To millions of her fans, Lata Mangeshkar is synonymous with melodic harmony. But in her own birthplace last fortnight, a public performance by her was at the centre of an acrid verbal crossfire.The superstar’s performance in Indore on December 4 was to collect money for a Rs 1 crore indoor,To millions of her fans, Lata Mangeshkar is synonymous with melodic harmony. But in her own birthplace last fortnight, a public performance by her was at the centre of an acrid verbal crossfire.The superstar’s performance in Indore on December 4 was to collect money for a Rs 1 crore indoor stadium-cum-sports complex which is under construction in this, the largest city of Madhya Pradesh. The stadium, which will be the third largest in the country, is the pet project of press baron Abhay Chhajlani, chairman of the Indore Table Tennis Trust (ITTT), at whose invitation the melody queen sang. But instead of the bouquets such occasions normally bring, Chhajlani found himself at the receiving end of a volley of brickbats. His critics argued that he was misusing his clout as one of the proprietors of the state’s largest selling newspaper Nai Duniya (print run: 1.48 lakh), not only to get his way with the Government, but also to build himself up in the public eye.The volatile local MLA, Suresh Seth, a former cabinet minister, who spearheaded the attack, says: “I have nothing personal against Lata Mangeshkar or anybody else. But this table tennis trust is a one-man show headed by Chhajlani. Why should they be trusted with public money?” Seth (inset) and Chhajlani showing Mangeshkar around: Public money at stakeSeth adds that government machinery was involved in a big way and that the show was exempted from entertainment tax. Therefore, he says, the state Government should claim the box-office collections.The silver-haired Seth, who incidentally is also editor of the daily Indore Samachar, first tried to stall the show by sending a telegram to the singer in Bombay. When that did not work, he organised demonstrations in Indore which led to his arrest along with some of his supporters.advertisementChhajlani, who is vice-president of the Table Tennis Federation of India, has attracted both criticism and admiration for his dedication to the project, which even while still incomplete, is impressive. Rectangular in shape, it will seat more than 6,000 and has a playing arena of 14,000 sq ft – to be used for basketball, badminton and volleyball, apart from Chhajlani’s favourite sport, table tennis.The 50-year-old Chhajlani says: “The idea first emerged in 1974 when the responsibility for holding the Table Tennis Nationals fell on Indore. I was then president of the Madhya Pradesh Table Tennis Association (MPTTA). But for lack of space, we had to organise it in the godown of the local mill. We realised that if Indore was to become a sports centre, we had to have an indoor stadium where tournaments could be held. That is how it all started.”Impressive Record: Chhajlani points to his record to prove his success in the promotion of table tennis during his eight-year tenure as president of MPTTA beginning 1974. Says he: “Between then and now, the number of players registered with the association has risen from merely 300 to 2,000. In the state championships, more than 400 players participated. When I took over, in various team events, Madhya Pradesh used to rank between sixteenth and twenty-second in the country. Today our teams figure from the second position to the tenth. Isn’t that a marked improvement?”Even his bitterest critics cannot deny that the improvement of table tennis in the state has been remarkable. But what they do question is the use of his influence to gather funds. So far, out of the estimated cost of Rs 1 crore, about Rs 60 lakh have gone into the construction.Of this, Rs 3 lakh came from the Centre, Rs 16.25 lakh from the state Government, Rs 15 lakh as loan from a cooperative bank in Indore and about Rs 25 lakh from public donations in the city.Says one critic, also a sports official: “There is not a single instance in the entire country where the Government has assisted a non-government body to such a large extent in the construction of a stadium.”Acrimonious Dispute: Seth also alleges that in some cases, government officials have misused their authority to pressurise potential donors. He says: “I would like to see if Abhay Chhajlani could raise the finances if he was not owner of the paper.”Seth has long harboured a resentment against Nai Duniya for the power it wields in state politics. He also evidently believes that a major reason he lost his berth in the Cabinet a couple of years ago is that he fell foul of Nai Duniya.Chhajlani calmly brushes aside all allegations: “The ITTT is a public trust whose accounts are duly audited. If the Government is ever dissatisfied with its working, it can always be taken over. Yes, I am the driving force but there are four prominent citizens on the trust too and their approval is required.” Meanwhile, Nai Duniya often features both Chhajlani and the stadium.advertisementChhajlani hopes that once the stadium is complete, it will inspire other sports organisations to build infrastructure in their own spheres. But unfortunately the ambitious project has become the focus of jealousy and resentment among officials of other sports who, off the record, accuse the Government of partiality to a single sport. The stadium has, even before its inauguration, become the centre of a slanging match.