We all know that winners take it all. But even sometimes, a gallant looser deserves not to be overlooked. But that has what happened precisely with shooter Joydeep Karmakar, who finished fourth in the 50m rifle-prone category at the London Olympics. Karmakar, who missed a medal by a whisker, was left ignored as the country found its darlings in the medal-winning Gagan Narangs, Vijay Kumars, Saina Nehwals and Mary Koms. The 33-year-old shooter from Kolkata did not find his fate favouring him and finished about two points behind the eventual bronze winner in the final.
On Thursday, when Karmakar arrived at the Kolkata airport, only a small crowd was present to welcome him. What was even shocking was that no government official was found to escort him and not many media covered the hero either. The discouraged shooter said his fourth-place finish was not in any ordinary club competition and was at the highest level on earth.
Karmakar's logic is more than perfect. The Mamata Banerjee-government has been acting as a big promoter of the state's 'glorious culture' ever since it came to power and every now and then, we see people from various walks of life are being rewarded, to commemorate any occasion.
The CM makes it a point to garland photographs of late personalities on their birth anniversaries at the state secretariat and even sometimes, the overzealous drive to commemorate personalities of yesteryears leads to unnecessary controversy. The government went on the overdrive after the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), a cricket team owned by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, won the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year. The celebration saw involvement of celebrities, political leaders, the Governor and even police lathicharging the supporters.
Karmakar also said that the Haryana government was doling out big money for just participating in the Olympics but the West Bengal government, one might feel, doesn't even have any idea how many from the state had gone to play in the mega event. The state government, despite its financial woes, gifted the KKR members gold chains but never cared to spend a word of praise on the young shooter. Only the state sports minister had a talk with him and promised to set up a range.
The only government favour that Karmakar received was Rs 1 lakh but that is a pittance for an aspiring shooter from a middle-class Bengali family. He managed to buy a rifle six years after taking up the sport when he got a loan.
Joydeep's case shows Bengal is where it was as far the sporting culture is concerned, notwithstanding the KKR victory and all the SRK razzmatazz. During the Left Front rule, a sport minister had said 'a goat can never plough a field', when he was asked about ensuring government funds for a budding sportsperson from the state. Mamata Banerjee's government has not improved the culture.
The manner in which a few state ministers hugged and welcomed the KKR team members after they arrived in Kolkata just proves that the government is ready to extend the red carpet to icons like SRK, who happens to be the state's brand ambassador, but not local talents. Even recently, the star's expressing interest in buying a hockey club in Kolkata to play in the Hockey India League scheduled early next year has generated a hope that the moribund sport in the state could be revived since none other than SRK took interest in it.
We have three questions for Mamata over the disinterest her government showed for Karmakar.
First, how authentic is the government's cultural affinity? The government organises events and repeatedly honours veteran cultural personalities. By saying 'Left Front never cared for them', the new government adopts a populist stance by giving awards time and again to these glorious souls of Bengal and in this way, promotes a cultural society which it can bank on for support.
Even it was seen that achievers from the mainstream elites being facilitated at programmes for tribals. The CM spares no effort to show her 'secular' nature by elevating the stature of poet Kazi Nazrul Islam but actually ends up wooing the minorities. The so-called admiration for achievers is actually propelled by populist calculations that will ultimately count during the elections and not by a genuine concern.
Second, to what extent is Mamata Banerjee considerate about the Bengali middle-class? Wooing the minorities and lower-rungs of the society can pay off electorally but what if the huge middle-class, the mainstay of any developing society, desert her government? Like it threw away the Leftists even after they were led at the hustings by Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, once the darlings of the Bengali middle-class. The lack of enthusiasm that Mamata's government showed towards Joydeep proves that apart from maintaining a close circle of well-fed politico-cultural circle, the Ma-Mati-Manush government is happy excluding those who don't matter much.
Third, Does the Bengal government need a non-sporting icon to improve its rich reserves of sporting talents and can not do anything on its own? The Bengalis so proudly claim themselves as sports lovers but in effect, the state has hardly succeeded in maintaining its good reputation in sports. Hockey is almost history, football is waning and cricket still revolves round Sourav Ganguly, who has caught headlines in recent days more as a CPI(M)-supporter than a dashing former Indian cricket captain. Leander Paes hogs limelight more in the national media while Dibyendu Baruah never managed to bag a front sit for attention.
The sports minister is more engrossed in sorting out problems in taxi and bus unions for he also holds the transport department and there is no sports policy in place. If people like Joydeep Karmakar continue to be treated as second-class citizens, the state will be bereft of true achievers in near future.