New Delhi. The Sports Ministry is facing the heat after making a series of spelling mistakes, including the name of an awardee, in a formal advisory to the President’s Office. The ministry is known to have recommended the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award 2009-10 to a certain “Sania Nehwal”, which was immediately approved by the President of India after thorough considerations.
In a written statement to the media, the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, Dr. M. S. Gill extended his apologies for the “sirius mistake on his part”, adding that a spelling correction was made immediately after the incident came to light and the ball was now in the President’s court.
As the award was already officially approved, the President has since put the rectification on hold and advised the Sports Ministry to initiate a detailed inquiry into the matter. “It is an iterative process involving the Sports ministry”, said a spokesperson at Rashtrapati Bhavan, while confirming that the investigation could delay the award being conferred on the intended recipient.
The choice, which the Ministry later confirmed was intended for ace badminton player Saina Nehwal, was based on the Hyderabad shuttler’s achievements after winning the Indonesia Open, Indian open and the Singapore Super Series in the last three weeks.
When contacted, Nehwal declined to comment on the issue insisting that she had to practice for her next match. Her manager, however, disclosed that the Sports Ministry had issued a request to Saina to change her first name because they feared that the inquiry might not get over by the scheduled award function, tentatively to be held in September later this year.
Saina’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Nehwal, remained positive about the error, saying, “Thank god they didn’t spell it Sonia, else we’d have got a request to change our surnames as well.”
Meanwhile, the entire incident has been met with swift and unanimous criticism from the Indian political parties outside the ruling UPA coalition.
Reacting to the President Pratibha Patil’s decision to delay the matter, Mr. Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, said “It is a ploy by the UPA government to appease the minority community. Why do they need to investigate the issue? I think they want to manufacture a Sania Nehwal. You see, they are so desperate that they will even Islamicize a Hindu name on the pretext of a spelling mistake.”
The incident was further complicated when a man identified as A. Shankar exploited a loophole in the system after lodging an FIR at the Asif Nagar Police Station in Hyderabad. Commissioner of Police, Mr. A. K. Khan, said “We have received an FIR regarding a missing person by the name of Sania Nehwal. At this point, we are working with the authorities to investigate this further.” The inquiry is expected to delay the matter by months.
With this incident, Sania Mirza, the 23-year old tennis player, who incidentally also hails from Hyderabad, is back in news, but she could not be contacted for comments as she made an early exit from Wimbledon 2010.
Yet another angle in the story developed late last evening when a Sunni cleric, Haseeb-ul-hasan Siddiqui, attempted to issue a fatwa against ‘Sania’ as soon as he saw her making news. A relative of the cleric later confirmed that the patient was “midway through launching a fatwa” when he noticed the spelling mistake, before suffering an immediate stroke. Mr. Siddique is known for issuing a previous fatwa to Indian tennis starlet Sania Mirza for her “indecent dressing” on the court and in advertisements.