| Krishna Poonia |
New Delhi: The Union sports ministry, for the third consecutive day on Wednesday, failed to announce the national sports awards, giving rise to speculation that there is a clear division in the ministry over the choice of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.
It is now an open secret that while senior government officials are eager to carry out the recommendations of the selection committee, the sports minister, Jitendra Singh, for reasons best known to him, has not yet endorsed it.
After the independent selection committee, chaired by former world billiards champion Michael Ferreira, recommended double trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi for Khel Ratna, discus thrower Krishna Poonia launched an all-out campaign over the past few days to get her name included for the prestigious award.
At the London Olympics, Poonia, a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, finished seventh. Sodhi, a gold winner at the World Cup with world record scores and an Asian Games gold medallist, ended 11th in London.
Interestingly, both the minister and Poonia hail from Rajasthan. Poonia has almost parked herself at the ministry for the past few days and met the minister twice to plead her case.
Ministry sources said the files regarding all the sports awards — Khel Ratna, Dronacharya and Arjuna — are lying with the minister. “The final decision remains with him. Unless he approves the names, we can’t announce them officially,” an officer said.
The development has left ministry officials completely stumped. “There is not much time left as the awards are to be conferred by the President on August 29. We need to take the measurement of official blazers for all awardees. There will be a dress rehearsal also. But we can’t do anything till the names are announced,” said an official.
It is now evident that constant lobbying by Poonia has not been taken well by senior officials in the sports ministry.
“Poonia should not get the award through arm twisting,” a top-level ministry official told The Telegraph. “The committee’s decision was unanimous… There was not a single note of dissent from the members. Poonia’s claim that her name was omitted at the last moment is rubbish. Creating a precedent like this would be dangerous,” added the official.
The official, however, had no answer as to why the awards had not been announced in the past three days. “The final call has to come from the minister,” was all he had to say.
There are rumours that, like in 2008-09, the award could be divided with paralympian HN Girisha also finding his name in the list.
Poonia alleged that she was on the verge of being selected for the award before former top shooter and a member of the committee, Anjali Bhagwat, made a late entry at the meeting and swung the decision in favour of Sodhi.
“I have not done any lobbying… I am only raising my voice against the injustice done to me,” Poonia said.
Anjali hit back and said Poonia called her up and requested to recommend her name for the award a day before the meeting. “It is very cheap on Poonia’s part to publicly claim that I was the one who had got the list changed at the last moment.”
But then, Poonia alone should not be blamed for the current fiasco. She has certainly felt encouraged by past examples. In 2003, Anjali herself forced the sports ministry to name her as a joint Khel Ratna awardee with athlete KM Beenamol by making more noise than Poonia has done so far.
A few years back, the then sports minister had changed the committee’s decision to include a name of his choice. It kicked up a huge row with shooter Gagan Narang threatening not to participate in the Commonwealth Games. He got the award next year.