In over 10 years of my association with Indian badminton, Prajakta Sawant has struck me as one of the most promising players on the domestic circuit, but her regular controversies have been a puzzle.
In the latest such episode, the former women’s and mixed doubles national champion moved the Bombay High Court levelling allegations of “mental harassment” against the national coach Pullela Gopichand.
While the media is going overboard with the story, the badminton fraternity is just amused and feel that it warrants little attention. The reasons behind this indifference are largely Prajakta's well known history of making allegations at a wide range of people, and frequently.
I first saw Prajakta playing in 2006 in a tournament in NSCI, Mumbai and I was immediately impressed with the teenager's commitment on the court and skill levels. But every conversation I had with the coaches and officials during the tournament began with, “she is a very sweet girl and a very good player, but ...”
The “but” always lingered and everyone wanted me to “experience” it myself rather than explain what they meant.
A few months later, she pulled out of all competitions and her father announced that his daughter had had enough of badminton and would concentrate on studies because “everyone was out there to ruin her career”.
The trigger for the outburst were two suspicious line calls. But the reaction was extreme.
She did come back on court in a few months and even went on to become the first ever Indian girl to win a medal at the Asian championship level when she teamed up with Raj Kumar to bag the Asian U-15 mixed doubles title in 2007.
Since then while her career graph was on the rise and so were the many run-ins with the administration and court officials. She quit Maharashtra to play for Andhra Pradesh after she was asked to play the qualifying round of the junior nationals since she had not competed in the number of state selection tournaments required to make the team and also refused to turn up for the trials.
Few years ago, a Mumbai-based referee Mukund Kaveri was summoned to the police station for alleged “harassment” because he did not take the player’s side during a dispute with the chair umpire.
There is a general consensus among the BAI officials, coaches and anyone who is closely associated with the sport that her behaviour is influenced by someone from the family.
Even in the latest case, the problem started when Prajakta asked the national coach to change her partner because her partners – Pradnya Gadre (women’s doubles) and Pranav Chopra (mixed) – were not serious about their career.
Gopichand countered her argument saying that she herself needs to be more serious about her career as she was going home too often. In response, she shot a letter to the national coach and Badminton Association of India officials that Gopichand was making such allegations to harass her and it has led her to think of committing suicide.
It was in response to that letter that the national coach asked the Badminton Association of India to ensure that she not report to the camp until she withdraws the letter.
However, instead of withdrawing the letter she moved the court against Gopichand and BAI and has scored the first point in the legal tussle.
There are many more layers to this story and I am sure we haven’t heard the last of it yet.