PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: If the decision of the Congress party to field former chief election commissioner Manohar Singh Gill as a candidate for the Rajya Sabha in 2004 was bad enough, the move to make him a member of the Manmohan Singh ministry in the last reshuffle was worse.
Not only had a body blow been struck on the notional independence of the Election Commission, by dangling carrots before its high officers, it had handed a blanket licence to the BJP to impudently follow suit for eternity: “After all, didn’t the Congress do so too…?”
However, Gill’s record as a sports buff provided some comfort. As a mountaineer, he had trained with Everest hero Tenzing Norgay. He was a reasonable cricketer. And, at least, he was not as dogmatic as his predecessor Mani Shankar Aiyar on matters of sport.
Yet, three incidents in the last ten days give three good reasons to ponder:
# Amit Varma reports that on the day Abhinav Bindra won India’s first individual gold medal in 117 years at the Olympics, India’s Cambridge-educated sports minister grandly said on NDTV: “I congratulate myself and every other Indian.”
Yes, myself and every other Indian.
# When “The Goldfinger” returned to Delhi, The Times of India reports that Gill, who chaperoned Bindra around in the capital, suggested that while he should call on Congress president Sonia Gandhi, it was not necessary to visit the leader of the opposition, L.K. Advani.
However, it is Gill’s latest boo-boo that takes the breath away.
# When Saina Nehwal, the women’s badminton quarter-finalist at the Beijing Olympics, paid a courtesy visit on the minister, Gill greeted the Hyderabad lass heartily. But the 72-year-old minister failed to recognise her coach who was alongside.
“Who are you?” Gill is reported to have asked the coach pointblank, leaving all those present dumbstruck and embarrassed.
The coach? Pullela Gopichand, one of only two Indians who have won the All-England Open championships.
Hopefully, when he bumps into Deepika Padukone during one of his many social engagements, Mr Gill won’t ask her father, “Who are you?”
Photograph: courtesy Election Commission