Clues lie in cricketers’ income trail
Kapil wants to know: Is the tape on or off?
What’s the reaction in Dhaka, asks wife
Kargil in the Kashmiri soul

New Delhi, May 28 
Stink of the muck-raking in cricket is getting to the Prime Minister who has kept himself abreast of the developments since last evening when Manoj Prabhakar played his stunning video tapes.

Vajpayee is not expected to intervene immediately, but sources saw indications of the government coming under increasing pressure to widen the CBI investigation, faltering for lack of evidence. The suggestion is to get the income-tax department, revenue intelligence and the Enforcement Directorate to assist in the probe.

After obtaining the feedback on Prabhakar’s revelations and examining the preliminary CBI report, sports minister S.S. Dhindsa will be asked if the investigation needs to be broadened.

The Prime Minister is not expected to talk to Dhindsa immediately unless more revelations are made and until the cricket community seeks his intervention.

With the CBI suggesting that it may not find much corroborative proof against Kapil Dev, named by Prabhakar as the man who offered him a bribe to underperform, the government may have to call in revenue intelligence and the Enforcement Directorate. Both agencies are capable of investigating foreign exchange-related violations. But there are doubts if, after so many years, any trace would be found of bribes that cricketers might have accepted in return for playing badly.

The income-tax authorities can step in to lead the investigations out of a dead-end. The CBI case against Laloo Yadav has been strengthened by the arrival of the income-tax department.

The sources said the department may have to be drafted in to track the disproportionate wealth, if any, of cricketers. Punishment can be meted out only if it can be established that they possess black money.

Income-tax authorities, including the additional commissioner in Delhi, Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, have gone on record saying they are forced to be “lenient” with icons. Besides, the voluntary disclosure of income scheme had offered an avenue to turn black money into white with the government bound by the terms of surrender to keep the names secret. The names should be there on the records, nonetheless.

But the chain of events over the past few weeks has tarnished cricket’s image such that the authorities need not fear public backlash by touching icons.

After the Hansie Cronje scandal broke, Vajpayee had let Dhindsa handle the Indian side of the fallout, leading up to the CBI inquiry. Initially, the Prime Minister was more worried about the impact of Delhi police’s probe on Indo-South African relations.

This time, the implications may be far too great to be left to Dhindsa alone. Vajpayee would never take the drastic step of dismantling autonomous institutions like the cricket board. But agreeing to expand the probe — pressure is expected to mount over the next few days — does not go against this doctrine. Vajpayee left for Manali this afternoon.    

Dhaka, May 28 
Like the rest of the Indian team, Kapil Dev dispensed with traditional niceties and headed straight for his ninth-floor room on arrival at The Sheraton late this afternoon. No comments, no photographs.

In his room, though, Kapil managed a brief smile. “Is it on or off, or is it something else?” the coach asked teasingly, pointing to the micro-cassette recorder in this correspondent’s shirt pocket. He added, with mock seriousness: “These days, after all, you probably can’t be sure.”

Clearly, Kapil had Manoj Prabhakar’s undercover antics in mind.

Jab kisi ka dimag ghoom jata hai, to woh aadmi kuch bhi kar sakta hai... In any case, the fight today isn’t between individuals, it’s between one person and cricket,” Kapil told The Telegraph.

But was he even more upset after yesterday’s revelations — which, on the face of it, have landed board secretary Jaywant Lele too in terribly hot soup? Kapil answered: “Let’s just focus on the Asia Cup...”

The past few weeks have changed Kapil. He isn’t a broken man, but his body-language today is far removed from the Kapil one has known over the years. It doesn’t make for an inspiring sight.

In fact, the body-language of the team itself isn’t exactly the sort to ignite the terraces.

Mohammed Azharuddin who, later in the evening, insisted he wouldn’t comment “on anything at all”, looked tense while Ajay Jadeja, who generally doesn’t get flustered, wasn’t his bubbly self either. If it was an act, it must have called for a big effort.

As for Sourav Ganguly, he has been saddled with a major problem on the eve of only his third series/tournament as full-fledged captain. Will his message still be the same (“play your normal game”), or, will there be amendments after yesterday’s tehelka?

“I don’t see myself saying anything different... I still feel allegations have to be proved, otherwise, they remain allegations only,” Sourav remarked. Being the positive sort, not allowing shoulders to stoop does come easy to him.

Incidentally, owing to a technical glitch in this morning’s Indian Airlines’ Airbus flight from Calcutta to Delhi and a delay in the Jet Airways service on the same route (a flight he eventually took), Sourav almost missed the jumbo to Dhaka. He was, as it turned out, the last to board it. Sourav isn’t very superstitious, but he could be hoping that close shave augurs well.

With the media bound to repeatedly lob questions which will have little to do with on-field performances, the board has decided only the captain and coach will speak before and after each match.

Such censorship seems out of place when the board secretary has himself been video-taped making scandalous observations. But, then, such a knee-jerk reaction is only to be expected from Lele and Co.

Significantly, manager Samiran Chakraborty (a former board vice-president) has been “advised” to keep his eyes and ears open in a more pronounced manner. So, what will he do should he sense something amiss? “I won’t even hesitate to call the cops, that’s for sure,” Chakraborty replied.

Video-recording, though, isn’t on the manager’s agenda.

Predictably, Prabhakar’s espionage-like operation has evoked both amazement and utter contempt in these parts. Former Sri Lankan wicketkeeper-turned-commentator Ranjith Fernando summed it up well: “If match-fixing is a crime so, too, is clandestine video-taping...”

Sunil Gavaskar initially declined comment till after studying the transcript. However, late tonight, he issued a statement: “The matter is in the hands of the proper authorities and the need of the hour is to give all information. That will be cricket’s way of resolving the matter.”    

New Delhi, May 28 
Sandhya Prabhakar is feeling vindicated. Her husband having accomplished an investigative reporter’s job and taken a day off for his “business work”, Mrs Prabhakar has busied herself on the phone at their residence in South Delhi’s Nehru Enclave. There is jubilation in her voice. “What is the reaction? What are those cricketers saying in Dhaka? Gaali de rahen hain kya?” she gushes, her voice suffused with laughter, even before she can be asked anything.

Sandhya agrees that she and Manoj have gone through hard times. After the former Test player dropped his first bombshell in a magazine and said Indian cricket was “unclean”, none had believed. “Media was not really picking up the story and blowing it up the way it should have been.” It was evident from Sandhya’s words that Manoj had felt frustrated for a long while, not being able to prove what he had alleged.

It was only after the Hansie Cronje scandal made headlines that he started his second innings of match-fixing allegations. He approached his old journalist friends who had by then decided to move from the magazine to a dotcom news company. They decided to work together.

“It was after April 7, the day Delhi police went ahead and made its sensational disclosure of Cronje’s taped conversations with match-fixers, that Manoj started working on this exposé.” Sandhya was not an active participant. “He used to come in late and even left the city for this work. He could not devote too much time to his family (wife and son).”

She giggles when asked how this gameplan had been worked out. Manoj, according to her, had to produce some evidence. So, he first had himself interviewed on the dotcom and then, according to the strategy they had devised, came out and met the reporters who had arrived at the dotcom office to watch the interview being screened.

They knew that there would be an immediate response from Kapil. After all, this was the first time Manoj was accusing him in public of having offered him Rs 25 lakh to lose a match against Pakistan. As they had predicted, Kapil thundered at a press conference that he was “Punjab da puttar” and promised to slap Manoj hard. It was Kapil’s press conference that gave Manoj the right plank from which he dropped his latest bombshell yesterday.

“All these days, he was like a man possessed,” said Sandhya. “He was concentrating very hard and talking little. Half the time, he did not remember to have his food on time and even when he did, he ate little. He worked late with his dotcom friends, going through the reels of videotape that he brought back from his several clandestine trips.”

Manoj was not out against anybody in particular, Sandhya says. He wanted to bare the murky world of cricket. Obviously, he needed security as he was taking on the entire cricketing fraternity almost single-handed.

Sandhya wants to know if the media is convinced now of the seriousness with which Manoj’s allegations should have been treated. She does not believe what Manoj has presented yesterday at Hotel Le Meridien is not admissible, legally valid evidence and wants the government to strengthen it. “Bande ne to kar ke dikhaya. Ab sarkar ko kuch kar ke dikhana chahiye.”    

Drass, May 28 
If this frontier and its flank, that beauteous piece of dispute known as Kashmir, are about possession, India’s must at best be a half and half story. It holds Kashmir’s physical contours but not its heart and soul. Its forces have now established supremacy over the frontlines, snatched back and fenced territory that had been invaded last summer, but the battle for the Kashmiri heartland itself remains lost.

This despatch could have been written from the valley, and probably with greater impress for it is the valley where greyness most afflicts big words like patriotism and loyalty, but there is a reason it is being filed from Drass, from a little room in the semi-abandoned tourist bungalow in Drass.

The story of victory and defeat and possession and the lack of it is all here in this cold, unlit room. The great victories are framed in this room’s window. Last summer’s trophies are arranged left to right, as if posing for an album picture: Tiger Hill, Tololing, Peak 5140 and Peak 4950.

The defeat lies scripted in the weather-beaten bungalow register where all visitors must make entries at arrival and departure. There are few Indians listed in this voluminous register; and it is not as if it is replete with names from far and away. Foreigners don’t often come to Drass and if they do it is only on their way to Kargil and Leh and back. Most entries in this book are of names that prefer to call themselves Kashmiri — Nationality: Kashmiri. These people, those who choose to call their nationality Kashmiri, are not terrorists or militants or hardcore Pakistan sympathisers, mind you, most of them are officials in the employ of the state government — engineers, block development officers, members of boards and corporations, government-affiliated contractors, clerks, court officials, policemen, the kind of people you would find anywhere and everywhere. But they are loathe to call themselves Indians.

Each one of them, column after column, page after page is a Kashmiri as opposed to an Indian. Why is a question that is key to achieving that other, greater, victory in Kashmir, over its heart and soul. This is not a question that will be resolved by subsidies and grants, which, in any case, rarely filter down to the people of Kashmir. This is not a question that will get resolved by lipservicing Kashmir’s beauty — puerile and rather perverse slogans like “India is a bouquet, Kashmir a rose in it” emblazoned everywhere.

This is not a question that will be resolved by breastbeating about export of terror in international forums or by repetition of lies about the return to normalcy.

What is normal in Kashmir? In the heart of Srinagar town, army garrisons are hemmed by concertina fences on which hang live grenades; disturb the fencing and the grenades will blow in your face. The grenades are meant as protection against terrorist attacks but any child could go and playfully shake the fence, any old person could collapse against it.

The security forces live within walls and fences and bulletproof sheeting; the people they are meant to protect are left to themselves. They are harassed for food and money and more by the officially patronised surrendered militants, they cower in fear of pro-Pakistan militants who are everywhere and who are striking at will. A minister one day, the Assembly building another. That is the normalcy of Kashmir.

The question will also not get resolved by talking to the Hurriyat. Who are they? And where do they get their sustenance from? They are placards being waved by hands from across the border; the moment they try talking with New Delhi, they will be shredded and another placard will be up.

If the talk of talks with the Hurriyat is New Delhi’s way of discrediting them, then another question must bob up to the surface: then what? Where and how do they establish bridges with the common people of Kashmir and ask them why is it that they don’t like calling themselves Indian? Ask them what is it that they want?

At the moment the only talking in Kashmir is being done by the gun. Which is perhaps why slogans of “Mera Bharat Mahan” are painted only on paramilitary bunkers and need to be guarded all the time from hands that will grab the first opportunity to obliterate them.

Perhaps the question needs to be asked why Kashmiri hands want to wipe those slogans and not paint them. And why this register in Drass says what it does.    


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