Editorial / In dubious battle
God’s eye view of cricket
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / IN DUBIOUS BATTLE 
 
 
 
 
Honey traps are not uncommon in intelligence gathering. Now it is clear that it has entered the realm of news gathering. Cheque book journalism is yielding place to what, for the lack of a better term, can be called call girl journalism. The world’s oldest profession has now come to the aid of the fourth estate. The second tranche of Tehelka revelations has made these things obvious. After what had been revealed about India’s defence establishment when Tehelka first became headline news, it will surprise nobody that prostitutes were linked to defence deals. There can hardly be any doubt that Tehelka with its exposures about corruption had rendered some service to the nation. The government’s response to the charges contained in the Tehelka tapes has not succeeded in restoring confidence among the armed forces. There still lurks the suspicion among young officers and jawans that they are being let down by the shenanigans of the military top brass and by politicians who handle the defence ministry. The recent revelations will only extend those suspicions and make morale plummet further.

If the latest edition of defence scandals from Tehelka has not been received by the same kind of acclaim, it is because of the methods used by it. To be honest, there was always a question mark over the means deployed by Tehelka. Photographing people or taping them without their knowledge is not something that can be accepted either legally or ethically. This time round, the actions of the Tehelka reporters are even more indefensible. They set out to trap the army officers who, being human, succumbed to the lures of the flesh. The argument that all this was done for the national cause cannot be accepted because journalists cannot be beyond the rule of law. The Tehelka correspondents, by bringing in prostitutes, had trodden on dangerous terrain. It would appear that Tehelka was conscious of the ambiguity of its own actions.

All this, of course, does not absolve the military establishment of its involvement in shady deals. The army officers or members of the political class have no moral ground to point to the ethical transgressions committed by Tehelka. Some members of the defence establishment, or at least some sections of it, have been nabbed with their hands in the till, and there is no way they can wriggle out of this. Similarly, Indian politicians have earned for themselves the reputation of being moral cripples and are thus in no position to cast stones at others. It can be said, that Tehelka has used immoral means to unearth immoral acts. Such a position only bypasses the issue of ends and means and leads to moral chaos. Such is the moral vacuum prevailing in Indian public life that there are no winners emerging out of the Tehelka revelations. The so-called heroes have been tainted by the despicable behaviour of the villains. It is ironic that Tehelka through its own actions has successfully underlined the moral precariousness of a no-holds-barred campaign against corruption in public life. Corruption exists and it needs to be eradicated. But this cannot be achieved by adopting dubious means.

   

 
 
GOD’S EYE VIEW OF CRICKET 
 
 
BY MUKUL KESAVAN
 
 
The responses to Don Bradman’s dream team have been fascinating. Sunil Gavaskar made a statement saying that he didn’t believe Bradman had chosen such a team because, in Gavaskar’s opinion, a man who had shunned controversy in life would scarcely have wanted to stir it up posthumously. Everyone, from the Indian press to the curator of the Bradman museum in Australia assumed that Gavaskar was sore at being left out. Gavaskar explained that he had made that comment before the final XI was announced, so it wasn’t pique, just an honest opinion.

Whether Gavaskar’s reading of Bradman’s character is right or wrong and whether the list is genuinely Bradman’s or not, it’s worth remembering that when the text of a letter, purportedly written by Bradman, criticizing Australian umpires for no-balling Muralitharan, was made public, Bradman’s family had protested, saying that these posthumous revelations were unauthorized. Knowing this, it was a fair assumption on Gavaskar’s part that this new revelation from the grave was as dodgy as the first one, probably a marketing ploy to sell a book.

The idea that Gavaskar would react like this out of pique is daft. Not because Gavaskar is above petty competitiveness or any reason as lofty like that. Gavaskar was a great batsman and suffers as little from false humility as Bradman did. But like Bradman, Gavaskar tends his aura vigilantly. In fact, had Gavaskar felt badly about being left out of the final XI, he would have done everything possible to mask that reaction because to betray heartburn would be to diminish himself in the public eye.

Gavaskar is circumspect in his public utterances; it’s a characteristic which makes him a bland, even boring television commentator. Even when he offers provocation, it’s carefully pre-meditated. For example, on India’s last tour of Australia, Gavaskar was doing commentary as part of the Channel 9 team. Channel 9’s commentary was telecast all over Australia and the rest of the world but at the end of the day Gavaskar did special telecasts beamed only to India. His criticisms of Australian umpiring (which was atrocious) were vigorous, but typically, they were voiced only on the special broadcasts to India, never in the course of Channel 9 commentary.

I believe Gavaskar when he says that he was reacting to the larger list not the final team. If he had known about Bradman’s final XI, my guess would be that he wouldn’t have said anything at all, because Tendulkar is something of a protégé and Gavaskar wouldn’t want to be seen raining on his parade.

There was another great opening batsman, a contemporary of Gavaskar’s, who was tip-toeing with delight after Bradman’s team was announced. Barry Richards was on television commentating on the India-Sri Lanka test series when he was asked how he felt about being named by Bradman as one of his two opening batsman. It was lovely to see how delighted this grizzled veteran was; it was also poignant because to be picked by Bradman as one of his immortals was some compensation for all the tests he had never played.

My guess is that the team was, in fact, chosen by Bradman because I can’t imagine a forger putting together such a lopsided and idiosyncratic side. Anyone faking a Bradman XI would have to put together a more plausible one. I mean, which faker would have the nerve to choose a side with four specialist batsmen (one of whom has played all of four tests) and a wicketkeeper averaging under twenty runs an innings! It would take the absolute self-assurance of Bradman to assemble a side based, so far as anyone can see, on just two principles, familiarity (all the Australians he chose had played in teams he had captained) and, in the case of Tendulkar, similarity, that is Bradman’s conviction that Tendulkar’s style and technique resembled his own.

What is interesting about our reaction to Bradman’s team is the conviction that he got it wrong, that he should have had Gavaskar or Weekes or Headley or Hobbs in the team. This makes sense only if we assume that Bradman was doing a selection based on a god’s-eye view of test cricket since its inception. He wasn’t; he was making a selection from the players he knew best, players he had watched a lot of, players he had an opinion about, players who had strummed some chord of delight in his cricketing soul.

Think of his team as you would think of a literary anthology. All anthologies make a token attempt to be representative and all anthologies (all the good ones, anyway) represent, in the end, the tastes of the anthologist. This is as it should be, because the reason we attend to Bradman’s team is because we admire Bradman and are interested in his opinions. If we wanted a team based on a dozen parameters of fairness (like the list of the hundred best test centuries in the history of the game) we’d feed the statistics into a machine and print out the results instead of badgering Bradman for his opinions.

What Bradman’s team teaches us is the importance of respecting our own experience. If Gavaskar was asked to name an eleven, he would, of course, survey the history of test cricket, but I’d like to think that he would trust his feelings, his prejudices if you like, and pick eleven players who had thrilled him. Bradman would be one of them (there are some statistics no one can ignore) but, inevitably, most of them would be his peers, men he had played with or against, men whose talents he had admired from close up, men who had stocked his mind with first-hand memories...

Bradman’s team is important because it teaches us the virtues of nostalgia and memory. In its partiality and subjectiveness it reminds us that people who weigh their memories of cricket against some imaginary consensus, some abstract yardstick of fairness, some computer-generated model of the complete cricketer, would be better off watching baseball. For what it’s worth, my all-time team would certainly have Gavaskar opening and, if I felt opinionated enough that day, Vishwanath would waddle in, two wickets down.

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THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Twist in the tale

What was the need for a sequel to the Tehelka Twister? If the Raisina Hills grapevine is to be believed, it is because George the Fernandes prayed for it. Quite natural. With the Venkataswami commission having been bitten by the same tsetse fly that habitually bites other commissions as well, the proceedings that could have led to George’s return to the defence ministry would invariably get stretched beyond months, and then years. The beleaguered Samata Party couldn’t take it, much less George, who is gradually being reduced to a Lilliputian, figuratively, by the power struggle within the party. But will this twister hit old man PM hard enough? Unlikely. AB Vajpayee seems to be enjoying every bit of Samata’s discomfitures, the first storm having passed. For one, he is in no hurry to expand his council of ministers. And didi, much tamed, has already resigned herself to a six month cooling period. After the monsoon session in Parliament, there will be the pitripaksh, inauspicious for momentous doings. Then Vajpayee will be off to the UN general assembly. Then will follow the ajimash, another period till Dussehra, when nothing significant can be done. Looks like both George and Mamata will have to hold on to the PM’s kurta for a considerable time, twister or no twister.

Come, join the party

Another twist to the tale. Mamata Banerjee might be back where she had been wanting to be, but she hasn’t forgotten her priorities. This was evident when didi rushed to meet Saifuddin Chowdhury of the PDS during one of his rare appearances in Parliament. With extended hands she allegedly said, “Sofida chole ashun. Ki korben eka (Come to us. What will you do alone)?” With a wan smile Sofida responded, “But you are with the NDA.” Didi retorted with a “Arre na baba,” and added that she might be with the NDA at the Centre, but in Bengal she was alone. Distrustful as usual, Saifuddin’s answer was, “If you do anything in Bengal, let me know. I will decide then.” Old habits die hard.

Meet to relax

Also a matter of habit. The BJP chief, Jana Krishnamurthy, seems to have lost his cool without much reason. At the BJP state executive committee meet at Digha, members were found to be relaxing. They were more interested in the sea, the resort, fishing and the beach than the meeting. Krishnamurthy hit the ceiling when he found members sauntering into the meeting late and members having to be summoned to the venue from the beach. He gave the organizers, Asim Ghosh and Muzaffar Alam, a piece of his mind and hurt them where it hurt most. Krishnamurthy asked them to follow the example of didi, whom he found deftly guiding the Trinamool despite her defeat at the assembly polls. But will the Bengal BJP unit follow this leader?

Seeds for the souls

The Uttar Pradesh poll fever is creating peculiar complications among people who are in the fray. The Union communications minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, is reportedly touring the state, offering free telephones to all those who can afford it, particularly to journalists at the district level. Paswan’s lolly has been bothering the Union agriculture minister, Ajit Singh. Ajit, who considers himself to be no small fry in the UP political scenario, is unhappy because his agriculture ministry has nothing as delightful as free telephony to offer to people who matter. Ajitbhai, however, has hit upon a unique idea. His cronies are supposed to be calling up scribes now and offering them seeds of high quality, free of any charge. Let’s hope Singh finds takers for his sackfuls.

Giving them the rope to hang

If other parties are pitching in with all they have for the fight at the UP hustings, the Congress seems to be peculiarly unconcerned. Sonia Gandhi is hardly ever present at UP Congress programmes. Recently, the UP Congress committee organized a dharna in Lucknow outside the governor’s house. AICC general secretary, Ghulam Nabi Azad, told reporters that they would not move an inch unless their memorandum was accepted. Late in the afternoon, when the Raj Bhavan gates opened, the governor’s secretary demanded a copy of the memorandum that was to reach the governor. Azad turned to Sri Prakash Jaiswal for a copy. But Jaiswal only mumbled. There was nothing in writing. Azad was aghast. The UPCC then gave a verbal memo to the secretary. But Sonia was not the only one to give the demonstration a miss. Veteran leader ND Tiwari was alleged to be seen boarding a flight to Delhi while Congresswallahs assembled at Lucknow. No major troubles for small gains, and even smaller votecounts.

In the list of losers

It is not only in connection with KN Govindacharya that Uma Bharti has taken a beating. From the mess the Afro-Asian games are in, she might take a beating in connection with her decisions as well. The Indian Olympic Association president, Suresh Kalmadi, has, without much argument, passed over the marketing rights of the games to the sports ministry. And Bharti accepted them with much gratitude, being misled into believing that IOA would have otherwise made the killing. The sports ministry is now finding it difficult to raise more than Rs 50 lakh by selling the rights which had been estimated at Rs 30 crore. With the hospitality and sundry other expenses, the games would cost around Rs 100 crore. Expensive, given that Indians might not even make it to the winners’ list.

A prize catch

BJP spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra has an anecdote. He was among the first prisoners to be jailed in Tihar, whose foundation he had laid as the chief executive councillor of Delhi, for protesting against the Shimla accord in 1972.

Footnote / Skipping the difficult bit

The most important man in West Bengal is also a lover of cricket, as much a lover of cinema as a lover of foreign literature. He is supposed to keep a tab on the results of important matches even while at important official meetings. Apart from worrying about the fate of the state, he has recently been also worried about the fate of the state of Bengal’s cricket as much as the fate of the star of Bengal cricket, Sourav Ganguly. One of his deputies understood the state of his mind and conveyed the feelings of his boss to the Indian skipper. Ganguly is supposed to have returned the call with a pithy message, “Kaku, Kakima ke bolo amar jonno puja dite (Uncle, ask Aunty to pray to god for me).” The deputy, not-so-happy, not-so-sad, reported the matter to his master, as he does all other things. The boss was definitely not very pleased. “Pujo diye jodi run pete hoi, ta hole to hoye gelo (If praying is thought to be enough to score runs, then it sounds like the end).” Maybe. The most important man of Bengal might prove to be a soothsayer for Ganguly. Will he be as correct while predicting the future of the state?    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Of war and other demons

Sir — The refusal by the taliban authorities to permit the diplomats of the United States, Australia, and Germany to gain access to the detained foreign aid workers has worsened the ties between the Western powers and Afghanistan’s purist Islamic government (“Kabul ties threatened: Washington”, Aug 18). This will adversely affect the war-torn country, which is already facing sanctions from the United Nation’s security council. The act not only violates human rights also reflects the religious fundamentalism that the taliban have come to symbolize. One fears that the impasse may escalate into another Kuwait war, thus destroying all chances of establishing peace in the land.

Yours faithfully,
Sarbajaya Bhattacharya, Calcutta

First boy last

Sir — The murder of Sailen Das, the Dum Dum municipality chairman, in broad daylight speaks ill of the state of law and order in West Bengal (“CPM leader shot dead at doorstep”, Aug 14). The recent kidnapping of the vice-chairman of Khadim and the gunning down of a company secretary, Nawaz Wadia, only mocks the tall claims made by the chief minister that the state is an oasis of peace.

The nexus between politicians and the underworld came to light blatantly when anti-social elements were found staying within the precincts of the Salt Lake stadium, which house the office of the state sports minister, Subhas Chakraborty.

The chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, is in charge of the home (police) ministry, and should shoulder the responsibility for the dismal state of affairs. The state commerce and industry minister, Nirupam Sen, who is trying hard to attract investors to West Bengal, must keep in mind that unless the present lawlessness is dealt with, his attempts will prove futile.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — After the brutal murder of the Dum Dum civic body chief, Sailen Das, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee proclaimed the state “still the first boy in the class” when comparing the state’s law and order with that of other states. Did he mean that the serial position was to be counted backwards?

Yours faithfully,
P.K. Chakraborty, Calcutta

Sir — The murder of Sailen Das raises several questions. He was a well known singer of Rabindrasangeet and a celebrity in his own right. It has become fashionable for all political parties, particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist), to include renowned names among their ranks to win the votes of the middle class. But the political scenario has ceased to be friendly to such people, as the family and well-wishers of Das have found out rather brutally.

The developments following the murder have exposed the nexus between unscrupulous promoters and CPI(M) leaders. Little hope remains for any improvement in the state’s law and order.

Yours faithfully,
Dhrubajyoti Ray, Mankundu

Web of support

Sir — Sunando Sarkar’s report, “Bankura cyber seven beats WB govt” (Aug 20) has given all of us at www.bankura.org and SOFIA tremendous encouragement. However, developing a website for a remote district like Bankura is not to compete with the government, but an example of nongovernmental effort. Although in developing the site, we didn’t solicit any help from the government, we sought help from all levels to make the effort successful. SOFIA also has faith that the West Bengal government will help the organization in future with administrative, moral and economic support.

The objectives behind launching the website on Bankura were to abolish misconceptions about the district, promote its cultural heritage, crafts, tourism and so on, and to create a platform for strategic planning to develop and utilize the available human, cultural and natural resources.

We are also thinking of trying to resist economic exploitation of the people, especially of folk artisans. We are grateful to several bureaucrats, ministers and well-wishers, who have helped us with information and cooperation. We hope everyone will come forward with suggestions, moral and economic support to make this project a success, so that rural people of developing countries may reap the benefits of information technology.

Yours faithfully,
Anupam Ganguly, Bankura

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