The controversial Rajiv Gandhi Awards are making news for the wrong reasons again.
What is to become of the more than Rs one crore collected as sponsorship for the awards, is what the Mumbai Region Congress Committee (MRCC) wants to know.
The awards, a high-profile television event, will be discontinued from this year after the Gandhi family objected to the awards’ convener and Congress MLC, Charan Singh Sapra, using the former prime minister’s name to collect sponsorship for what it sees as an exercise in commercialisation.
Senior Congress leaders in Mumbai are demanding a verification of the sources of money that Sapra collected over the years. They said Sapra continued to collect money in the name of the awards despite senior MRCC leaders opposing the event because they did not approve of film actors dancing at the event, which a private television channel telecast as primetime entertainment.
The leaders said the actors were paid crores as performance fees, and very little was spent on social activities that the late PM had worked towards. January this year, the awards were criticised after Non-Resident Indian industrialist Sant Singh Chatwal, one of its recipients in 2005, was chosen for the Padma award.
After a section of politicians criticised Chatwal’s selection, the Padma panel said he was considered because he had earlier received the Rajiv Gandhi Award. The late PM’s daughter Priyanka then asked Sapra not to use his name, and asked that the awards be discontinued.
Former MRCC president R R Singh said he had urged the All India Congress Committee (AICC) to prevent Sapra from going ahead with the function. “I did not like semi-nude actors featured in a function held in the name of our highly respected leader,” he said.
A bank statement of Punjab and Maharashtra Bank Ltd – Hindustan Times has a copy – shows the award account had Rs 1.23 crore until August 30, 2009. It also shows hefty performance fees paid to actors such as Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan, among others.
Sapra said event management companies had collected sponsorship on his behalf, and that he would get the accounts audited as early as possible.
He said he was ready to give the money to MRCC, and that he will discontinue the function if the (Gandhi) family wished it. MRCC president Kripashankar Singh said the sponsorship sources needed to be verified before the money was accepted.