Behind every successful sportsperson is not just sweat, tears and impossible hard work — but a politician (or twenty) racing at full speed to take credit for her victory. Olympics is the best season to spot this curious phenomenon. Exhibit A: Union minister of sports and youth affairs Anurag Thakur, who while gushing about PV Sindhu’s Olympic bronze in badminton did not forget to draw a connection between her feat and the efficacy of his government’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme. There was the small matter of Saikhom Mirabai Chanu’s very small image on a banner put up at a ceremony to celebrate her Olympic silver medal in weightlifting. Not to forget the large billboards that came up in Guwahati as news of an assured Olympic medal for boxer Lovlina Borgohain trickled in. Only those uninitiated to the ways of Indian politics might have gasped at a minor detail: It wasn’t Borgohain, but Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s face, that was plastered all over the hoardings.
To be fair, this is not the first set of politicians to hitch a publicity ride on sports. Reflected glory has come in handy for more sinister reasons than vanity. Authoritarian regimes like Bahrain have been accused of using glamorous sports like Formula One to “whitewash” human rights abuses at home.
In Indian politics, bhakti of the leader remains the road to salvation and survival for his minions. It is a devotion that is happy to credit “the visionary guidance and able leadership” of Great Leaders for a wide variety of matters unrelated to the core KRA of governance — from the accomplishments of vaccine scientists to the rotations and revolutions of the third rock from the sun. How can an Olympic performance go unclaimed? Sure, winners take it all. And the medal for claiming credit for Olympian achievements they have little to do with goes to the Indian politician.