An evening of promise – Hindustan Times

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While the spotlight was on Prime Minister Narendra Modi felicitating top national athletes who had represented the country at the Asian Games, another event played out later that evening.
It was one at Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri’s home with both he and his gracious wife, Lakshmi, playing hosts. Lakshmi Puri is a former diplomat.
In 2017 following her husband’s appointment as Union Minister she quit her job at the United Nations where she was then serving. Some six years down the line, she seems content looking after her home which she runs like a dream.
For those who know the Puris, confirm that they are a wonderful, made for each other, couple. They throw open their home to their friends, the sprawling lawns providing a perfect setting for an evening full of fun, food and music.
Last evening was one such at the Puris home in Lutyens Delhi complete with Indian and Chinese cuisine and lots of faluda kulfi and crisp, piping hot jalebis.
It was truly heart-warming and had that personal touch that official functions often lack.
Therefore when Puri’s colleague Union Minister Anurag Thakur spoke about Puri being a “perfect host” he was bang on.
Thakur also said that when it comes to sporting events, Puri’s Ministry is always a “step ahead” of the Sports Ministry.
That apart, Thakur said that his Ministry would support sportspersons and help them take strides as never before: “Bahut aage jaana hai”, to quote him.
Thakur is Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports and Information and Broadcasting.
Optics apart, there was an air of optimism, confidence, a sense of belonging and faith among the athletes. There was also a departure from the norm of past- neglect, as it were.
Under the current regime, there is value to the entity of being a sportsperson, irrespective of the gains or the coveted medals. There is a focus-shift from cricket to other sports including athletics. And there is a reassurance that the Government stands by its players irrespective of the discipline.
The proof of the pudding, as they say, lies in the eating. And what can be better than the Prime Minister spending time with athletes? And two Union Ministers breaking bread with them over a memorable evening.
There are memories the young players will take back; memories they will live with for a long time and those they will cherish. Imagine a 15-year old face to face with the country’s Prime Minister? Imagine his being asked to speak on stage with two Union Ministers all ears?
Yes, on his part, Puri had ensured that apart from being felicitated, some of the athletes shared their experiences on stage. And that they did.
Apart from sharing the pride of representing India, what clearly came across was the support and encouragement they had received from the Government. Each of them made it a point to mention that the Government went that extra mile to help them achieve.
Predictably, both Union Ministers, Puri and Thakur, spoke about the immense contribution of the Prime Minister in encouraging sports in this country. If Thakur spoke about Khelo India initiative, Puri said that Oil companies will continue to support budding sportspersons.
At this point one question warrants an answer: what has changed under the current regime? How has sports become centre-stage? What was and is not?
The answer is best summed up in what Puri said: Infrastructure.
True because athletes confirmed that the facilities are better and coaches more responsive: a departure from the days when, to quote shooter Abhinav Bindra, “India struggled how not to come last”.
From there to an envious winning streak, we have come a long way.
The Indian sportspersons have certainly come of age thanks to their grit and determination but also because of the Government’s hand-holding. The two are now working in tandem.
“To say Hand holding is undermining the mammoth effort on the Government’s part” says Indian Oil Corporation Sports Head, Manjusha: “There is a sea change. Now athletes can approach the top most officers without waiting for days on end to get a hearing even from the lowest rung. This has and made a huge difference. The Target Olympic Podium Scheme or TOPS has given a tremendous push to the athletes at the top. We have reached a stage where sportspersons can fully concentrate on skill improvement without worrying about facilities and finances” she told Hindustan Times.
TOPS is an initiative of the Sports Ministry to establish a technical support team to support and assist athletes and equip them to win medals in the Olympics.
Critics are bound to dismiss this as tokenism but one must credit the Modi government for doing the “small things” big governments often fail to.
Simply put, it is the human touch, the effort to reach out and tell each one of those who represent India in one sphere or the other that they are valued and cherished. Add to that the record haul of 107 medal tally and the journey seems to have just begun.


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