Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar has never made a secret of his distaste for spending crores of rupees from the exchequer on mega international sporting events. On Thursday, it was the Union Cabinet's turn to hear Aiyar speak his heart out.
Incidentally, Aiyar stood up to make his reservation known in the Cabinet when he was seeking approval for the expenditure to be incurred on account of India's bid for the 2014 Asian Games at the Olympic Council of Asia meet in Kuwait next week.
"In a sense, he was almost opposing what he was proposing in the official note," a source later said. But Aiyar seemed to have been almost isolated at the meeting except for a few including Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh.
In fact, the 1982 Asian Games hosted by Delhi had also been opposed by leaders like Charan Singh on similar grounds; that the money spent on hosting the games be used for providing basic facilities to people. Many of them including Charan Singh had even boycotted the inaugural ceremony.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said the Cabinet discussed the Indian bid "at length". The meeting ended with a "unanimous" decision to seek support from all Asian countries for India's bid. Delhi is in direct competition with Incheon in South Korea; officials at the sports ministry insist India has a strong case.
The unanimous decision, however, followed the sports minister holding fort at the Cabinet meeting for nearly 40 minutes, speaking out against the country spending public funds to host mega events like the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the bid for the 2014 Asian Games and the proposed Olympics bid. The Commonwealth Games are estimated to cost nearly Rs 7,000 crore; another Asiad could cost a few thousand less.
Aiyar said he had articulated his view in the note put before the Cabinet. "I will not share anything about the discussion at the Cabinet meeting," he said. A formal decision to bid for the Asian Games had been taken in 2005 -- well before Aiyar was given charge of the sports ministry – and there is no way India could have backed out. On Aiyar's radar was the attempt by the Suresh Kalmadi-led Indian Olympic Association to bid for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Just on Wednesday, he had slammed the Games bid, arguing that the sporting events had no relevance to the common man. "Whether you organise the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi or in Melbourne, the state of people living in colonies right opposite the Games site will remain the same," he had said on Wednesday.