You will rarely find a piece praising a politician in these pages. We sports journalists have seen far too many of that breed ruin our federations. Then, their apathy towards our athletes does not foster much regard for them. But Ajay Maken is different. That this man has moved on from the sports ministry has come as a severe dampener to those who were beginning to get optimistic about our rogue sports bodies being brought to account. Maken's legacy
What he did to ensure accountability amongst sports administrators apart, it was Maken's human touch which made his tenure so favourable to sportsmen. Every minister wants to meet Sachin Tendulkar. But few care to meet our para-athletes. Few care to figure just what's going on in winter sports. Shiva Keshavan, four-time winter Olympian, is an interesting case in point.
The poor fellow was made to wait and wait and then wait some more by Maken's predecessor. He didn't know what hit him when he was ushered into Maken's chambers the first time he tried to meet him.
The former sports minister was even more easily accessible to the activist lawyer Rahul Mehra and consulted many a former athlete when it came to redrafting the sports policy. This inclusive approach is rare in the bureaucratic corridors of our government. He had also come up with measures to rein in the Sports Authority of India and bypassed the body's long-winded procurement procedure to speed up access to quality equipment for our athletes.
His hard-nosed approach to curtailing the reign of long-serving administrators and pruning the official number of delegates going to the Olympics must have made things tough for him in political circles but Maken held out. In the process he gave Indian sportsmen hope for a change for the better. Mahesh Bhupathi would not have gone so vocal against the vagaries of the bumbling tennis federation had he not had the confidence of backing from the Ministry.
In fact Maken was keen to scrutinize the affairs of some federations after allegations by athletes and tennis was top of his agenda. It remains to be seen if his successor provides Bhupathi with the kind of support the player needs to expose the wrong-doings in the tennis body.
HT's political editor tells this writer that fresh incumbent Jitendra Singh has the backing of Rahul Gandhi and is a 41-year-old young politician eager to make his mark. The best thing for Indian sport would be if Singh chooses to continue the beginning made by Maken and cleans up the mess that our federations continue to be. Of course, he could also look beyond and correct the one major lapse by Maken - smoothen the road to the Indian GP by allowing the cars and equipment to come in minus the humongous money bond that the promoter has to cough up.
One has consistently heard that Maken would not have been able to ruffle the power-brokers of Indian sport had it not been sanctioned by the high command. If that’s the case, Indian sport can certainly look forward to Jitendra Singh carrying the baton from where Maken left off. But, Indian sport will certainly miss the genial minister who always had time for those who looked to change the lot of our athletes.