Electoral systems in a democracy can be hard to gauge. While winning an election, where only 60-odd voters are involved, can be a task for even an apt candidate, emerging victorious in one where more than a lakh of voters decide your fate can, at times, be far easier.
Two-time Olympic hockey captain Pargat Singh cantered into the 14th Punjab Assembly by winning the Jalandhar Cantonment seat, and became perhaps the first hockey Olympian to enter any state assembly.
But, on his electoral debut in 2010, Pargat, who defeated Jagbir Singh Brar of the Congress by 6,798 votes in the assembly elections on Tuesday, had lost 21-41 to Vidya Stokes in the presidential elections of Hockey India, whose electoral college numbers 66 (four voters were rejected). Stokes, then 83, quit from her post after the Commonwealth Games in October 2010, after which Mariamma Koshy was appointed interim president.
So, what makes the HI, or for that matter, any sports federations’ elections, involving just a fraction of the number of votes when compared to assembly and Lok Sabha elections, difficult?
Different ball game
“Any candidate’s fate is in the hands of the voters. In case of assembly elections, the winners directly impact the lives of the voters and their constituencies, and are shown the door if they fail to perform,” said Pargat.
“In the case of sports federations, it’s the players and not the voters who are affected by the candidates, especially if the winners end up destroying the sport with their policies,” he said.
“The ones who actually vote are administrators without any background in sports, so, non-performers end up winning election after election, and stay on for years.”
It is not just Pargat who feels this way. In a column for HT, the legendary Milkha Singh had written: “As of now, non-sportspersons run the show in most Indian federations. These administrators are as clueless about the sport they govern as they are about the athletes’ requirements, and just cling on to the chair for dear life. What’s worse, there’s a strong nexus that prevents outsiders, including former players, from entering the setup. If I were to contest for any of these bodies, I’m sure I won’t get even a single vote!”
It is to rectify this situation that the sports ministry wants to get the Sport Bill, through which sportspersons will comprise one-fourth of any administrative body, passed.
Pargat, who is remembered for his solo goal in the 1985 Champions Trophy, which saw him start from deep inside his half and dribble past five opponents before scoring, and for the commendable job in restoring Punjab to the pinnacle of Indian hockey during his tenure as state sports director, was unable to woo the 66 voters during the HI elections.
But, despite a hasty nomination process and campaign that lasted less than a fortnight, his charisma was enough to attract 48,290 voters and propel him to the Punjab Vidhan Sabha.