Nothing could be more shameful than supporters, perhaps including some relatives too, of protesting wrestlers chasing PT Usha when she visited the Jantar Mantar on Wednesday, 3 May. The once Sprint Queen had to, literally, sprint again, even harder than in Los Angeles, to get rid of some hecklers and chasing media persons.
It was simply not on – and the three main faces of the protest, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat owe an apology to Usha, now president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).
But to begin with, why did this happen? Unfortunately, to a large extent, Usha herself was responsible for it. Some days back after the Executive Committee meeting of IOA, Usha in her capacity as IOA’s president told reporters, "Wrestlers staging protest on streets amounts to indiscipline."
Her comments were not in good taste. It was her first mistake. And after making such comments, going to Jantar Mantar and showing solidarity with the wrestlers was another, and even bigger one. And on top of that, telling the wrestlers that she was misquoted was the last nail in the coffin.
Once she had made that controversial statement against the wrestlers, she should have stuck to her guns or learned the trick of the trade from a fellow politician. There are other ways also that politicians use rather than the often-used 'I-was-misquoted’ trick which was not workable here. A shrewd politician would have shed some tears and apologies to the wrestlers, just for optics. Usha has a long way to go!
How PT Usha Has Always Been Under Influence
Knowing Usha closely for over four decades, I have a reason to believe that Usha will not utter such bizarre comments against fellow Olympians on her own. But then, when holding the top office of the country's National Olympic Committee (NOC), she ought to be careful who her handlers are, what they are saying on her behalf and what is their agenda.
Actually, Usha has always been handled, or one should say mishandled by people close to her.
During her active athletics career, it was her personal coach, OM Nambiar, who did the talking for her. She hardly ever took an independent decision. Whether it was the selection of competitions she ran in, or the events that she competed in, Nambiar had total say.
When at the peak of her career, a top British coach offered free coaching to her in London. A female Indian journalist, then based in London, also offered her free boarding and lodging at her house (including Malayali food).
But she couldn’t take the offer. Why? Simply because the offer of the British coach and the lady journalist was only to Usha and not Nambiar. And Nambiar wouldn’t let her go. Usha meekly rejected the offer. She could never take decisions on her free will. That, Usha and Nambiar broke up, is a different matter.
Being Turned Into a Scapegoat
Now she is under the influence of some behind-the-scenes handlers in IOA.
Heading an NOC is not an easy task. Usha is not made for it. A glorious sporting past means nothing at this office. One needs to be clever to the core, street-smart and uncouth at times. Usha has none of it. Coming from a humble background under the care of simple parents, she never acquired the acumen to head such posts. She appears to be being used as a scapegoat.
The Sports Ministry, which should have been in front, is silent on the matter. Usha is not a politician to understand the game politicians play. She is under the weight of the Rajya Sabha Seat and first woman IOA President, and not in a position to go public with her free speech.
Six-time world champion and Olympic bronze medallist, Mary Kom heads the government-appointed five-member Oversight Committee to investigate the charges against Wrestling Federation of India President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Like Usha, Mary also enjoyed Rajya Sabha membership on BJP support and may find it hard to call a spade a spade. Her silence is as painful as Usha’s utterance.
It is disappointing that both Usha and Mary even at the top of their career had problems with the authorities – be it NOC, respective federations, selectors or coaches. And both air their views publicly, in full flow to the media also. But then it never occurred to Usha that it was indiscipline. But when the women wrestlers accused the president of a federation of serious charges of sexual harassment, she found it indiscipline.
No More Room for ‘Misquotations'
Following Usha’s visit to Jantar Mantar Sakshi told the media, “She did not ask us to stop the protest but told us that she wants to see us back practising soon and winning medals for the country. She told us that she felt bad that we have to sit here and protest and that she was here in solidarity. We really respect her and the fact that she came here in solidarity is enough for us.’’
If Usha really means it, it is high time she said this to the media on camera, instead of whispering it into the ears of wrestlers. What if her handlers again force her to say "I was misquoted’’?