India has a significant history in the field of sports. Then may it be the country’s dominance in Olympics hockey, the 1983 Cricket World Cup triumph, or the 2018 Mary Kom’s record 6th World Championships gold medal – India has seen defining sports moments. However, as much as it is the athletes’ efforts, the government’s decisions and policies also play an important role in the creation of such memories. We may know names of athletes who brought us the glory but do can we recall names of the Sports Minister of India during that duration? The Sports Minister of India is basically the cabinet member who is appointed as the head of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Here are the top 10 Sports Minister of India:
11Mamata Banerjee (1991 to 1993)
Mamata Banerjee was elected in the Lok Sabha from Kolkata in 1991. This dates back to the era of onset of privatisation and liberalisation of the Indian Economy. Didi, as she is popularly referred to as in West Bengal, was then an integral part of the Indian National Congress. She got a chance in the Union Cabinet as well. Banerjee became the Minister of State in Human Resources Development, Youth Affairs and Women and Child Development Department under the reign of PM Narasimha Rao. Also, she was the Sports Minister in the Narasimha Rao government. The only major sports event held in this era was the 1992 Summer Olympics in Spain. India put up one the worst performance in the history of Indian Sports. In the 5 sports that India took part, athletes could not grab any medal.
10Uma Bharti (7 November 2000 to 25 August 2002)
Uma Bharti is one the most impactful and controversial leaders in the history of Indian Government. She was the firebrand Hindutva mascot leader of BJP since the very beginning of her political career in 1984. Before becoming the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh for a short term in 2003, she served as the Union Cabinet Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports. This dates back to the time when she switched her seat to the Bhopal constituency. She served her term under the BJP government led by the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In 2002 commonwealth games, team India produced a great performance, ranking 4th and bagging what was then the highest number of medals in Indian history (69).
9Sunil Dutt (2004 to 2005)
Sunil Dutt, the famous Bollywood actor was a member of parliament for 5 terms from the Mumbai North-West constituency. He also received the Padma Shree by Government of India in 1968 for his inspirational contributions in the Indian film industry. He joined the Indian National Congress to enter politics and serve his nation. Dutt died on 25 May 2005 in the middle of his tenure as the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports in the Union Government of Dr Manmohan Singh. India did not participate in any major sports events in this period.
8Mani Shankar Aiyar (2005 to 2008)
Mani Shankar Aiya succeeded Sunil Dutt as the Sports Minister of India after his sudden demise. He has been one of the most controversial politicians in Indian politics. India lost its bid for hosting the Asian Games 2014 back in 2007 allegedly because of irresponsible remarks of Aiyar. He publicly opined that hosting of such games in a ‘poor’ country like India does not benefit its citizens.
India was about to host the Common Wealth Games in 2010 so most of the infrastructure would have been ready beforehand. So hosting the Asian Games would have been more than beneficial for the Indian Sports Economy. Aiyar lost the Lok Sabha seat in 2009 elections. Although he was later nominated to the Rajya Sabha because of his social service and literary accomplishments.
7M.S. Gill (May 2009 to January 2011)
M.S. Gill began as the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, as a replacement for Mani Shankar Aiyar. He was re-inducted to the same position after the Indian National Congress’ victory in the 2009 election. He was dropped from the union cabinet after the cabinet reshuffle in 2011. A former IAS officer, he is the first one to be trained in mountaineering. In fact, he was trained by none other the first man to climb the Mount Everest, Tenzing Norgay.
He was the one to bring hockey back into the Priority Sports List. Gill did all he could to revive hockey interest in India. He declared all the sports federations as public offices, bringing them under the Right To Information (RTI) law. Also, the pension amount for sportspersons nearly tripled in his term as the sports minister of India. Gill even converted the pensioners’ list to a permanent one i.e no renewal in every 5 years.
6Ajay Maken (January 2011 to October 2012)
Ajay Maken succeeded M.S. Gill as the sports minister of India after the 2010 Commonwealth games scam. Maken is definitely one of the most accomplished Sports Ministers that India has ever had. On 22nd February 2011, he proposed the National Sports Development Bill (NSDB) in Lok Sabha. It aimed at instilling good governance of athletes in the decision-making process. He was the man behind the launch of OPEX-LONDON 2012 (Operation Excellence London Olympics 2012) on 3rd March 2011. Also, he decided to demerge the National Institute of Sports, Patiala (NIS) from Sports Authority of India (SAI) on 20th July 2011.
On 30th of August, 2011, he presented the draft of the National Sports Development Bill for approval before the cabinet. The bill had a provision bringing BCCI under the preview of RTI. But the bill never made it go through the approval and Maken had to redraft it although the bill had the approval of the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the then Home Minister P Chidambaram and the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
5Jitendra Singh (October 2012 to May 2014)
Jitendra Singh is the current heir of reigning Maharaja of Alwar as the head of the Royal House of Alwar. He is the member of parliament representing his constituency, Alwar. He succeeded Ajay Maken as the Sports Minister of India in a cabinet reshuffle in 2012. Prior to this position, he was the Minister of for Home Affairs, Government of India since July of 2011. International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to lift a ban on the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) under his reign. Singh played his role in the development of Indian sports and athletes.
4Sarbananda Sonowal (May 2014 to May 2016)
Sarbananda Sonowal is the current Chief Minister of Assam and a former Sports Minister of India. He was born on 31 October 1961 in the Dibrugarh district of Assam to Shri Jibeswar Sonowal and Dineshwari Sonowal. He started his political career after his Bachelor of English Honours from Dibrugarh University and his LLB from Guwahati University. Sonowal left AGP because of his dissatisfaction from the senior leadership. On 8 Feb 2011, he joined BJP and went on to become the Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports in the 2014 BJP victory under PM Narendra Modi.
3Vijay Goel (July 2016 to September 2017)
Vijay Goel is an alumnus of the famous Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi University. He was a Member of Parliament Sadar and Chandni Chowk Constituency of Delhi for the 11th, 12th and 13th Lok Sabha. Goel played an instrumental role in winning the 2010 Commonwealth Games bid. In 2014, he was elected for the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan. He was Sports Minister of India from 5 July 2016 to 3 September 2017. A dedicated portal to search young, talented people in sports was launched in his tenure. The National Talent Search Portal now connects potential sportsperson to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) for better guidance and training. Later he became the minister of state for Parliamentary Affairs in 2017.
2Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (September 2017 to May 2019)
Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore is the first Sportsperson to serve as the Sports Minister of India. The former Olympian won 25 international medals at various championships for Double Trap Shooting. This includes a Silver medal in Men’s Double Trap event at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Rathore also served as a commissioned officer in the Indian Army before retiring as a colonel in 2013. The Sports Ministry of India took some massive steps forward and Indian Athletes have shown positive signs for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It is evident from Rathore’s efforts and vision as he made the announcement of ‘total funding’ to Indian Hockey in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He also tried to inculcate the importance of fitness among the younger generation. His challenge #HumFitTohIndiaFit went viral and received a lot of response from the citizens.
1Kiren Rijiju (June 2019 – Present)
Kiren Rijiju is the face of BJP in North East India. He is India’s new Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports in the 2019 BJP win under PM Narendra Modi. Rijiju is arguably the most iconic political leader from the State of Arunachal Pradesh at least in recent times. He has proven his ability to take harsh decisions towards the development in the 2017 Rohingya Refugee Crisis. He stated that “India has absorbed the maximum number of refugees in the world so nobody should give India any lessons on how to deal with refugees”.
Kiren Rijiju’s appointment as Sports Minister of India as a replacement to Rajyavardhan Singh came as a surprise to many. With the Tokyo Olympics around the corner, everyone expected the position would go to someone who has a sports background. All the athletes and citizens of the country are hoping that Rijiju continues the good work of his predecessor and help India elevate to higher levels in sports.