The often-transferred Haryana cadre IAS officer Ashok Khemka, 52, now on his 51st posting in a 24-year bureaucratic career, is readying himself for a mega dangal. The state’s principal secretary with the Sports and Youth Affairs ministry heads the organising committee for the March 21-23 state government-funded mud-wrestling extravaganza that offers prize money of Rs 1.86 crore.
For the seasoned bureaucrat, who has often made news for taking upright stands and subsequent transfers, is as much excited about his first big assignment as he is about being a decision-maker in a state known for the depth of its sporting talent pool. Incidentally, during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, 15 of India’s 38 gold medals — nearly 40 per cent of the country’s best-ever haul — were won by athletes from Haryana.
“This department has a huge potential. Not only in Haryana, this department has huge potential in all states because we are very backward in sports. It needs to be harnessed. Haryana has a very competitive and business-type culture which means that if they want to do it, they will do it. They do not look for excuses,” he reasons.
During his career, Khemka has dealt with several high-profile cases – including the cancellation of the mutation of a land deal between Robert Vadra’s company and developer DLF, and the inflated prices of seeds while working as the managing director of Haryana Seed Development Corporation in which he was charge-sheeted as well. But he is not dwelling on the past with sports being his only priority right now.
“The sporting culture here is very good because they are very competitive. If there is a high target, they would like to achieve it. The only issue is securing livelihood. At some stage, they would like to get a job. So I am trying to convince the government to identify talent and give them assurance of jobs.
“The long-term plan is to encourage private academies and participation of private players in academies in Haryana. We are coming out with schemes where you can sponsor these academies. It is the trait of the Indian people that they need job security in life. Once the government comes out with some scheme or formula, which I have been trying, where some sort of security is provided to talents which we identify, the performance will improve,” Khemka says.
Haryana has rewarded its medallists at the world level with prize money more than any other state in the country. The state also offers jobs to top sportspersons. While he agrees that this is a good practice, Khemka says that asking them to work for sports is also important.
“Even if you win an Olympic medal, you need a job because there is no money. You need a job for the entire life. It’s not that after a medal, you get a job. You may or may not win a medal. The money the government gives is post-event. It is a recognition of your achievement. The first step is identifying talent, providing the right training and encouraging someone to opt for sports as a career. Giving money after winning a medal and identifying talent beforehand are two different aspects and once I am able to find a correlation and sell the solution to the government, I assure you Haryana would give 5-10 medals at the Olympics and India would be competing with US and China,” he says.
Speaking about the dangal, organised to conclude on Saheedi Diwas, the day freedom fighters Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Hari Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar were hanged, he says, “This dangal is on a large scale. The stadium is built indoors at a huge expense and it will be a good show. This time we will have air-conditioning inside the stadium.”
Giving details about the competition he went on to add, “A lot of Haryana wrestlers will be part of this dangal. Even in teams like Railways, Services and Uttar Pradesh, it is mostly Haryanvi pehalwans who are representing them and winning laurels for those states,” Khemka adds.