Sports minister Ajay Maken Tuesday washed his hands of the issue of selecting India's tennis doubles team for the London Olympics, saying it is the prerogative of the All India Tennis Association (AITA) to pick the best combination.
Clarifying his statement Monday that AITA should think of sending two doubles teams for London, Maken said he did it only because some "prominent and iconic" players brought to his notice certain issues concerning selection.
In any case, he added, it was not for the politicians or the ministry to interfere in the selection process and that it was for the AITA to pick the team keeping the national interest in view.
Maken's reaction came shortly after the AITA defended its decision to pair Leander Paes with Mahesh Bhupathi and lobbed the ball back into the ministry's court, giving it five options to resolve the selection issue.
Maken said he does not wish to be a part of the selection process.
"The sports ministry doesn't wish to be a part of the selection process. It had raised with AITA certain issues which had been brought to its notice by certain eminent and iconic players," said Maken.
"In the meeting held in the ministry today with AITA officials, certain options were suggested by AITA in the prevailing circumstance. The sports ministry advised the AITA to exercise the option which is in the best of national interest," he added in the statement released after the meeting.
AITA secretary general Bharat Oza in his written reply to Maken said that "asking Leander to pair with a junior player (Yuki Bhambri or Vishu Vardhan) would be the most inappropriate decision."
Oza also said that asking him to pair up with a junior will be an insult to Leander, who enjoys great respect in the international tennis circuit.
Elaborating the five options to the sports ministry, Oza wrote: "Ask the players to follow the decision of the selection committee consisting of five Davis Cup players and one Federation Cup player. This means that Leander should play with Mahesh. This also means that there will be only one pair but in the views of the selectors the best possible pair."
The second option, in case Mahesh does not want to play with Leander, Bopanna should play with Leander as per the decision of the AITA selection committee. This again means only one pair will represent India at the Olympics.
The third option is of two Indian pairs at the Games. Leander would pair up with either Yuki Bhambri or Vishnu Vardhan and Mahesh could team up with Rohan Bopanna.
As per the fourth option, if Leander decides not to go to Olympics with a lower ranked player, only Mahesh and Bopanna will represent India. The AITA in the final option said disciplinary actions should be taken against Mahesh and Bopanna if they don't abide by the decision of the selection committee and Leander takes court with a junior partner.
Oza said the decision to send one or two teams was not an easy one.
Coming down hard on Mahesh and Bopanna, Oza said: "It should be understood that two players cannot make a pact with each other to keep out the No.1 player and thereafter publicly suggest in the media that No.1 player should go to the Olympics with the No.5 player."