured. Anything you say is suspect anyways.
The only alternative left then is to stand alone in a corner and fight it out. Brazenly. Use every trick at your disposal. Maybe you will succeed, in which case you live to fight for another day. Or you have to exit gracefully, and be content with the fact that for the rest of your life you will be allowed to exist, without much ado. But. You. Do. Not. Pass. The. Blame. Upwards.
Suresh Kalmadi appears to be in a jam of this sort. After finessing the art-form of running games which nobody else considered to be anything more than a great party with fireworks, during the eminently forgotten 'Commonwealth Youth Games' held in Pune a few years ago, he obviously set his sights far too high in the killing fields of Delhi. Such is the state of the media in India today, that for better or for worse, if one media-house "breaks" a report of the sort that the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and Indian Olympics Association are facing nowadays, then the rest will also have to tag along. And it must be said, the centre of action for all this CWG chaos is in and around South and New Delhi - which is where our national electronic and print media seems to find its frontlines.
But would all this have been possible without credible access to the one thing that matters in the first case - the numbers? And therein lies a tale, which is a Moneylife exclusive.
Way back in 2005, the Right to Information (RTI) Act of India was in its first flush of action, and ably supported by Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu, yours truly filed a very simple RTI application with the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) - operating those days out of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) premises at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi. IOA and its subordinate as well as related entities, which control every game and sport in India plus a lot more, were for all practical purposes acting like extensions of the government of India, through SAI and the ministry of sports. In short, a great time was had by all.
Except the athletes and sportspersons who went to Melbourne for the previous Commonwealth Games in 2006. There were reports on how they performed in close to miserable conditions - again, nothing new. Indian sports team goes abroad, local Indian population provides training facilities, equipment, local transport, shoes and food - otherwise there is always the gracefulness of the gurudwaras. This has been the reality for ages, and in a pre-liberalisation, pre-Internet, pre-RTI India, it just went on that way. In exchange, you gave them bottles of Indian pickles, or similar.
Except that this time there were reports on the Internet, picked up in small little columns by the mainstream media, which spoke also about the vast amounts of money paid to stars and starlets to come and dance on stage in Melbourne. One famous actress I knew, however, told me she went all the way there for national honour, and didn't know what these payments were about.
So, in a moment of inspired madness, your correspondent filed a very simple RTI application with the Indian Olympics Association, asking it to please provide details of these dancing expenses in Melbourne. To be fully aware of the truth on such things, if they had done so, and given any story as an answer, the matter would have probably died there and then.
But no. Authority questioned is authority defied, and so the questioner has to be put in his place. Publicly. The whole establishment, which was the IOA, SAI, ministry of sports and the rest of them, chose to at one stage or the other defend the right of the IOA not to provide these numbers. Or IOA's adherence to the RTI Act. The arguments were various, from outright denial to some innovative ones quoting declarations and speeches which nobody else had heard of - but they all said the same thing - we won't tell you how much we spent on what. We are not liable to the Indian people. That's it. Go away. And the weight by way of legal pressure was amazing.
But the office of the Chief Information Commissioner provided a judgement in the applicant's favour
In addition, it was the clear and outright support from good friends who are lawyers in Delhi, that they would support me all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, totally pro bono, which gave strength for the next episode. Plus the simple fact that MS Gill came into the sports ministry.