Hyderabad/New Delhi: A move to confer honorary doctorate for Chess icon Vishwanathan Anand was on Tuesday at the centre of a raging storm after the HRD ministry reportedly raised questions over his Indian nationality but Minister Kapil Sibal stepped in to apologise to him.
The HRD Minister, who called Anand over telephone in Hyderabad, said there was no no question of his ministry raising queries being raised over Anand's citizenship and that he has persuaded him to accept the doctorate.
But the chess wizard politely turned it down for the present saying he would accept it on a later date because of his travel schedule and prior commitments now now.
Anand was to have been conferred the honorary doctorate along with Prof. David Mumford of Harward University at a function here last night coinciding with the current International Congress of Mathematicians in Hyderabad.
Bureaucratic hurdles caused by the Union Human Resource Development Ministry put paid to the plans of University of Hyderabad to confer the honour on the 39-year-old champion, who lives in Spain for the last few years but holds an Indian passport.
As reports on the unsavoury episode broke out in the media, Sibal sought to do some damage limitation. He called Anand in Hyderabad over telephone and expressed his apologies, apparently over questions raised in regard to his citizenship.
"But in the case of Vishwanathan Anand there is no no question (of questions over his citizenship). We are sorry for what has transpired. I told him even if some Indian were to acquire foreign nationality we are still proud of him," the minister told a hurriedly-called press conference in Delhi.
He blamed bureaucratic procedures in the delay on clearance of the doctorate degree for Anand, who maintained he had always played under the Indian flag and held an Indian passport.
"I don't understand this issue. I am in Hyderabad to play with Mathematicians and enjoy the Congress," said the Grand Master who went ahead to play a game of Chess simultaneously with 40 mathematicians.
Her defeated all his opponents in a game that lasted over three hours and participated in a question-answer session with them. The media was told not not to put any questions.
Earlier, he was accorded a grand welcome at the Congress venue and Anand remained unfazed and did not not betray any emotions over the treatment meted out to him.
Anand's wife said the minister was apologetic when he spoke to the player and wanted the matter to be put to rest now now.
But she made it clear that the issue of questions over Anand's nationality did not not come as a surprise to them as they were asked to give a copy of the passport, which she had sent to the HRD ministry in June last year.
Giving his version of the story, Sibal dismissed suggestions that the ministry had doubted Anand's nationality.
"There is no no question, there is no no issue. There is no no question of nationality (about Anand)," he said adding that he had cleared the file on Anand's name for conferring the doctorate on May 22 last year.
But, he said, there were five other names. "When I went to the Visitor it came back to me with reference to an individual. Then the University event was over. This issue arose when another file came regarding a foreigner. If I had known I would have put my foot down," he said.
Sibal said he told Anand that the honorary degree could be conferred today itself. But he indicated that he had some problem about this evening. "Then I told him that any date of his convenience for the function was okay. He has accepted it," the minister said.
He said procedural error has led to problems regarding doctorate for Anand. Immediate corrective action was taken. It should not nto take time (to implement such decisions) but sometime it happens, he said adding this was not not the time for apportioning blame on anyone.
Hailing Anand for his achievements, Sibal said "Vishwanathan Anand has done India proud like Arjun Atwal (who won a top professional golf championship in the US yesterday). We should be proud of those who climb the heights of global excellence."
Meanwhile, the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) expressed sadness over not not being able to confer the honorary doctorate on Anand because of "insensitive bureaucratic obstructions".
The ICM executive committee has conveyed its deep apology to Anand over this development, its Chairman M S Raghunathan and Secretary Rajat Tandon said in a statement.
They said the idea of conferring an honorary doctorate was mooted as early as in October 2009. The UoH took up the proposal and did all the necessary work and submitted it for clearance to The HRD Ministry, they said.
Despite repeated follow-up by the university, the HRD Ministry did not forward this proposal for signature by the President of India, they claimed adding, as a result "this unfortunate turn of events had taken place".
Tandon earlier told reporters that as per UoH Vice Chancellor Syed Hasnain's direction they had made necessary arrangements for conferring the Ph.D degree tonight itself.
"He (Anand) changed his mind and he is not willing to take the degree. He doesn't want it (degree) due to the controversy," Tandon said.
Asked whether Anand has said no, Raghunathan said, "He has not told me".
Viswanathan Anand on Tuesday termed the controversy over his nationality as disappointing but said he does not want to stretch the issue too far and would prefer to move on.
"When the whole thing came about it was disappointing but I think by now I understand that these are bureaucratic things which happen and you can see the funny side of it. The silver lining is that people now know that I am really an Indian completely," Anand told TV channels.
'I have often trained in Spain but I never gave away my citizenship. That's always been clear. So I don't really know why this came up especially after we clarified the matter," he said.
"I don't want to analyse this too much. The mistake happened, the minister has apologised. I think we should leave it at that. I think we should move on," he added.
The four-time world champion Indian said he decided to decline the doctorate for now simply because he was busy and wanted to have a proper ceremony.
"I accepted the minister's apology. There was no issue in that. It was just that the day was simply filled up.
"Actually the main reason I came to Hyderabad was for this simultaneous chess game. I had to focus on my commitments here and then it looked like it would be a rushed ceremony so I thought we should do it properly sometime later. So, I will accept the doctorate in due course of time," Anand said. PTI