Politicians long have been wary about how playing golf would affect their image, and what non-golfing bosses would think about them. Apparently that's the state of Indian bureaucracy today purportedly due to a rumour (and then a media report) that golfers will be penalized for 'not working hard enough.' Golfers in public life are criticized for many trivial reasons in India like 'few understand the game,' 'tennis is more familiar' 'cricket is for the masses.' And so those getting on the greens suddenly feel the grass is indeed greener on the other side.
The unfounded stigma around this four-letter word made headlines this week, much to my dislike, for all the wrong reasons. There were reports taking a dig at bureaucrats who love their weekend or early golf. My hunch is like all governments in India, the new one wants to remove any trace of the other. Even in sport.
Additionally in the new government too the cricket lobby is strong enough that they could only find golf to criticize. Given just how much golf Robert Vadra was shown playing (one television channel seemed to only have his shots while golfing), the NDA possibly wants to criticize it just for criticism's sake. And so we have these stories in the papers about babus being in the rough.
"I think too much is being made out about the new government and it's attitude to golf," says former commerce secretary, Ajay Dua.
Babus and their equivalents, politics and celebrities, play golf the world over and for good reason. It's a sport, it's a long hectic walking burn-out and it gives people time to chat and talk over things. Last year two political foes Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner did a golf summit to wedge out issues around the debt ceiling consensus. In Washington, golf officials head to the course in early morning darkness to get first tee off so they can finish in time to make it back to the floor.
Sometimes golf also becomes a nicer cloak to words to admit mistakes. US President Bill Clinton may have used this golf analogy to reflect on the personal crisis in his life. "Golf is like life in a lot of ways ... All the biggest wounds are self-inflicted."
Unlike cricket, which lends itself to controversy, golf provides itself to humour. And it's been widely used as a soft tool to criticize. Journalist Ben Bradlee reportedly mocked John F Kennedy's game saying "He could hit it a ton ... but often had no idea where it was going."
While politics and golf may often be considered a delicate dance, the least our politicians and policy makers deserve is to be proud of their passions. And if golf it is, then so be it. Dua points out that the government of the day has the right to appraise its officials of work duties. At the same time he reminds us that, "there are golf courses everywhere in India including Ahmedabad and many private and ex- government officials play there frequently."
There are many members of the Indian bureaucracy who love their 18 holes and given that their sport has faced the onslaught of many invasions, they probably hope this too shall pass.