Kerala’s new Sports Minister EP Jayarajan, who assumed office with a gaffe, describing the late legendary boxer Muhammad Ali as a Keralite, has courted yet another controversy.
This time, the minister, who belongs to Communist Party of India (Marxist), has provoked the sports community in the state by calling Olympian Anju Bobby George, and the entire Kerala Sports Council she heads, as “corrupt and anti-Left”.
While Keralites laughed off the slip the minister made while condoling the death of the boxer, they are in no mood to pardon him for insulting a sportsperson who made India proud by winning a medal in the World Championships in Paris in 2003, by questioning her personal integrity and accusing her of vested political interests.
Many have viewed the minister’s outburst as part of the agenda of the Left Democratic Front government to oust the athlete and inject his partymen into the professional body.
Well-known volleyball player and Arjuna awardee Tom Jose has expressed the fear that it may lead to politicisation of sports. Sharing the view, sports journalist Kamal Varadoor has warned against harming the interests of the sports community in the state when it is gearing up for the Olympics and other major competitions.
On June 7, George went to meet the minister for the first time after he assumed office. But instead of trying to understand the activities of the council, Jayarajan questioned her about the flight facility she avails to attend the council activities at Thiruvananthapuram and alleged corruption in postings and transfers of coaches and other employees the council has made during her term.
George, who was honoured by the country with the Arjuna award in 2002-2003, told Scroll that she was appointed by the United Democratic Front government in December 2015 knowing fully well that she lived in Bangalore and was also the chairperson of the Target Olympic Podium Scheme or TOPS that works out of Delhi.
The minister’s allegation regarding corruption in transfers and postings were baseless, George countered. It is possible, she said, that the minister made the allegations on the basis of complaints by some affected persons, who apparently did not want to move out of their current locations. The minister wanted to cancel the entire transfers and postings made during her tenure, she said.
“It was not possible to review the transfers as coaching had begun in all centres and the trainees were getting ready for competitions,” George added. “I tried to explain this to him, but he was not ready to listen to me. He kept on repeating the allegations and threatened me with dire consequences.”
George said she had never indulged in any unfair practice throughout her career and had agreed to work as president of the sports council as she wanted to do something for the state. She said she had tried to do whatever she could in the six months she was at the helm of the council.
“Apart from an honorarium of Rs 10,000 per month, I am not taking any allowances for the council meetings or claiming reimbursement of the expenses I incur on boarding and lodging during my stay in Thiruvananthapuram,” George said. “I felt humiliated by the minister’s charges,” she added.
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Though George took up the matter with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, he defended his colleague, saying that she had not discussed anything other than the issue of the flight with him. He did not find anything insulting in the issue, Vijayan added.
Jayarajan himself disputed George’s complaints. He said that he had talked to her in a cordial manner and she had left his office in a happy mood. He said the allegation levelled against him could be politically motivated.
It was the minister who was acting with political motives, alleged K Sudhakaran, senior Congress leader and a former sports minister of the state. Sudhakaran, however, said that the minister’s attempt to remove all those appointed by the previous government was understandable.
“He could tell this directly to her in a polite manner instead of making a ground for her voluntary exit,” Sudhakaran said. “Jayarajan is acting like a goonda and not like a minister. This is a big insult to not only the athlete but also to the entire sports community in the state,” he said, adding that Jayarajan should quit the sports portfolio.
Jayarajan’s predecessor Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president VM Sudheeran and Bharatiya Janata Party president Kummanam Rajashekharan have asked Jayarajan to tender an apology for insulting the athlete,”especially as she’s a woman”.
However, former UDF whip and Poonjar MLA PC George defended Jayarajan saying that the appointment of a person based outside the state as the sports council chief was wrong. He accused her of taking away talented sports persons from the state to Karnataka.