Editorial/ Close of play
To chase a crooked shadow
People/ Jitendra Prasada
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

A lament for cricket has to be accompanied by a hurrah for the Central Bureau of Investigation. For once the CBI is spot on. It has worked fast, efficiently and with minimum fuss to collect evidence against those cricketers who are implicated in matchfixing and taking money from bookies. It has also been able to nail the leading bookies who masterminded the operation. The evidence gathered by the CBI may not be enough to have the players and the bookies convicted in a court of law but it is enough to damn their public image. The CBI has also suggested questions about the way cricket is organized and regulated across the globe. It is clear from what the CBI report says that there are enough grounds to believe that many members of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the International Cricket Councils were aware of the nexus between bookies and players and also had more than an inkling about matches being fixed. Yet they took no steps to probe the matter or to take precautionary steps. On the contrary, in the one case in which they had substantive evidence, cricket officials conspired to let off Mark Waugh and Shane Warne with what can only be described as a very light punishment. This attitude itself needs to be investigated. There might be more here than meets the eye.

By way of obiter dicta, the CBI has complained against the impact of globalization and market forces on the game of cricket. This is somewhat irrelevant to what the CBI set out to investigate. The CBI must, if it has to improve its image and efficiency, distinguish itself from the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Ideological fulminations have no place in a fact-based investigation. There is something quaint about believing that the pursuit of money is by itself an evil thing. In any profession — and cricketers today are nothing other than professionals — there are certain enabling conditions for the making of money. A transgression of these conditions is considered to be a violation of the ethical norms of that profession. Thus for a cricketer playing to the best of his abilities is a necessary condition since that is what he is paid to do. When he does not do so in return for pecuniary benefits it is considered an unethical act. Nobody in his right mind objects to a cricketer being well paid or to his earnings via endorsements, sponsorships and advertisements. Mohammad Azharuddin and his ilk have pursued Mammon without any limits. They have violated all norms of decency. In fact, they have broken a professional code. It is this that is objectionable. This has been possible because cricket still inhabits that no-man’s world betweenfeudal privileges and modern professionalism. If indeed, cricket becomes truly professional — and the forces of globalization will force the game along that path — the codes will be more clarified and so will the punishments for breaching them.

The absence of professionalism and the failure to take action against the guilty cricketers are thus linked. The BCCI is still run like a fiefdom. There is very little transparency and it is infested with vested interests. If the Delhi police had not accidentally intercepted Hansie Cronje’s telephone calls, the betting and matchfixing scandal would not have taken the turn it did. The BCCI would have continued to temporize and thus destroy the game. The CBI gives both the BCCI and the ICC a chance to clean up the game. The guilty and those who are under suspicion should be kept away from the game. Any attempt to protect individuals because of their talents and their positions will further affect the game. Cricket is above individuals. Cricketers have already been shown enough indulgence. Cricket officials should look into their own back gardens for weeds and into their closets for skeletons. Cricket has ent- ered that amoral desert where values are irrelevant. Nothing will grow in this aridity. What is worse, in public perception, no player appears to be an oasis of integrity.    


“Pah, pah. Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination.’’ King Lear

The former Australian captain, Richie Benaud, has the good fortune of remembering his first view of a first class cricket match. My memory of my first visit to Eden Gardens is lost in the mists of my childhood. One of my earliest memories is that of my father telling me stories of Victor Trumper to keep me awake at dinner time. Trumper became a childhood hero and has remained one. From those stories about Trumper’s genius, his kindness, his humanity and the grace of his batting — the last quality confirmed by that unforgettable photograph of his glorious straight drive — I came to associate cricket, in my own boyish and starry-eyed way, with all that was good, noble and worthwhile.

Growing up in a household where cricket talk was incessant, through some inexplicable cultural and intellectual osmosis, even without my ever realizing it, cricket came to occupy large acres of my sensibilities and my mental space. I devoured my father’s massive cricket library, discussed and argued with him, had a dab at the game in school, college and on the Maidan and watched it at Eden Gardens, on the Maidan and in grounds across England. By the time I was a young man, cricket had become a part of my identity.

I lost that identity the day, in April 2000, the former South African captain, Hansie Cronje, admitted that he had taken money from bookies to fix matches and he had encouraged other players to do the same. I remember that something important went out of my life that day and since then I haven’t switched on the television to watch a cricket match. I am suffering from the pangs of betrayal.

The report of the Central Bureau of Investigation in India has not helped my condition. But it has not come as a complete surprise. It has only confirmed my worst fears. The report is nothing short of devastating. It indicts an Indian captain and four other players for taking money from bookies to fix matches and to pass on vital information which could influence betting odds. It points the gun of suspicion at a number of foreign players among whom there are three who captained their respective national sides. The report unveils an elaborate network of bookies and mafia dons who had spread their tentacles into players’ dressing rooms. It rips the masks off players who in the guise of being sportsmen sold, without a qualm, their own and their country’s dignity. Richie Benaud has called them “bastards’’. One cannot hope to improve on his choice of epithets.

In 1932-33, during the Bodyline series between Australia and England, the Aussie captain, Bill Woodfull, told the English manager, Pelham Warner, “There are two teams out there on the oval. One is playing cricket, the other is not. This game is too good to be spoilt. It is time some people got out of it.’’ This comment precipitated a crisis in the cricketing world. But compared to what has been revealed now, the Bodyline crisis was child’s play. It is clear that a large number of players, irrespective of country, have not been playing cricket. One cannot also avoid the impression that players and officials not directly implicated in matchfixing and taking bribes from bookies were aware of what was going on and preferred, for reasons and motives one can only guess at, to remain silent. They were complicit through their silence. Woodfull’s injunction — “It is time some people got out of it’’ — might mean under the present circumstances a cleaning of the Augean stables. In 1932, it could be said with a degree of confidence that “the game is too good to be spoilt’’. Today, the game is already spoilt and spoilt rotten. Purification is impossible through half measures.

It is significant, that the former colonies of Great Britain, especially South Africa and India, have taken concrete steps to enquire into the betting and match fixing scandals. Neither England nor Australia has moved in this direction. In fact, they have tried to soft pedal and cover up. The International Cricket Council is yet to announce what punitive action should be taken against the guilty. It is important to recall that this same august body, despite conclusive evidence against Shane Warne and Mark Waugh (evidence which the Australian Cricket Board tried to suppress), let the players off with nominal fines.

Cricket officialdom is taking recourse to legal niceties. Is the evidence enough? Is it too circumstantial? And so on. The matter is more than legal. There is an ethical point involved. Here were players who had been paid to play and win; in practice they had done the exact opposite. Millions of players had paid good money to watch them perform in the expectation they would be sincere and good sportsmen when in reality they were no more than petty crooks trying to get rich quick. They toyed with that most precious of human emotions, trust.

In India, and elsewhere too, there are no laws against fixing matches and taking money from bookies. When laws were made, nobody conceived that such things were possible. The players can be nabbed for not paying legitimate taxes on their earnings. Is that enough for people who sold their country’s honour and the goodwill of a game for monetary gain?

The answer is an obvious no. So how can they be punished if the corpus of evidence is not enough to convict them in a court of law? This is a case where one has to look outside the realm of the rule of law. In India, at least, there existed — and may be still does in the rural world — such modes of punishment. The guilty should be made targets of an orchestrated social boycott. A person like Azharuddin should be barred from entering all establishments which carry the sign “rights of admission reserved’’. This will keep him out of hotels, restaurants, clubs, etc. Shops should refuse to sell him their products. This will be a modern equivalent of the traditional naudhobi bandh.

Someone like Azharuddin has indeed committed a crime against the entire community and, given the popularity of cricket in India, against the nation. The punishment against him should come from the entire community and not be confined to the niceties of the legal process. This might sound harsh but one has to keep in mind the enormity of what he and his ilk have done.

Whatever the punishment, it may not serve to redeem cricket. The game will never be the same. The days of innocence have been gobbled up by sponsors and Sodom. All over the cricketing world beastly people have made our time and the game we loved into nothing.

It is difficult to comprehend how memories affect one in middle age. For days, the past is an inert record of past events, long forgotten. Then suddenly, the past explodes inside one with a palpable emotional force — in the image of the Parks in Oxford on a crisp May morning and the recollection of the ball hitting the willow and the sound of church bells in the background, in the image of Gary Sobers poised after the finish of a cover drive. One is astonished to find oneself with tears on one’s cheeks while rustling through one’s cricket books.

What can bookies and punters, who have never loved cricket, understand of such sentiments?    


When turns

Jitibabu — let’s just say it right at the beginning — oozes style. A gold Cross is tucked discreetly away into a pocket of his understated black-and-white checked Fab India jacket. And his bass voice, quite like the baritone of some of those strong character-actors of old Hindi films, conjures up a picture of a benevolent, aristocratic landlord. He stands amidst a motley crowd at his New Delhi residence, a little stooped, but a picture of quiet dignity.

“That’s a nice jacket,” someone tells him. “You’ve been wearing these great jackets every day. What’s up?” Jitendra Prasada — grim all this while — smiles. “When you are going to become the President of the Congress, you must dress accordingly,” he replies.

Prasada, like everybody else in the Congress, knows that’s not going to happen. The MP from Shahjahanapur, who announced his decision to contest for the post of the party president on Sunday, is not going to defeat Sonia Gandhi — the party structure is too leader-centric to let that happen. But Prasada, clearly, has stirred up a storm in his moribund party by raising a finger at Gandhi’s coterie, led by former minister Arjun Singh. “This is a battle between coteries and grassroot Congress workers,” says Prasada.

It’s not just Sonia campers who point out that as long as Prasada was in a caucus himself, coteries didn’t seem to bother him much. Many hold that the fight, on paper, may be all about the party losing sight of its principles, and the consequent neglect of the humble worker. But for Prasada, that humble worker is Prasada himself.

Ever since Sonia Gandhi replaced him as the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Prasada was waiting patiently for a party post or responsibility. When that didn’t happen, Prasada decided to stand up and be counted. The battle for the president’s post was one way of fighting back. “He is a quiet and reserved man, almost shy,” says a friend. “But when he gets angry, there is no stopping him.”

There have been other battles for the post of the president of the Congress in recent years, but Prasada’s case is different. Though Sonia loyalists hint that the BJP is behind Prasada’s campaign, and that a great deal of money is going to be spent to influence people, few really believe that. For one, Prasada has not just been a loyal Congressman, his impeccable background — and everyone knows this matters in the Congress — also reflects a largely secular, multi-cultural approach that once typified the Congress.

His grandfather was a deputy commissioner and his grandmother, Purnima Devi, was a niece of Rabindranath Tagore and an early reformist. Their marriage, one of the first prominent inter-provincial weddings, was the talk of the town in the early 1900s. Prasada’s mother, a Sikh, came from Kapurthala and his father was a Congressman close to former UP chief minister G.B. Pant. Prasada himself married a Thakur from Himachal Pradesh with old money and political connections. His house in Shahjahanapur — called Prasada Bhawan — is an ancient haveli stuffed with some beautiful furniture and old oils. And Prasada, a great host and a gourmet himself, experiments with different kinds of meats, mostly roasts, and serves them to visitors who drop in at the oddest of hours.

Prasada came into politics after the death of his father. He became a member of the UP Legislative Council in 1970 and was then elected to Lok Sabha in 1971. When a good number of old Congressmen left Indira Gandhi for the Syndicate, H.N. Bahuguna tried to bring in some young people to give a boost to the party. Among them were Prasada and Mickey Mian — the erstwhile ruler of Rampur, whose widow, Noor Begum, is one of Prasada’s main lieutenants.

But it was Rajiv Gandhi who turned Prasada into an effective backroom boy. When Gandhi had just taken over as Prime Minister, he told a friend that Jitibabu — as Prasada is generally known — was one of his few trustworthy advisers. “Others start to throw their weight around the moment they start working with me,” he had said. Prasada — once in Rajiv Gandhi’s own coterie — was the political secretary to the Congress president, a post he continued to hold even after P.V. Narasimha Rao took over as party president.

Legend has it that it was during this period that Prasada had his first falling out with Sonia Gandhi. One of Gandhi’s close aides went to him and suggested that he keep Sonia informed about all that was happening in the Rao camp. “But Prasada wouldn’t do that. He told Sonia that if she wanted him to resign, he would do so. But as long as he held the post of Rao’s adviser, he wouldn’t stab him in the back,” says the friend.

Prasada got along with Rao, and when he was sent to Uttar Pradesh it was thought that he would be able to revive the dying party in the state. But the two had their differences over Ayodhya. And when a section of party leaders sat down together to oust Rao with Kesri, it was Prasada who was in the forefront of the campaign.

And when Kesri had to be removed, it was again Prasada who went to 10 Janpath to persuade Sonia Gandhi to attend the CWC meeting that drew her into politics. When Prasada decided to contest the party president’s post late last month, his friends were quick to point this out to him. “Sonia Gandhi was needed then,” Prasada is said to have replied. “But now, we need a different thrust.”

Had Rajesh Pilot been alive, the Gujjar MP from Dausa would have, no doubt, been in Prasada’s shoes. A senior Congress leader maintains that before Pilot died in an accident, the dissidents had decided that he would fight Sonia Gandhi, with the support of two former Congress presidents, Rao and Kesri, and the backing of Prasada. But the death of Pilot and Kesri and the conviction of Rao brought the house of cards down. Finally, it was left upon Prasada to carry on the battle.

For Prasada, this is just the first step. The 62-year-old agriculturist (he did his graduation in agriculture) knows the land needs to be tilled well before it bears fruit. “Prasada will lose this election,” says an associate, “but he won’t be a loser.”    


That’s what friends are for

No doubts that this man is reasonably steady, although it is not known, not as yet, if he is slow as well. Ajit Jogi, nevertheless, has won the race for the chief ministership of new born Chhattisgarh and left a trail of badly beaten CMs and former CMs licking their wounds. Jogi joins the distinguished band of party spokespersons who have made it big. Yashwant Sinha was BJP spokesman till he answered his calling of the rollback finance minister. Sushma Swaraj, M Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley have all proved how speaking well improves political fortunes remarkably. However, the only person Jogi for now has been speaking well of is Digvijay Singh. Not only has Diggy kept his word to madam with regard to ensuring Jogi’s election as the Congress legislative party leader, he has extended “moral support” to a dazed Jogi and also suffered the brickbats that came with it. Diggy and Jogi have known each other since their mechanical engineering days. The distance grew as Diggy marched ahead in politics and Jogi often targeted him on behalf of one or the other regional satrap. But it was this playmate who shielded Jogi that day from the venom of VC Shukla. Little wonder Jogi is so taken with Diggy. “He’s a true raja”, Jogi says of him. When the press reminds him of his earlier charges against Digvijay in a De Beers diamond deal, Jogi answers blissfully, “I have never levelled any allegation against him.” A friend in deed.

Try undoing family ties

No friendly allusions here. There cannot be if you remember the bitterness of the Indira Gandhi-Maneka Gandhi rift. Just when 10 Janpath was close to believing Jitendra Prasada is the chief of its troubles, another figure loomed large on its doorstep. This one is of Feroze Varun Gandhi, monkey lover Maneka’s son, who is almost itching to take on the other claimants of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. Varun was there at Shakti Sthal, the samadhi of Indira Gandhi on October 31, her death anniversary. He came without an invitation. Delhi’s chief minister, Sheila Dixit, was there and gave him a cold look, making no effort to help the young Gandhi around the place. Aunt Sonia was also there, but Varun made no attempt to pay her his respects. Madam stood glancing at him through the corner of her eye. Varun later gave a TV interview claiming he is the true waris of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy. The incident has sparked off another tussle. Sonia baiters feel the behaviour of Dixit and Sonia was shameful, while others blame Varun for being disrespectful. But it’s the youth workers at the samadhi who shouted “Varun Gandhi zindabad” that have the rough end of the stick. Their chief, R Surjewala, even touched Varun’s feet. Move over Prasada. It’s young blood calling.

Gift horse in the mouth

Bengal’s inimitable didi has a high pinion of herself. She thinks she is an ass — gadhi — as she puts it. Mamata Banerjee would have us believe that she is such a simpleton that anyone can make a fool of her. That is one realization that dawned on her in a recent incident. Didi got a large sum of money as royalty for her books from publishers. As is her wont, she decided on some charity, donating a part of that money to a person who needed it for his education. She didn’t know that this was an open invitation for IT sleuths to come knocking on her door. Didi was made to pay 25 per cent gift tax on the money she gave away. She told journalists later, “If I had gone through an NGO, I would not have had to pay the gift tax.” Never mind, there is always the next time. By the by, is it that didi recognizes herself better than all of us?

Who’ll take the crores?

Viewers might be answering the Sawal Dus Crore Ka and many writing it off as a poor imitation of Kaun Banega Crorepati. But the person who already has the answer is the showpiece of the show — Manisha Koirala. The Ilu Ilu girl has allegedly pocketed eight crore rupees as show fee in advance. Now if the programme fails to help Zee TV climb up the viewership ratings, it is the management’s problem and probably that of Anupam Kher, who tries to give Zee’s answer to Big B. Manisha’s film career is on the decline with a series of flops since Agnisakshi and Mann. The eight crore rupee deal is not too bad for her. Koirala apparently has also been demanding a new wardrobe and hopes to show more than her pretty painted face in the evenings, and probably steal the show from Kher. The producer however is not too sure about Koirala’s plan. It is a family show after all and the “extra bit” might get it into trouble. Think again Zee. That bit might well become what will push KBC to the wall.

Footnote/ Where have the minorities gone?

Calcutta sends back another dejected visitor. The Union minister of state for human resources development, Shahnawaz Hussain, was here to woo Muslim leaders to his party fold. He, along with the West Bengal BJP vice-president, Muzaffar Khan, spent the entire day at the party’s central Calcutta office waiting earnestly for some of the leaders to turn up. But till late afternoon not one of those with whom previous appointments had been made, had come calling. Stung by this snub, Hussain decided to return to New Delhi immediately, cancelling his scheduled press conference at the Press Club. An embarrassed Khan apparently asked his mentor and Union minister of state for communications, Tapan Sikdar, to prevail on Hussain. The latter relented. But when scribes cornered Hussain with questions on his meeting with minority leaders, he turned pale. Hussain went back to Delhi a disheartened man. The state BJP unit has taken the matter seriously and is sending out feelers to those sidelined in other parties to increase its support base. But shouldn’t the BJP ask itself why it is such a scare?    


Learning to count

In “China begins nationwide census” (Nov 2), Sarah Cheung describes how a six million strong army of census personnel has been recently deployed. The Chinese government reckons that China has a population of 1.26 billion and it wants to find out if it can remain within the target of 1.3 billion people till the end of this year. Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund claims that the figure is higher. China is, however, sending out its own team for the study. Why can’t India learn a lesson from this? It can set such targets and then ensure that the population is growing at the estimated rate. If China can do it, why can’t we?
Yours faithfully,
Mayuk Banerjee, via email

Last disrespect

Sir — A prime minister has been convicted for bribing to save his government. The judiciary has done its duty. Nothing to beat the drum about really. When the ship sinks, the rats are the first to run away. P.V. Narasimha Rao’s century old party has done a similar act. It is a shame that the Congress, ravaged by internal strife, unsure of its standing, did not even have a kind word for its former prime minister, who is the last to have survived for five years at a stretch. In those five years, Rao brought in such vast changes in the economic front that the governments that followed were forced to keep to the structure that he set up.

Among today’s politicians, Rao still overshadows the rest in his intellect, experience and diplomacy. The Congress must at least show some respect for its leader.

Yours faithfully,
B. Roy Chowdhury, Calcutta

Sir — That the Congress has not shown much support for P.V. Narasimha Rao is probably because the former prime minister is no longer in the coterie that surround the president of the party. Rao had dissociated himself from active party matters for a long time, concentrating on welfare activities in his home state. Had Rao remained an advisor and admirer of Sonia Gandhi, he would not have had to face the political wilderness.

Yours faithfully,
S. Dutta, Calcutta

After the fall

Sir — Why is everyone surprised at the Indian cricket team’s humiliating loss in Sharjah on October 29? One can think of a variety of reasons for this loss. First, of course, is that team may have been bribed. This is entirely conceivable given the recent hideous revelations. It might have even been threatened by the mafia. The ball used by the Sri Lankan bowlers might have been tampered with. The Indian team might not have rested the night before the match and engaged in the general merry-making that they tend to do during their tours. Anything can happen in cricket nowadays. These players should actually be tested before and after the matches. They should be checked for the alcohol content in their bodies. The Indian sports minister should start the investigations soon.
Yours faithfully,
Ashok T. Jaisinghani, Pune

Sir — To say that the Sri Lankan team was a better team in the finals of the Coca Cola Cup is simply not good enough. But the young players that the last two tournaments have brought forth look destined to make the Indian tricolour fly high in the international cricket arena again.

Yours sincerely,
J. Liao, via email

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