NEW DELHI: With the spotlight relentlessly trained on the muck enveloping Commonwealth Games, Congress leadership has been forced to explore the feasibility of setting up a mechanism to oversee preparations for the mega event.
The issue is to be discussed by the Congress core group, the party’s top decision-making body, at its meeting on Friday.
The government had ruled out the option of creating an oversight panel, with sports ministerM S Gill turning down the demand made by nominated member Mani Shankar Aiyar in Rajya Sabha earlier this week. But with skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard of Suresh Kalmadi-led Organising Committee with alarming regularity, the party appears to be bracing to revisit the issue.
Signs of a rethink come amid opposition’s continued onslaught on Kalmadi. On Thursday, BJP’s deputy leader in Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde demanded Kalmadi’s resignation citing the strictures passed by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and T S Darbari’s statement that the OC chairman was involved in all the controversial decisions. CPM’s Sitaram Yechury said the government should sack Kalmadi “if it had any shame”. It will be a tough call to take, and opinion is sharply split on the matter. A strong school in the government is in agreement with Gill that the OC should continue to run the show and government should not get identified with the controversy-ridden and, perhaps, a failing enterprise.
Kalmadi has handled the preparations almost as his personal show, causing resentment in government circles. But now that preparations have been exposed as shoddy and corruption-ridden, many see the arrangement as buffering the government against the torrent of adverse publicity.
On Thursday, the “autonomy” that the OC has enjoyed helped Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan fend off questions on the CAG’s indictment of the OC for the unnecessary expenses on a number of counts.
“It is an autonomous body,” she said at a media briefing. But there is also a growing realisation that the argument about OC being an autonomous body may not help inoculate the government against the adverse publicity.
The posture of aloofness carries the risk of conveying the perception that the party was derelict in ensuring that taxpayers’ money, doled out in millions to government agencies and the OC in the name of Games, was being well spent.
The Congress again distanced itself from Kalmadi in light of fresh revelations of wasteful expenditure by the OC. Natarajan shoved aside questions based on Kalmadi being a Congress MP. “He is in the OC in his role as the chief of Indian Olympic Association,” she contended.
But the Opposition was already trying to erase the distinction. On Thursday, Munde said all the “misdeeds were done under the nose of the PM and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi”. Significantly, the BJP also claimed Kalmadi having said that he had the backing of Congress leadership.