The Curious Case of the OC Chief

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Is Ajay Maken right about how and why Suresh Kalmadi was appointed? Brijesh Pandey unravels the controversy

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

SO WHO appointed Suresh Kalmadi and who failed to monitor him? As Parliament opened, the Commonwealth Games (CWG) came back to haunt the UPA government. In a potentially explosive report, the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) charged the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with giving a carte blanche to Kalmadi as chairman of the Games Organising Committee.

The government hit back with Sports Minister Ajay Maken telling Parliament that it was the NDA government that had committed to appointing Kalmadi. Removing Kalmadi, he said, would have meant violating the Host City Agreement with the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) and losing the Games.

A scrutiny of the facts suggests Kalmadi, perhaps in cahoots with certain civil servants in the sports ministry, manipulated the system and deftly changed the text of key documents to get himself the OC chief’s job. Yet the government also looked the other way and allowed him to do as he pleased, until the stench of corruption became too unbearable.

What was the chronology of events? The Games bid documents submitted in May 2003 were clear that the OC would be headed by a government nominee, and the president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA)would be the vice-chair. The CGF’s ‘Report of the Commonwealth Games Evaluation Commission for the 2010 Commonwealth Games’ baldly states the OC will be “chaired by a government nominee”.

In September 2003, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet cleared the Host City Agreement. Protocol 2 sub-clause 1(i) of the Host City Agreement had the CGF “entrusting” rights to the Games to the “Commonwealth Games Association (CGA) of the host city”: “The CGA will establish the Organising Committee (OC)… and the OC will work in conjunction with the CGA of the host city.” The IOA was recognised as the equivalent of the CGA.

In November 2003, the agreement was signed. The following month, the IOA prepared an “updated bid document”. This referred to the structure of the OC, made allowance for a chairman and a vice-chairman, but inexplicably deleted any reference to a “government nominee”. It is now alleged Kalmadi did this in conjunction with a senior civil servant in the sports ministry, who later joined the OC in a well-paying capacity.

A full year later, acting on the vague text that the “CGA will establish the OC”, the IOA general assembly passed a resolution nominating its president, Kalmadi, as OC chief. This resolution was supported by a host of politicians-cum-sports administrators, including VK Malhotra (BJP), Ajay Chautala (INLD), Digvijay Singh (JD-U), Vidya Stokes, Jagadish Tytler and PR Das Munshi (all Congress).

Two months later, on 29 January 2005, the Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Arjun Singh accepted this resolution and named Kalmadi OC chairman. It made no provision for government checks on the functioning of the OC, even though the government was providing full financial guarantees.

Blame game Maken says the NDA regime is responsible for Kalmadi’s excesses
Blame game Maken says the NDA regime is responsible for Kalmadi’s excesses
Photo: Naveesh Tejpal

Sunil Dutt, the then sports minister, had thought he was going to be OC chairman. He got a rude shock when he heard of Kalmadi’s appointment through the media. This contravened a decision taken at an earlier meeting of the GoM in October 2004, which had been attended by the prime minister himself. An upset Dutt even sent a letter to Manmohan Singh saying the appointment of Kalmadi was “in variance with the decision taken at the [earlier] GoM meeting”.

Was Kalmadi a fait accompli inherited by the UPA government? Vikram Varma, sports minister in the NDA government in 2003, doesn’t believe so. “Ajay Maken is just trying to save the UPA government from embarrassment,” he says. “When the CGF bid was approved in November 2003, the bid document had the government nominee clause. How can I tell what happened after that? Why did the government, instead of ordering an inquiry into the matter, keep on dithering?”

To mollify Dutt, the GoM then agreed to set up a High Level Apex Committee (HLAC). Headed by the sports minister, this HLAC was announced through a gazette notification in March 2005. Interestingly, there was no provision for an HLAC in the Host City Agreement — indicating it was possible to tinker with its clauses — but neither did the HLAC meet after Dutt died in May 2005.

What role did the PMO play in all this and how removed was it from the OC? Mani Shankar Aiyar, who became sports minister in January 2006, has said on television that his immediate predecessor, Prithviraj Chavan (who was then also minister of state in the PMO) tipped him off on financial irregularities and absence of checks and balances in the OC. Effectively, what he meant was that it was not the sports ministry that tipped off the PMO, it was the PMO that tipped off the sports ministry.

Aiyar wrote a series of letters to the prime minister detailing the OC’s wrongdoings. Instead of action being taken against Kalmadi, it was Aiyar who was dropped as sports minister. In a letter dated 23 October 2007, Aiyar wrote: “My primary concern is that in sharp distinction to the structure of the Special Organising Committee for the Asian Games, 1982, which was chaired by the Minister of State for Sports, Sardar Buta Singh and packed with ministers, MPs and government officials, the Executive Committee for the Commonwealth Games 2010, chaired by Suresh Kalmadi, has no government ministers, just one back-bench MP and only two government secretaries, and they too lack veto powers. Without a drastic overhaul, I fear that it will prove to be practically impossible for the government to significantly address the excesses of Chairman Suresh Kalmadi and his cohorts.”

Sunil Dutt, then sports minister, wrote to the PM saying the appointment of Kalmadi was ‘in variance with the GoM’s decision’

LATER, AIYAR’S successor MS Gill also sought to impose an oversight mechanism on the OC and Kalmadi. Here again, the prime minister is believed to have said no. According to a former sports minister, Kalmadi got Mike Fennell, chief of the CGF, to lobby with the PMO on his behalf.

Though not many are willing, senior people in the Congress do wonder about the source of Kalmadi’s influence. Says a party veteran: “He could have been easily contained because he was a Congress MP and his political life was dependent on the Congress. But he must be special. Sports minister after sports minister was vanquished but nothing happened to him.”

Indeed, Maken’s argument that “the Host City Agreement gave us no option” sounds unconvincing to many in his own party. “The government actively collaborated in keeping Kalmadi in office,” says a party MP, “till the media began exposing him just before the Games. When the matter reached its crescendo, the same prime minister put the Cabinet secretary in charge of the Games. Was he not violating the agreement by making the OC answerable to the Cabinet secretary? If the government could do it at the last minute, why couldn’t it be done in the first place?”

Obviously between 2004 and 2010, Kalmadi had a guardian angel in the UPA government. Who was this? Would the PMO clarify?

Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
brijesh@tehelka.com

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