Our residence in a SoBo neighbourhood is totally unaccustomed to the sight of VVIP convoys speeding into the complex with cops and random political workers swarming around the lobby. Well, that is what happened last week. We gawked as a top draw politician stepped out of his swanky SUV and received a bouquet from a group of ardent, starry-eyed supporters. Late evening walkers were startled and flummoxed by this unexpected intrusion, as building watchmen jumped around to ensure the neta was not inconvenienced by rude residents unaware of the dapper gentleman’s identity. I promptly whipped out my cell phone and clicked pictures of a compact young man wearing a sky blue linen bundi, smiling benignly at the motley congregation. Oh oh… it was Anurag Thakur, the youthful, light-eyed, outspoken Union minister of sports, youth affairs and information and broadcasting… and we were face to face. What fun.
This was a couple of days after the delirious IPL finals, and it was M.S. Dhoni whose name emerged during our brief conversation. Dhoni is India’s sweetheart like no other sportsperson. Thakur gushed over the cricket icon and said he was overwhelmed by the response to Dhoni when the captain of the winning team (Chennai Super Kings) lifted the cup and the entire stadium bathed in yellow (CSK’s team colour), cheered.
Thakur beamed as we spoke… the four-time MP whose father was the former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, and whose beautiful wife, Shefali, comes from a political family herself, is an unusual man (he is the first serving MP from the BJP to become a regular commissioned officer in the Territorial Army) who does not shy away from controversies. Critics tried to derail his political career during the 2020 Delhi elections, when he urged supporters to “Gun down traitors’’—an inflammatory slogan aimed at members of a minority community. Articulate and outspoken, he doesn’t hesitate to stick his neck out—a trait that has cost him his position as the president of the BCCI. Some of his outbursts have been distinctly unparliamentary, but Thakur has successfully ridden the storm and emerged relatively unscathed. His most recent response to the plight of our female wrestlers, was tepid and ambiguous.
Unfortunately, during our all-too-brief meeting in the building lobby, there was no way I could raise the shocking issue.
For one, our encounter was impromptu, and ministerji was all charm and smiles and chuckles. Thakur was surrounded by fawning admirers waiting impatiently to hustle him into a waiting elevator. Despite the bustle, Thakur was the seasoned, well-programmed politician making nice with a stranger—me! He generously extended an open invitation to me and my husband to visit Dharamshala. He placed his right hand over his heart, bowed slightly, and said, “Please be my guest….” Few of our neighbours stared in disbelief as Thakur swept past them and headed to whichever apartment he was visiting. He called himself a “Mumbaikar’’ and assured me he loves my city. Since us Mumbaikars are characteristically informal, regardless of the person’s elevated status, I signed off with a cheery, “ciao’’ before slipping into our car. His acolytes were not amused.
Well, with the international press taking up for the wrestlers, Thakur needs to up the media game and do better than offer platitudes and excuses while asserting his government has “done more for sportspersons than any other government”. Sure. Let’s start with taking strong action against the accused—BJP MP Brijbhushan Sharan Singh—who has 40 cases pending against him. The wrestlers have been arm-twisted enough.