“We weren’t following his diktats. We’re relieved that Ajay Maken’is gone,” said an Archery Association of India (AAI) official. Beijing Olympics gold medallist Abhinav Bindra had this to say. “Thank you for being the best sports minister the country has had. Best wishes.”
The contrast couldn’t be more stark. And it perfectly summed up the mood among the federation officials and sportspersons after Maken was shifted from sports to Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation in Sunday’s reshuffle of the union council of ministers. Loved and loathed equally, it will be interesting to see whether the new man in charge, Jitendra Singh, can implement the changes that Maken so fearlessly fought for.
At 48, Maken became a popular minister when he took on the likes of Suresh Kalmadi and BJP veteran Vijay Kumar Malhotra on corruption and age-tenure issues. The sports ministry officials are unfazed by the change and insist that the change in minister doesn’t mean a change in policy. “The new sports code is in place and this will be enforced strictly. The Delhi high court is also hearing this case and no federation, including the IOA, will be allowed to flout it,” a ministry official told DNA.
Legendary Milkha Singh, however, is of the opinion that it will be difficult not just for Jitendra, but any sports minister, to implement the sports bill.
“In Maken, we had a sports minister with very noble intentions. He wanted to do something for the sportspersons. I will be happy if the new minister shows the same enthusiasm. But we have to realise that the people who have to clear the bill head the most important bodies. So, for all the good things it has, I really doubt that the bill will ever see light of the day,” Milkha said.
The first big test for the new minister is not very far off. Malhotra is likely to re-contest the AAI elections, slated for November 9, even after being in charge of the association for over 37 years. According to the guidelines formulated by Maken, no official over the age of 70 can contest for a post. He was also for a maximum of only two terms.
Malhotra flouts both rules. BVP Rao, who will be the first one to challenge Malhotra for the AAI top post in more than three decades, feels optimistic. “The idea of this bill was put forth by MS Gill. Maken did a good job with it and we hope the new minister will take it to its logical conclusion,” Rao, who is also the convener of Clean Sports India, told this paper.
An Olympian observed: “This (AAI elections) will set the tone for November 25 IOA elections. Boxing federation chairman Abhay Singh Chautala is likely to file his nominations despite the fact that the ministry has given notice to IABF on the creation of this new post. So it’ll be interesting to see if he gets a go-ahead.”