Pune Coffee House to CWG: The rise and fall of Kalmadi

Many in Pune still remember Suresh Kalmadi as a young man in his early 30s sitting at the cash counter of Poona Coffee House — a meeting point for established as well as aspiring politicians.

After retiring voluntarily from the Indian Air Force as a squadron leader in 1974, Suresh Kalmadi, the eldest of four Kalmadi brothers — Shridhar, Prakash and Mukesh — began to run the Poona Coffee House with the blessings of Nilubhau Limaye.

Limaye, a heavyweight politician, who was also a friend of Kalmadi's father Dr Shamarao Kalmadi, acted as a mediator between the owner of the coffee house and him.

"Poonam Hotel, owned by Nilubhau, was then a meeting place for politicians who would discuss and strategise Maharashtra politics over coffee. The place was soon replaced by Poona Coffee House which became a central meeting point for established as well as aspiring politicians," says a politician associated with Suresh Kalmadi since his early years and who describes him as an aggressive and ambitious young man during those days.

Poona Coffee House becoming a political hub worked in favour of Kalmadi as he made friends who inducted him into the world of politics. It was here that he came in contact with Nana Chudasama, jurist and former sheriff and mayor of Mumbai. Kalmadi joined Chudasama's Giants International, an NGO where he met Sharad Pawar — his mentor to be for years to come.

Pawar, then with the Congress, was given charge of Youth for Reconstruction, a socialist group by Mohan Dharia. In Kalmadi, Pawar saw an enthusiastic and polished youngster who was fluent in English and who could handle the group in Pune. It was Pawar who was instrumental in appointing Kalmadi as president of the Pune Youth Congress in 1977.

"The first time Kalmadi gave a public speech was when Dharia had left Congress and joined the Janata Party post-Emergency. Kalmadi spoke in a rally against Dharia at Pune's Ratan Cycle Mart Chowk," says the politician.

Though he had entered the political arena, Kalmadi was still a local figure and desperate to get the Congress high Command's attention. Opportunity came when Morarji Desai, then Prime Minister of India, visited Tilak Smarak Mandir in Pune.

Kalmadi and Shyam Pawar, another activist, threw slippers on Desai's car and lay down in front of the vehicle. The news reached Delhi and Sanjay Gandhi called Ulhas Pawar of Maharashtra Youth Congress to know whose act it was. Soon, Kalmadi became a favourite with Sanjay Gandhi. Kalmadi was later introduced to Rajiv Gandhi in the NDA Passing-out Parade in 1980. They struck an instant chord with each other as they shared a common thread - both were pilots.

When Sharad Pawar left the Congress to form Congress (S), Kalmadi moved with him and subsequently became president of Youth Congress (S), a position he continued to hold till 1986. Because of Pawar, Kalmadi also became a member of the Rajya Sabha for the first time in 1982, continuing for a second term in 1988 and again in 1994-95. He also became Minister of State for Railways in the Narasimha Rao government, a fact that he boasts about."...the job was quite exciting. I was the only State Minister to have presented the Railway Budget in Parliament. I renamed the Victoria Station in Mumbai as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and that is a memorable moment for me," he says on his website.

In the words of a retired journalist from Pune,"Kalmadi's entry into the world of sports was quite unplanned. It was a sports reporter with a local newspaper who convinced Kalmadi to become the president of Pune District Amateur Athletics Association. This was the time he realised how politically untouched the terrain of sports was. He also became the president of Maharashtra State Athletics Federation in 1980 and soon the selection chairman of Athletics Federation of India in 1987" He became the chairman of Indian Olympics Association in 1996 and was re-elected unopposed in 2004 and 2008.

The Pune Marathon in 1983 was Kalmadi's brainchild. In 1989, he became chairman of the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation and used the opportunity to start Pune Festival during Ganeshotsav. Be it the Pune Festival or the nine-year old Pune International Film Festival or for that matter the Pune Marathon, Kalmadi succeeded in grabbing the limelight at all the events over the years. To date, Kalmadi has held key positions in about eight sports bodies across India.

His hold on Pune politics continued to rise since 1992 until Ajit Pawar, Sharad Pawar's nephew, broke Kalmadi's men and established Pune Pattern, the NCP's coalition with Shiv Sena and BJP in the municipal corporation that was called off only recently. "Money, power and political success turned the original team player and common activist's leader Kalmadi into a dictator," says a former deputy mayor.

In 1996, Kalmadi was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in the H D Dewe Gowda government. In 1998, he again became a member of the Rajya Sabha. During the early 90s, Kalmadi formed his own front called the Pune Vikas Aghadi which later became the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) under which he contested the 1999 general elections only to lose it against Vitthal Tupe of the Indian National Congress. In 2004, he was elected to the Lok Sabha for the second time.

The Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) in Pune in October 2008 was a rehearsal for team Kalmadi for the bigger game — the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. With a budget of Rs 425 crore, the Pune Games witnessed the pomp that by now has been recognised as Kalmadi's forte. Despite many glitches, the Pune Games was hailed as a success and Kalmadi rode on its glory till the CWG scam happened.

IN A NUTSHELL

*Date of birth: May 1, 1944

*Place of birth on Parliament website: Madras; on his personal website: Pune

*Father was a doctor

*Owns Sai Service: a dealership of Maruti. Dealership of Bajaj Auto was added later

*To project himself as Congress loyalist, details such as his stint with Congress (S), MVA are missing from biography page of his website

*Ever since the 15th Lok Sabha began till 2010 year-end, Kalmadi's attendance in Parliament was 59% — 20%less than the national average for an MP.

*In four sessions of 15th Lok Sabha, Kalmadi asked 43 questions. National average is 81 and state average is 141. Two of these questions related to Pune city.

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