There is something that cannot be wished away frivolously in a statement made once by former Union sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyer criticising Indian sports management. His criticism it will be recalled was widely cited in agreement as the reasons why India lost the bid to host the 2014 Asian Games. The then Indian Olympic Association president and now discredited Suresh Kalmadi, and many others who were part of the campaign, had called his criticism a stab in the back, but the minister insisted it was essentially straight talking aimed at bursting a bubble Indian sports has been living in. He said Indian sports has become virtually a monopoly of its cities, amounting to the exclusion of 70 percent of the Indian population from participating meaningfully in the pursuit, adding that his objective would be to take sports to the wider section of India’s population living in the villages to ensure that all available talent is tapped to make India a sporting power the world has to reckon with. It may also be recalled that the former maverick minister is known for criticising the growth pattern of the Indian economy on similar consideration. That the expansion of GDP which many unthinkingly boast of, he contended, was virtually a story about 0.02 percent of the Indian population. The urgent need is for a radical shift in attitude so as to broad-base both these agendas he had said. Mani Shankar Aiyer has a reputation of talking too much, but he sometimes talks sense too.
The Indian sporting world’s compulsive obsession with cricket may be the testimony of what the maverick was contending, and at least on this point, even his critics would not disagree. Cricket is basically a game of urban elites, its culture almost synonymous with that of the public school. But the argument goes beyond just cricket. For like cricket, much of the rest of Indian competitive sports is beginning to take the cricket path and what is needed is for this trend to be checked so that the public schools as well as the village government schools can equally be the fecund germinating grounds for sporting talents. The base having thus widened to the entire one point three billion Indians, there ought to emerge much more world beaters from the Indian sports firmament. In similar fashion, Indian economy’s salvation also lies in not restricting the GDP growth to the activities of its elite cream of 0.02 percent. Otherwise, India’s success stories, exemplified by the achievements of the Tatas and Mittals and Narayanmurthis will always be fated to be tarnished by the other Indian realities of mass suicides by farmers for crop failures etc, and equally disturbingly by perennial phenomena such as Naxalism and other forms of radical challenges to the Indian establishment. Shining India, it must be recalled still has a population of 300 million living below WHOs poverty line of a dollar a day income, even as top executives in many of its new age corporate sector companies are taking home several lakhs a month.
On the smaller canvas of Manipur, things are still not as acute. Sports is very much egalitarian, with the best sportpersons coming increasingly from the rural environment – Mary Kom and L Sarita just to name the latest sensations. But the involvement of the hill districts in this pursuit has not been up to expectation and the reasons behind this need to be probed. However, it is in the area of economy that things are getting a lot worrisome. Livelihoods and jobs are shrinking steadily, multiplying the number of income-less constantly and it needs no expert to predict that this does not portend well for the society. The government’s neglect of education has also ensured the divide between the “elite” and the “common” is unbridgeable and in the not so distant future, the tussle for resources between the two will predictably intensify. The fortunate few will have the means to legally avail of the establishment’s benefits, while the deprived will seek un-prescribed routes, creating unprecedented law and order situations. To a good extent this is already happening. In the end the establishment will end up using its might to protect the interests of the “law abiding elites” from the “law-breaking masses”, never interested in the fact that it itself is responsible for the society becoming thus dangerously riven. History is testimony that all the most destructive revolutions of the world have this same script. The question is, are our leaders inclined to learn this lesson from history?