Slowly but calculatedly, those tainted by corruption scandals in the series of scams that rocked the UPA II are bouncing back into reckoning. The real tragedy is that with media and public pressure waning, the Centre is virtually acquiescing in their rehabilitation.
The latest case in point is Lalit Bhanot, the controversial secretary-general of the Indian Olympic Association who was made to cool his heels in Tihar jail for 11 months following media exposes’ and suspended from his post for his involvement in the Commonwealth Games irregularities before he was released on bail. Bhanot was the secretary-general of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee and widely perceived as a close aide of Suresh Kalmadi, who headed the committee and was also jailed after the scam broke out. Bhanot’s unopposed re-election as secretary general of IOA comes after the ethics committee of the International Olympic Committee had indicated that tainted officials like Bhanot could not be part of the Olympic movement. Whether the IOC will put its foot down and refuse to accept Bhanot’s election now remains to be seen when it meets on December 4 and 5.
On November 28, the IOC indicated that it had begun the process of de-recognising India for not undertaking its elections in accordance with the IOC charter. If de-recognition happens, the consequences for India would be very serious. These are: Indian athletes may not be allowed to take part in international events — Olympics (in 2016) and Asian Games (in 2014); if concessions are made at all, Indian athletes will then take part under an international flag of independent participants, not the tricolour; every Olympic body in a country receives some grant to develop sports. It also receives some expertise on a number of aspects ranging from athletes’ development to R&D expertise. This would stop; de-recognition entails a lot of shame for a country in the international arena. This is not just in the realms of sports but also transgresses to other fields like economics and social; and, India will lose all rights to host or even bid for staging of any Olympic or Olympic-related event. It is scandalous that the Centre is doing precious little to stave off such a possibility by putting the Indian Olympic Association house in order.
Typically, the newly-elected president of the IOA, Abhay Chautala, again a sports administrator and a politician with no pretensions to being at any time a sportsman himself, has defended Bhanot’s election on grounds that he has not been convicted so far and hence is innocent. Currently Chautala is the chairman of the Boxing Federation of India, without ever getting into a boxing ring. This is commonplace in a country where politicians, bureaucrats, and industrialists have monopolised sports administration to the exclusion of sportspersons themselves, playing havoc with selections and with nurturing of talented sportspersons who do not kowtow to the administrators or play petty politics.
Along with his elder brother Ajay Chautala, Abhay is currently facing trial in a disproportionate assets case as the CBI has already filed a charge-sheet against them. The CBI, in its charge-sheet filed on February 2, 2010, charged him of having assets worth `8 crore, and another `125 crore in the names of the Chaudhary Devi Lal Memorial Trust, among other societies.
If the prime sports body in the country is all set to be run by a president who is chargesheeted by the CBI and a secretary-general who has spent 11 months in jail one can well imagine what the Olympians can expect from their association.
Earlier, Randhir Singh, the lone member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from India, had decided to withdraw his candidature for the post of president of IOA protesting the ‘slander campaign’ against him. Randhir Singh has been a six-time Olympic trap shooter and an Asian Games gold medallist.
As for Suresh Kalmadi, the government itself is active in his rehabilitation. Being out of jail on bail nine months after his arrest for the involvement in the CWG scam, Kalmadi is back in the Lok Sabha, and has been accepted as a member of the parliamentary committee on external affairs through the Congress. The CWG kingpin had been suspended by the Congress when the media was hot on his trail; but now that the media spotlight has shifted, Suresh Kalmadi is apparently in the good books of the party again.
The Congress stand that forms for membership of committees were distributed to all party MPs and that all that the party did was not to object to his plea for inclusion in the foreign affairs committee sounds too simplistic to carry conviction. As the man in charge of the Commonwealth Games held in Delhi in 2010, Kalmadi allegedly presided over a network of venal officials, who signed inflated contracts with firms. Kalmadi was jailed for a deal with a Swiss company that was hired for time-keeping and scoring equipment.
Former telecom minister A Raja who was jailed in the 2G scam falls in virtually the same category. Raja is now the DMK’s representative on the parliamentary group that studies energy. Raja is being tried for criminal conspiracy, cheating and breach of trust by a public servant — a charge that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. As telecom minister, he allegedly sold under-priced licences for mobile networks to ineligible companies. Through his trial, his party has stood by him. The DMK chief M Karunanidhi has said the party believes in his innocence.
In recent days, the Manmohan Singh government has been hyperactive in questioning the role of Comptroller and Auditor General of India Vinod Rai in having arrived at a figure of `1.76 lakh-crore as the ‘presumptive’ loss suffered by the country in the 2G scam. Taking a cue from that, the DMK is now seeking a debate on the quantum of loss. The attempt apparently is to drown the real issue of corruption in the 2G mess.
All in all, it’s a frightening scenario with a real possibility that the perpetrators of the scams would be let off the hook. Only relentless pressure from the media and public-spirited groups can save the situation.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a veteran journalist and author.