One of the most visible young faces of mainstream politics in Kashmir, Waheed Ur Rehman Parra dons many hats. President of the ruling PDP’s youth wing, he was recently made secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council. His latest assignment has attracted scrutiny, with many seeing it as politicisation of sport. Parra, though, appears unfazed. In a candid conversation with Kashmir Ink, he talks about his new role and plans to make the sports council a “happening institution”.
What prompted you to foray into sports administration?
I have been a sportsperson. I played handball at the national level and was connected with the sports council as a player. I have a feel of how this department functions, so going into sports administration came naturally to me.
So you volunteered to become the sports council’s secretary?
Yes, I did.
There are allegations that you are politicising sport. What do you have to say?
It is a natural reaction because I am political person. But sport has never been apolitical. A cricket match between India and Pakistan is a political event. Kashmiri students being beaten up in Mewar University for supporting the Pakistan team is a political statement. The important question is whether anything is done to nurture players and give them dignity.
Be it our government or the previous ones, there has been hardly any attempt to uplift sport and give players their due. People, even parents of sportspersons, see engaging in sport as wasteful. We are trying to change that culture.
And it has nothing to do with selling sport as an indicator of normalcy in Kashmir?
I think it will contribute to normalcy. We are not trying to engineer or construct anything through this. After the Burhan Wani incident, young people see dignity in death. We need to acknowledge our champions. If we don’t give dignity to our stars, then we make them underachievers.
The sports council is the only institution that is concerned with human development, the rest is all for infrastructure. It is conflict-neutral.
Political and sports pundits alike accuse the PDP-BJP regime of appropriating the success of Kashmir’s sportspersons, which they say undermines their talent, hardwork and achievement?
Honestly, I think all sportspersons are self-made. But the state has a moral, social and political obligation to celebrate its stars and their achievements. If Parvez Rasool was from any other state, he would have got a lot of incentives from the government. We have to acknowledge and promote our sportspersons. They are role models. I am not a role model but Parvez Rasool is. He has shown that you don’t need to be a doctor or a bureaucrat to be famous.
In any case, every state does this. Pakistan does it.
What are you doing to depoliticise sport?
It is difficult thing to do in a conflict zone. Players have their political aspirations, and you can’t snatch that away. One match or even hundred matches can’t change the political aspiration of a player.
I meet players who are anti-establishment. We don’t intend to change that or question it. Our priority is that any political statement should be made in a peaceful manner. People should understand the value of life. I think sport will help us achieve that.
Playing at any level doesn’t make one anti- or pro- India or Pakistan. Even if the Hurriyat were to conduct a sports tournament, it wouldn’t change anything for me.
But would the government allow the Hurriyat to organise sports activities?
Nobody can stop them. I think it would be great if they do it. It would be a welcome move. They should do it. The civil society should do it. It is better than the army doing it. The best thing about the sports council is that even if we see it through the prism of youth engagement, it is run by a civil department and not a security department. Sport isn’t a security subject.
Over the years, the sports council has been accused of compromising merit to accommodate blue-eyed sportspersons.
The department has less bureaucracy. It’s more of an autonomous institution. But it is a fact that most people see it as a “concession department” that provides certificates which help in getting jobs or admissions.
Over the years, its role has been undermined. The annual fund allocation to the department is a paltry Rs 2 crore, which is nothing compared with what these departments in Punjab or Haryana get.
We are a small institution with just about 400 employees. We don’t have groundsmen, coaches or managers. We are trying to get more and more people to induce professionalism into it.
Lately, you have recruited some former players as coaches. Is this going to be the way forward in professionalising the department?
We don’t want to be a certifying authority anymore. We are trying to become a human resource centre where active and yesteryear’s sportspersons are acknowledged. The day we became that and change the mindset of kids and make them realize that sportspersons are doers and achievers, it would be great.
Traditionally, we have failed to give dignity to players. Abid Nabi is a prime example of that. He is a hero but he’s forgotten. Giving him a job will not only help him but budding cricketers as well. Same is the case with Mehraj Wadoo and others.
We have already sent 170 former players from across sports for training to the National Institute of Sports to make them professional coaches.
School is a breeding ground for sports stars but it is not paid due attention in this part of the world. Why?
Our focus at the moment is on school cricket and football. We have already patched up with DPS, Srinagar, which has a good stadium. We are organizing a tournament there. We have sent 20 NIS trained football coaches to the grassroots level and have given funds to the J&K Football Association to promote the sport.