Who’s the honest of them all?

As the Commonwealth Games scene gets murkier every hour and Suresh Kalmadi sinks himself deeper into the quagmire by the day, I cannot but help recall Sunil Dutt, UPA 1’s first Minister for Sports and a man so honest that it was almost painful to watch his integrity.

Soon after he became Minister for Sports, his son Sanjay and some of the latter’s misguided Bollywood friends got some rupee signs in their eyes and thought to use his good offices to get rich quick. Unimpeachable sources have told me that they hatched a scheme to sign some open spaces in Bombay unto themselves under the guise of starting a golf club in the suburbs and wished Dutt Sa’ab to allot them these greens.

Now, Dutt’s love for his son was incandescent or else Sanjay would still have been cooling his heels in Arthur Road jail in the case relating to the March 1993 Bombay bomb blasts. Dutt had moved heaven and earth to get his son a credible defence and even forged a friendship with Bal Thackeray, whose ideology he wholly opposed, to get Sanjay out of the grip of the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) — and that is ultimately why, and how, Sanjay is a free man today. In fact, it is Balasaheb, who had closely watched the painful efforts of Dutt to get his son bailed out of an essentially non-bailable offence, who told me at the time, “Sunil Dutt is alive today only because he is a hatta-katta (tall and strapping) Punjabi. I would have had a heart attack and simply died if any son of mine had done this to me!’’

But though he loved his son so dearly, Dutt Sa’ab would not allow his own character and integrity to be sullied by this spoilt brat. A close mutual friend told me the senior Dutt told his son, “I have besmirched my reputation enough in your wake but I did what I had to because I believed in your essential innocence. I am not going to be party to any of your harebrained schemes and don’t expect me to tread the narrow path on your behalf any more.’’ Thereupon, he instructed his staff that Sanjay’s scheming friends should not be let anywhere near his office and not even his son should be admitted if he came accompanied by any of them. It led to a lot of acrimony between father and son but Dutt Sa’ab would not budge. Soon, even Sanjay’s friends realised that they could not corrupt his father or emotionally blackmail him into using his good offices as Sports Minister to help them get some precious real estate in Bombay and gave up their scheme altogether.

This was, then, the man who found himself face to face with Suresh Kalmadi in Athens at the 2004 Olympics. And from the few conversations I had with him later, I gathered that Kalmadi had been extremely insulting of India’s Sports Minister in Greece — to the extent, I believe, of not even allotting him decent rooms in the hotels occupied by the Indian contingent.

Dutt Sa’ab returned earlier than he should have from Athens and when I casually asked him why, I was startled when he said, “Imagine how it feels when the Indian Olympic Association makes the Indian Minister for Sports feel unwanted at the games. I did not want to throw a tantrum, though, so I thought it would be prudent to come away as soon as possible. All that I had wanted to do was to stand with our sports persons and boost their spirits; I was not trying to upstage any one.’’

But, I guess, Kalmadi might have sensed the kind of impediment an honest man like Dutt would be in his way. He knew well enough the CWG was on the way and had Sunil Dutt lived longer than the year he did after he became Sports Minister, he would really have shamed Kalmadi with his honesty and integrity – for starters by being taken rather more seriously than we are now doing Mani Shankar Aiyar and M S Gill, his successors to the job. In any case, Kalmadi might not have been able to engineer Dutt’s exit from the job as easily as he did Aiyar’s.

But he did try: I recall Dutt Sa’ab telling me that Kalmadi did not wish to have any dealings with him and he could not understand why the IOC president could not work in tandem with the Sports Minister. Even then I thought I knew and had marvelled at the star-politician’s naivete and innocence despite the wealth of experience he brought to the job. Now, though, even I am appalled by the — well, no pun intended — wealth of scandal attached to the CWG which, with each passing day, brings some fresh evidence of the complicity of everyone in the CWG organising committee with regard to the scam.

Somehow I can’t help wondering: had Dutt Sa’ab lived on longer, could the CWG have been less of a scam? After all when he did not go along with his son’s suggestion about misusing his powers as a minister, he would not have stood for any kind of scams attached to his ministry in any way, at all. Perhaps Sunil Dutt could have made a more honest man of Suresh Kalmadi!

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