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Col Rajyavardhan Rathore in an exclusive interview : ‘How can Congress find faults with such a genuine and noble cause’

Col Rajyavardhan Rathore (Retd.) served in the army for 23 years [1990-2013]. As part of his stint in the army, he held prestigious appointments and served in the anti-insurgency operations in J&K and other active areas. He has also represented the country in the Olympics sport of shooting. He won 25 international medals at various championships for Double Trap Shooting and became the first Indian, post-independence, to win individual Silver Medal at Athens Olympics in 2004.

He was awarded Padma Shri, Ati Vishisth Seva Medal, Arjuna Award and Khel Ratna Award for his exceptional services to the army and sports.

Col Rathore was elected to 16th Lok Sabha from Jaipur (Rural) and sworn in as the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting in November 2014. In September 2017, he was given additional charge of Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Youth Affair and Sports. In May 2018, he became Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Information & Broadcasting.

With Col Rathore being given the responsibility of the Youth Affairs and Sports Ministry, there was a renewed hope in the country. The hope was, that as an Olympian and sportsperson himself, he would be far better equipped to help the sports industry scale new heights, and would be far more attentive to the needs of the sportsmen as compared to the babus.

Col Rathore had also launched an interesting campaign recently called “Hum Fit Toh India Fit”. It aimed to motivate people to start exercising in order to up their fitness quotient.

He had urged others to post photos and videos of their work out regime, and the campaign got almost an overwhelming response from celebrities and commoners alike. However, like any other initiative by the Modi Government and its ministers, this campaign also faced criticism from the usual elements that insisted that the campaign was “elitist”.

We interviewed Minister Rathore about a host of issues, this being one of them.

Col Rajyavardhan Rathore’s views on the ‘HumFitTohIndiaFit’ campaign and the strange weird criticism from certain quarters that it “promoted a certain lifestyle, that this whole campaign was somehow elitist”. I asked him if he thought even this could be twisted into a controversy or he just had a facepalm moment when reading something like this.

He said as a kid, he had always followed the quotation ‘practice makes you perfect. “There are certain people who practice the art of negativity. Bring before them anything and 100% these people can turn it into something negative. Also, a lot of people have really no platform left nowadays and they are ready to hitch any successful platform to promote themselves”, he said.

He said he truly believes in the idea of promoting fitness. As the minister of sports, it is his job to take care of the fitness of not only the sportspersons but also the overall fitness of the nation and its people. “If our Prime Minister is able to dedicate some time to fitness from his insanely busy schedule, I think he is aiding our cause greatly. I am truly grateful to him for this gesture”.

He asserted that every one of us has challenges in our lives. All of us have duties towards our families, careers and responsibilities. He completely rejected the notion that the campaign was elitist. He said he represents the Jaipur rural constituency and has seen the fitness levels of people there.

“To be able to accomplish goals and meet deadlines, we have only one vehicle, ourselves, our body and mind. If we are able to take care of it internally and externally, we can not only achieve our goals but we will achieve happiness too. We are not asking people to take time from their work, we are asking them to include fitness in their daily work. ‘Kaam main vyayam ‘ has been our message. There were some wonderful videos on social media, people taking stairs instead of the lift, cycling to work, standing and stretching exercises that people do while working. That was the idea we were trying to promote. That simple changes in habits and lifestyle can lead to better fitness. One does not need to spend anything extra to stay fit. There are countless people who are working very hard for the sake of their families, our message was for all of them to keep themselves fit so they can do it better and be stronger and healthier. If a person says he/she can’t even spare a minute for their own fitness, they are wrong”, he said.

He spoke about how he incorporates “vyayam” in his daily work routine. And how, if he didn’t find time to exercise during the day, he had adopted a simple method of standing while working to get his posture right.

On how he came up with the idea of ‘HumFitTohIndiaFit’ campaign.

“We have been listening to the PM, he always speaks about how can young India further it’s capabilities and values. He spoke of stress management during exams, he speaks of Yoga and positivity in lifestyle. He so often speaks about mental and physical health. I gave some thought to it as to what can I, as the sports minister, can do to further take the message to the masses”, he said.

He lashed out at the Congress and how the party managed to find faults even in such a “noble and genuine cause”.

“I want to ask them did they ever think of it? Did any of their sports minister ever come up with a campaign for fitness for all Indians? Should it not be the primary objective of every sports minister to encourage all Indians to maintain a healthy and fit lifestyle?”

We asked him that being an Olympian himself, from the perspective of a sportsperson, what was ailing the sports ministry before he took over.

“When I took over, we set some objectives for the sports ministry. One of the initial endeavours was to upgrade certain persons and downgrade certain others, speaking in terms of power and importance they held. The ones to be downgraded were all the officials, both from the government and the sports federation bodies. The ones to be upgraded were the people who actually played the sport and who were crucial to the development and upliftment of a particular sport”, he said.

Col Rathore was of the firm opinion that players are the central strength and it is them who needed priority and importance. Next people to be given an upgrade in importance were the coaches, “the gurus who create and sharpen the necessary skills, who teach and make these players. We are making structural and fundamental changes to the sports authority bodies of India”.

“Earlier sportspersons and coaches did not even have a chair when crucial decisions regarding sports were taken. We are changing that. By 2022, 50% of the positions in sports authority bodies will be cut down. People who actually matter will be consulted and they will have a say when decisions for a particular sport is being taken. We have made coaches sit on the decision-making boards”.

Col Rathore spoke about the salient changes made in the Sports Ministry.

“There was a system that when an athlete or team succeed, only the elite coach was rewarded. It is wrong, the entire system was ignoring the coaches who have taught and skilled the players from the grassroots level. We have put a system in place that 30% of the financial incentive to coaches will be awarded to grassroots level coaches, the people who have held the hands of the players and made them into the winners that they are today. 40% of the incentive will go to the coaches who have taken the players from state to national levels. We do not want to promote the people who matter. We want to promote excellence by people who are excellent themselves. Professionals are now handling the target Olympic podium. We have hired top class physiotherapists to improve the fitness and longevity of our players”, he said.

He also spoke about the Sports Ministry’s approach to ‘catching them young’. He said that It has only been a phrase till now and nobody really acted on it. “Thanks to the PM, who said he wants the youngsters to have the exposure as to what the commonwealth games look and feel like,” he said they have created the ‘Khelo India’ school games.

“For the first time in our country, 16-17year olds are getting a chance to play in fields and platforms that are on par with commonwealth games. 100 hours of HD quality live broadcast was provided to the Khelo India school games. Crores of people watched, like the Premier leagues”, he said.

He spoke about how 1000 young players were selected who are now getting a scholarship of Rs 5 lakh per year for 8 years in a row to have the best available training, equipment and facilities to sharpen their skills and that this has never happened in India before.

“This year itself, we are going to select the even younger players, as young as 8 years old, to train and develop them into best sportspersons. I will not give many details, but we have put a system in place, have hired international level experts to guide us on how to spot young talents and guide them, train them into top class players in the future. There will be basic level, mid-level and advanced level testing, including genetic analysis, to select potential players from a large population. Then we will extend the scholarship program to the 8-year-olds to help make them international level junior champions. That is how a sports ministry needs to run”.

We asked him, as a clarification, if the incentives to the coaches is a part of the incentive given to the sportsperson

Col Rathore said, “No, a sportspersons incentive is different. It’s given only to him/her. The incentive to the coach is different. To further clarify, earlier there used to be a lot of discrepancies and differentiation on incentive distribution to coaches. International level coaches are sometimes given salaries as high as $15,000 a month. The rot in the system was such that only the elite level coaches were rewarded while the basic level and mid-level coaches were neglected. This even led to occasional rivalry and brainwashing. Coaches were sometimes unwilling to let go of the player, they used to persuade the players likewise. An unequal and unjust rewarding system propagates such practices which eventually harm the sport itself. Our approach aims to change that”.

Earlier whenever there were discussions about the government not doing enough for a sport, one thing that always came up was that all sports are governed and controlled by a particular sports federation. And these are autonomous bodies, so there is a limit to how much a government can interfere in the affairs of a sports federation. Also, it was said there is the risk of suspension by IOC and other global organisations. We asked him, that when he said the government is making structural changes in sports federation bodies, how is it actually working?

He said the sports federations are registered societies. The development and handling of a sport is entrusted to that society. Once they are registered, the government provides the funding and they do the governing. The respective federations are in turn affiliated to international federations. However, there is a code of conduct set up by the IOC called the  Olympic Charter. There is also a sports code of 2011, and we are coming up with another one now, where we are improving it and these will be as per best practices around the world”.

“Many nations have various rules and regulations for these societies and federations to adhere to ensure best practices. But anytime when an Indian team plays, it doesn’t represent the federation. It represents the nation. They represent the entire country and its honour. Therefore, the ministry of sports funds their training, travel and facilities. We may entrust the planning, training etc to the federation but ultimately they are accountable to the entire nation. So we are adhering to the charter and sports code to ensure the best practices in governing and promoting each sport”, said Col Rathore.

We asked him if the entire programme of “catching them young” when they are 8 years old, is it something that was happening throughout the world and only India was left behind or is it something novel?

“I have spoken to a lot of sports ministers around the globe. I have told them about how we are gearing up to put a system in place for spotting and nurturing the best sporting talents at a young age. I have asked for inputs and details of such programs in their respective countries. They drew a blank and all of them had replied that the plan is brilliant”, he said.

He asserted that the only thing is that those countries have had the structure and system necessary for nurturing young talents long before we started with the idea. Hence their systems are stronger than what we have.

“Take for example the school games. The district teams itself can be catering to what I am speaking here. But in our system, perhaps there is not as much participation and enthusiasm from other platforms involved. We need all platforms, all systems working to the best of their abilities. We need to bring these practices in so that there is a renewed effort in carrying out the basic tasks to the best of their abilities. The onus of the responsibilities of nurturing and training talents and this level lies in the respective sports ministries of states and the federations. The central sports ministry is there for the national level teams but the states must come forward in their efforts at basic levels too”.

We asked him, that as a sportsperson, what were his views about the recent notification from the Haryana government that created quite a furore. It stated that the sportspersons employed in government jobs will have to give a portion of their earnings to the government. It was retracted later after the furore.

“There is no point in commenting on something that was withdrawn. They thought about it and the Chief Minister took a call. It might have just been a bureaucrat pushing some file. It has happened many times”.

Col Rathore recounted an interesting anecdote from the time he was a sportsperson.

“Around 2002 when I was competing in the commonwealth games the Rajasthan government had a rule that when a player wins a medal in the commonwealth games, he/she will be awarded a piece of agricultural land near the Rajasthan canal. After my medal win, with great difficulties and even my father having to go to many government offices, I managed to get a piece of land. In 2006 games I won a gold again. That time when I approached the bureaucrats for the promised prize, they just said you keep winning medals, we cannot keep giving you land. They then amended the rules to mention that the land award will be given only once in a lifetime. So you see, there are different thought processes involved. In case of the Haryana rule, the Chief Minister realized that the notification had to be withdrawn and he did it”.

In the ministry of I&B, former I&B minister had proposed a plan to tackle fake news. It was not exactly withdrawn but was taken through a different channel. Now in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee government has come up with a similar plan which might be misused. We asked him if he, as the I&B Minister, is planning anything to centralise the entire process?

Col Rathore emphasized the belief of the government that there needs to be self-regulation.

“There is actually self-regulation happening in the media at various levels. The journalists themselves, then at the editorial level and then at the media house level. Our intention is that self-regulation must exist and above that there are bodies like the NBSA, PCI etc to ensure that there is a journalistic code of conduct in place. Over and above we already have a multi secretary board, the Electronic Media Monitoring Cell, the cable TV Act has already been in place. It is mandatory for all the media houses to sign on it. So basically all the basics mechanism already exists. We don’t really have to come up with any new regulations”.

People working g on digital Media, especially the news websites are not recognized by formal definitions. We asked him if there was a plan to get digital media into an organised structure.

See most of the news websites are being run by already existing media houses. Media houses use several platforms and web portals are just one of them. It doesn’t change the way news is presented. Neither does it change the basic journalistic ethics or code of conduct”.

He recommended that the online portals should come together and form an association where they should draw up certain regulations for the ones who are new and guidelines as to how news is presented to the masses. “Electronic media has done it, print media has done it. Why Not digital portals”, he said.

We asked Col Rathore about the ‘one-day NDTV ban’ that never happened, furore from BJP’s own support base about fake news from mainstream media not being taken to task, and his comments on certain sections of the media which is generally viewed as adversarial to the current ruling dispensation.

Talking about the one-day NDTV ban, Col Rathore said “There is a clearly articulated system that spells out the penalties that can be imposed on certain violations. Those violations are very clearly mentioned in the cable television act. If an executive order was passed for any channel at any given point of time, the channel is also free to represent itself. Any sane nation gives enough opportunity for the other party to be heard. I think that process is going on and we don’t really have to hurry on any executive order. If there are any violations by a channel, they will be issued a show cause notice. There will be action at various levels be it advisory, punishment”.

Speaking on sections of the media being adversarial to the current ruling dispensation, Col Rajyavardhan Rathore said, “the strength of our country is that channels are giving out their opinions apart from presenting news. The people of our country are increasingly aware and are able to differentiate between ‘leaning’ channels so they decide on how seriously they want to take the news”.

(The interview was conducted by Rahul Roushan and Nupur J Sharma)

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