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A DAY after gymnast Dipa Karmakar said it was difficult to drive and maintain a BMW in interior Agartala, where she stays, the man who gifted her that luxury vehicle transferred Rs 25 lakh to the Rio Olympics fourth-place finisher’s bank account.
It may have been a rare instance. But then, Dipa’s benefactor, who has arranged at least 17 such vehicles as gifts for several sporting achievers, isn’t known to say no. “I realised that she may have a problem owning a BMW. She is a poor girl from a remote area,” says V Chamundeshwarnath, or simply Chamundi to friends.
If you aren’t a part of Hyderabad’s social circle or are unfamiliar with state-level sports officials or politics, you wouldn’t have heard of Chamundi. He’s a former Andhra batsman, who has played 44 first-class games. After retirement in 1991/92, he became a cricket administrator, Team India’s manager for the 2009 World T20 and an influential badminton official.
Away from the sporting arena, Chamundi has links with top corporate houses and is a “nice man” to know for those looking for big business breaks. A compulsive networker, Chamundi is best known for his proximity to mega cricket stars — first Mohammad Azharuddin, now Sachin Tendulkar.
These links, business and cricketing, are what helped the 57-year-old arrange those four-wheeled gifts to India’s Rio stars — P V Sindhu, P Gopichand, Sakshi Malik and Karmakar.
The initial plan was to gift the cars to Sindhu and Gopichand, both from Hyderabad, by pooling resources from a group of NRIs, film producers and a city-based industrialist, he says.
“My friends and I had enough money to gift two BMWs. Sachin helped me by getting a discount from BMW and we were able to hand over the keys of four cars. It was Sachin’s idea to give four cars instead of only two,” says Chamundi, explaining how Sakshi and Dipa got on that list.
According to market rates, the on-road price of the four cars is over Rs 1.25 crore. But the man, who loves to be referred to as a “talent promoter”, has been gifting such vehicles for more than a decade-and-a-half.
When Gopichand won the All-England title in 2001, Chamundi presented him with a Hyundai Accent. Two years later, when Sania Mirza won the Wimbledon girl’s doubles title, she got a Fiat Palio — again, the promoter was Chamundi, while Tendulkar managed a discount.
In 2012, the two were again in the frame as Saina Nehwal was given a BMW for her bronze at the London Olympics. During that function, Chamundi made a promise to Sindhu. “I had promised that if she wins an Olympic medal, Sachin would present her with the keys of a BMW, too. The idea of getting Sachin to present cars is to motivate athletes to do better,” says Chamundi.
Kidambi Srikanth, badminton World No.10, was given a Ford Ecosport when he beat the legendary Lin Dan to win the China Super Series event. Chamundi wanted Lin Dan himself to present the keys to Srikanth when he came to India for the Asian Badminton Championships before the Chinese star pulled out of the tournament.
“Even now, people are not promoting non-cricket sports,” says Chamundi, adding that he and Tendulkar had contributed Rs 1 crore to cash incentives for India’s Para-Olympians recently. “I have spent money from my own pocket. If I don’t contribute, what right do I have to ask my friends and well-wishers?” he says.
However, Chamundi is no stranger to controversy, too. He was removed as secretary of the Andhra Cricket Association in 2009, following allegations of financial wrong-doing. He was also named in a sexual harassment complaint filed by a group of women cricketers from Andhra. “Those cases are over, all that was done by my rivals in the cricket association,” he says.
Soon, Chamundi moved to badminton. He co-owned the Indian Badminton League team, Mumbai Masters, at one point along with Sunil Gavaskar and film star Akkineni Nagarjuna. Currently, he holds the dual posts of Hyderabad Badminton Association president and Telangana Badminton Association vice-president. The state association is headed by K T Rama Rao, the IT Minister of Telangana and son of its Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.
“I don’t have any business interests currently,” Chamundi insists. “I am a former sportsperson and now a sports administrator and like to promote talent. Not many people know this, but when Saina didn’t have funds to travel abroad for a tournament as a 12-year-old, I gave her a cheque of Rs 25,000. I gave Mithali Raj a Chevrolet car even before she became the Indian women’s cricket team captain.”