The Congress' irrepressible Mani Shankar Aiyar — not so long ago, Union Sports Minister — found himself in the middle of a first-class controversy on Tuesday when his remark that he would be “unhappy” if the Commonwealth Games slated for October were a success, and that those who were patronising the Games were “evil,” generated responses, ranging from the guarded to hostile, from within his own party.
“I am delighted in a way because rains are causing difficulties for the Commonwealth Games. Basically, I will be very unhappy,” Mr. Aiyar said in an informal chat with journalists, “if the Games are successful because then they will start bringing Asian Games, Olympic Games etc. Those who are patronising the Games can only be evil. They cannot be God.”
With these remarks coming in the midst of virtually daily adverse reports about the poor preparations for the CWG, Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed refrained from commenting on whether Mr. Aiyar had violated the party's directive to its leaders that they should stick to subjects they dealt with. Instead, he said, “I don't know in what context he [Mr. Aiyar] made the remarks.” Mr. Ahmed then went on to say, “Since the Games are being held in India, we do hope that the Commonwealth Games will be very successful. Our good wishes for the Games.”
In a similar fashion, Sandeep Dikshit, party MP and son of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, dismissed Mr. Aiyar's remarks: “I do not take him seriously.”
But Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi was not amused. Describing Mr. Aiyar's comments as “anti-national” and “irresponsible,” he said: “It was because of his openness that he was removed from the Sport Minister's post. If he had been the Minister, the Commonwealth Games would never have come to India.”
The BJP, too, jumped into the fray, with spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad saying: “The Central and State governments should understand that the prestige of the country is associated with the Commonwealth Games.”
However, Mr. Aiyar's remarks, though phrased in a way calculated to provoke, did not come as a surprise to many; last month he wrote an article criticising the expenditure on the Games, some of which he repeated on Tuesday: “Just imagine if we would have spent the Rs. 35,000 crores in providing training to children, we would have won medals in every international sporting event,” he said.
In his article, Mr. Aiyar pointed out how the CWG could have been made more meaningful: “And why, in the name of that same God and Mammon, the Commonwealth Games for the most prosperous part of the most prosperous city in India, the posh heart of New Delhi? The Commonwealth Games in Manchester were leveraged to rejuvenate the utterly rundown eastern section of the city, where every family had undergone unemployment for at least a generation and some for two or three. Now, Walmart has its largest global store, employing 18,000 boys and girls, and Microsoft its European headquarters, in East Manchester, thanks to the fillip given by the Games.”