Editorial 1\Valley talk
Editorial 2\All of a peace
Straight off the bat
Letters to the Editor

The announcement that New Delhi had opened up lines of communication with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference reflects changing views on the Kashmir question by almost all the parties concerned. The relationship between the inhabitants of the valley and the Centre is so entangled that no one should expect radical developments, let alone positive ones, from this tentative resumption of talks about talks. Kashmir can be expected to continue to reel under the most intense wave of militancy it has experienced since the mid-Nineties. And the alienation of Kashmiris, only fuelled by incidents like the recent killing of five villagers by security forces in Anantnag, is unlikely to be stemmed in the immediate future, let alone reversed. Nonetheless, New Delhi is doing the right thing in approaching the APHC.

The shifting snows in Kashmir are being blown by several winds. New Delhi recognizes that while Pakistani infiltrated militants have played a major role in the rise of militancy this is not the sole reason. The number of Kashmiri locals joining insurgency groups has started to increase. The Bharatiya Janata Party also believes the rekindling of local support for militancy cannot be contained so long as the National Conference government of Mr Farooq Abdullah remains in power in Srinagar. Unfortunately, until now, there has been no serious alternative ruler for Kashmir. The APHC, for its part, was dealt a major blow during Mr Bill Clinton’s visit to India. Its members have long clung to the hope the international community would one day deliver on its rhetorical commitment on the right of Kashmiri self-rule. The United States president took great pains to avoid terms like “self-determination” or speaking of the need for a Kashmiri solution to take into account the desires of Kashmiris. Mr Clinton’s message: in a nuclearized environment, self-determination must play second fiddle to stability and lowering tensions. Washington is now committed to the status quo in Kashmir. The result has been to push the APHC’s more moderate members to seek some accommodation with India. There is another angle. India is tilting towards talks because it accepts that in a nuclearized environment the present situation in Kashmir is untenable. In the long term this means India must find a solution in Srinagar. If the APHC’s moderates prove amenable, they may yet prove to be the nucleus of a National Conference alternative.

There is much mileage to cover. BJP leaders have already ruled out any return to the pre-1953 status in the state. As an autonomy package is essential to any negotiated settlement, this has already put a huge spoke in the wheel. Two official committees have recently filed reports on autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. New Delhi should exhume these buried proposals to get the debate started. The negotiations will be difficult. For one thing, Pakistan will always cast a pall over the talks. It is not impossible that it will do its best to disturb them — most probably by escalating tensions with India in the valley and along the line of control. The stars, diplomatic and political, are aligning themselves in such a way that a slight window of opportunity is opening up over Kashmir. Such is the debilitating effect of this open sore on the nation that it would be well worth it for New Delhi to pursue its dialogue with the APHC with an open mind.    

The hopes of a ceasefire and subsequent talks with militant outfits in Nagaland had started building up since the visit of the chief minister, Mr S.C. Jamir, to New Delhi last month. Now that the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) has decided to accept the Centre’s offer of a ceasefire, these hopes show signs of maturing. Not that the way to even a low level equilibrium in the state is likely to be smooth. But the willingness of the NSCN(K) is promising, if only because the Centre’s exchanges so far had been chiefly with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). As is usual in the strife riddled states of the Northeast, any particular event can spin off into any direction. While the NSCN(K)’s initiative looks good, the NSCN(I-M)’s response to it remains far from predictable. Mr Jamir has reportedly asked the Centre to involve all the major militant outfits in the talks, that is, the NSCN(K), NSCN(I-M) and the Naga National Council. Discrete or exclusive discussions with one or the other are likely to exacerbate tensions among the different groups and demolish the peace process before it gets off the ground.

While this is by far the most farsighted and sensible thing to do, a plan to bring all underground outfits into the scope of the peace process may not be easy to implement. Inter-group rivalry has been a major threat to peace during the last three years. Killings have continued throughout the period that ceasefire has been operative from the side of the security forces, extending till July for the NSCN(I-M) and April 15 for the NSCN(K). The latter’s decision must be seen in this perspective as a willingness to scale down factional hostility before the unilateral ceasefire expires. The incarceration of Mr T. Muivah has also provided it with an opportunity to improve its image vis a vis the NSCN(I-M). The Naga Hoho, the apex tribal group, has already warned against the possibility of the NSCN(I-M) withdrawing from the peace process if the Nagaland government, perceived as closer to the Khaplang faction, is seen to be active in it. There is no doubt that somebody must take the initiative, and the NSCN(K) has done so. How far this will take the state towards normalcy will depend as much on the NSCN(K) as on the Centre, the state government, and the other disaffected outfits.    

Gambling has always been a part of cricket. This will not shock anybody who knows about the early history of the game. Even today, major bookies have betting shops in cricket grounds. India is different, it is a country with bizarre laws. Betting on horses is allowed but not on cricket matches. All over the world, there are people who get a kick out of putting their money on their favourites, be it a thoroughbred Derby winner or their team or their favourite batsman. It will not be farfetched to say that this is a part of human nature.

By a strange quirk, the association of gambling with cricket is shocking. This is because of the myth that surrounds cricket and many of these myths are self-perpetuating. People like to believe that cricket is a gentleman’s game and gentlemen do not gamble. To believe this is to believe that subalterns and hoi polloi go to Ascot or to the Royal Calcutta Turf Club. Those who believe this kind of thing need to get their minds examined because they live in cloud cuckoo land. Betting on a sporting chance is as much a gentleman’s activity as sipping a whisky in the evening at the club.

Those who remember the leisurely ambience in which cricket was once played in Eden Gardens will remember that after lunch on a Saturday afternoon on New Year’s Day, the seats in front of the old wooden pavilion would be empty as Calcutta’s glitterati went off to the RCTC to see their favourites run. Indeed, in the Maidan lingo, the RCTC was referred to as the bodo math, the big field/arena.

The spate of betting scandals that has recently hit the game of cricket has raised a different kind of problem. It is different because the allegations say that the players themselves are betting on their own performance or on their own team’s performance. The allegations go a step further: players are deliberately playing badly because they are receiving money from the bookies who are then making fortunes because they already know the results.

In horse racing such a thing cannot happen because jockeys and trainers are not allowed to bet; if they do they face heavy punishments including life time bans. Betting in cricket is unregulated because it is assumed that a cricketer — involved as he is in a gentlemanly game — will never stoop to betting or fixing matches.

No regulations exist so when, on rare occasions as in the case of Mark Waugh and Shane Warne, the allegations are proved to be correct no action is taken against the erring players. On the contrary, steps are taken to push such unpleasant facts under the carpet. An ethical problem faces cricket administrators and some clearheaded thinking on their part will get rid of a lot of confusion.

For the cricket lover who is interested in the technical aspects of the game rather than whether his team won or lost, the betting scandals have produced a problem of a different order. Can a game known for its glorious uncertainty be fixed from before? Let us take the case where the most talented batsman in a side, a Sachin Tendulkar or a Mark Waugh or a Sourav Ganguly and so on has received a fortune from a bookie to throw away his wicket. First, if he deliberately gets out it might be evident on the camera given today’s sophisticated equipment.

Second, the dismissal of the key batsman in no way guarantees that other batsmen will also play badly. Mark Waugh’s dismissal might be followed by a hundred by Ricky Ponting or Steve Waugh; an innings by Rahul Dravid or Mohammed Azharuddin might follow the quick exit of Ganguly and Tendulkar. The third alternative is that the opposition might bat even more badly and thus upset the bookies’ applecart.

The bottomline is that cricket is a team game and to properly fix a match one will have to buy up the entire team or at least the core of it. This may not be as easy as it sounds. It will not be easy because cricket today is dominated by what is best described as a professional ethic. Players know that their position in the side, their fan following and the sponsorship and endorsement fees that they can command — in short their entire reputation — are all determined by their performance.

They cannot afford to fail or, more importantly, be seen to fail. A one time take from a bookie, however large the amount, is not enough of an inducement to sacrifice all the gains, monetary and otherwise, that accrue from a professional reputation. Players today are not only playing for their team but also for their own reputation and to push up their claims in the world of sponsorships and endorsements. This is a major obstacle against match fixing. The latter runs against the grain, the natural desire of individual players to strive towards excellence in every match. Excellence all the time is not possible but it is a recognizable drive among all professionals, cricketers not excepted.

Indians have a penchant for conspiracy theories. This is noticeable in every word. Economists are advocating policies of liberalization not because they believe in the free market but because they are in the payroll of some foreign agency. The Indian mind loves this kind of thing. Sunil Gavaskar is out to an unplayable ball from Bob Willis and to a brilliant catch by Chris Old in the slips and word goes round that Gavaskar’s duck was the result of a large sum of money changing hands.

This word, large, should actually be in inverted commas because most Indians believe that a few hundred thousand rupees or even dollars is a “large” sum of money in today’s world. Conspiracy theories reduce everything to the level of the absurd. It is not surprising that most scandals about match fixing originate one way or the other from the subcontinent.

This is clear from the charges being levelled against Hansie Cronje and his men. Nothing fits. The voices do not match, the language is not correct and the logic farfetched. Yet there is no shortage of people who lap up the story. For the story to hold, one would have to believe that the players’ phones were tapped; this brings into the ring of conspirators the staff of the hotel in which the players were staying. The net thus grows wider and wider.

Charges are being levelled and denials are being issued. In a few days time it will be forgotten. Today’s headlines will be tomorrow’s spiked news items. But those who made the allegations will go about scot free. Was any action taken against Manoj Prabhakar? Jagmohan Dalmiya will be well served if the South African board refuses to tour India unless its players have protection against libel.

The belief in conspiracy theories grows out of an attitude of utter cynicism which holds that a human being can be made to do anything for money. So a player or a group of players can be made to sacrifice his or their professionalism in exchange for a suitable monetary inducement. This empties the idea of professionalism of all content.

This is possible because at a deeper sociological level the idea of professionalism has not taken root in India and in the world of cricket. Both India and cricket — the game which is being rocked now by the entry of Mammon — are still tied to a false world of tradition and feudal privileges. The players have broken out of this but those who claim to be the directors are still in an ancien regime.    


Saffron wisdom on white paper

Sir — The arrogance of the Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson, M. Venkaiah Naidu, is scaling new heights (“Venkaiah white paper vow stumps BJP”, March 28). From criticizing the president, K.R. Narayanan, to exonerating Dara Singh as the “rescuer” of sanatan Hindu dharma, he does it all effortlessly. From Naidu’s haughtiness, it would appear that anything under the sun, and perhaps the sun too, are under the BJP’s jurisdiction. In the past, Naidu has tried to make his countrymen believe that Shyamaprasad Mookerjee was the only Indian martyr; A.B. Vajpayee, and not the Indian army, drove out the intruders from Kargil; and Amartya Sen’s Nobel prize was less for economics than for his endorsement of the BJP’s economic policies. What better way to preserve such gems of saffron wisdom than in the white paper he plans to prepare? The human resources development minister will surely be happy to make it part of the history syllabus, in place of “politically motivated” documents like Towards Freedom.

Yours faithfully,
Hrita Ganguly, Howrah

House of power and wealth

Sir — The editorial “All up there” (March 31) reflects popular apprehension at the victory of industrialists in the recent Rajya Sabha elections. Instead of concentrating on increasing productivity and by extension, the national wealth, these industrialists are trying to buy political influence with their wealth, both accountable and unaccountable. What fate awaits the country and its people is now open to surmise. Again if representatives of the people begin nominating people not close to the masses, then what role can these nominees be expected to play in alleviating the miseries of the common man?

Industrialists are moneyed people some of whom have the least sympathy for the poverty-stricken. And even for those with pro-poor attitudes, wouldn’t it be advisable for them to contest elections instead of making politics a business option, albeit being unfit for it?

The recently opened up economy is an incentive for these industrialists. Their clout in the free market has made it easier for them to go up in the power circles. But there are several ways of serving the people, not the foremost among which is being a member of parliament. They can put their charitable foot forward and help the poor or work towards ensuring economic growth. It would be worth much more if the industrialists in India as well as the non-resident Indians come together in fighting poverty and unemployment in the country.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Sir — It is unfortunate to witness the fall of the Rajya Sabha’s dignity in terms of the use of money power both in nomination and then in the actual voting. It may be recalled that Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs of an earlier Lok Sabha could not be punished for taking bribes for voting to keep the P.V. Narasimha Rao government in power. This is because the acts of MPs in the floor of the house do not come under the purview of any autonomous body or even the judiciary. Given the spate of such events of late, rules need to be formulated to make the legislature accountable to the public by bringing acts of MPs in the floor of the house under the judiciary and the central vigilance commission.

If nothing else, the official letter of the chief election commissioner regarding the role of money power in the Rajya Sabha elections should be an eye opener. And yet this seems a near impossibility in the present political setup. A remote hope remains that the president of India will use his discretionary powers and issue an emergency ordinance to make the legislature and the judiciary accountable to each other and also to the public by bringing them within the purview of the CVC.

Making it mandatory for at least half the number of members of the legislative assembly to choose the same first preference candidate may still not be able to prevent the play of money power in the Rajya Sabha elections since even party tickets for the Rajya Sabha are said to be sold.

Yours faithfully,
Madhu Agarwal, Dariba

Sir — Incidents of cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha polls confirm that political parties are losing grip on their own MPs. More than one candidate from an important political party have either lost or got less votes. Many rich industrialists have entered the upper house as independents, buying, as it were, support from members of legislative assembly of various parties.

Political parties generally send members of their organizing wing to the upper house or they support prominent personalities, who share their views and the presence of whom would benefit the party. Earlier, industrialists and big businessmen were not too eager to enter assemblies. But the growing power of the elected individuals makes it difficult for the industrialists to resist the temptation.

Yours faithfully,
J.N. Singhi, Calcutta

Sir — How could political parties give tickets or support to individuals even when they know that the number of their own MLAs would not be enough to see them through? Was not the nature of such nominations an invitation to the members of other parties to ignore their respective party whips?

Yours faithfully,
Rabindra Nath Bhattacharjee, Durgapur

Sir — The humiliating defeat of the Congress candidate in the Rajya Sabha elections from West Bengal has exposed once again the inefficiency and immaturity of the party president, Sonia Gandhi. In Orissa too, the Congress fared badly. But the election of Trinamool Congress-backed Jayanta Bhattacharya has catapulted Mamata Banerjee into greater prominence.

With the prospect of a mahajot, Banerjee is in a better position than her former boss.

Yours faithfully,
Sasanka Sekhar Adhikary, Hooghly

Anything goes

Sir — The editorial, “Off the people” (February 8), rightly castigates Jyoti Basu for endorsing the party rallies that disrupt traffic in the heart of the city. It is unbecoming of the West Bengal chief minister to say that “this kind of rally would always take place in a democracy”. He is well aware of the fact that democracy should mean discipline and not anarchy. Basu has been throwing to the winds all such principles.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir — The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation under the chairmanship of Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP, Somnath Chatterjee, has failed to revive industry in the state. The WBIDC has been pursuing a tireless policy of attracting new industries, and so far has met with little success.

Moreover, West Bengal is dotted with ailing industrial units and the 24 public sector undertakings owned by the state have turned out to be white elephants. The Durgapur industrial zone continues to be a mere shadow of its former glory. Isn’t it time the WBIDC makes an earnest effort in reviving these loss-making units?

Meanwhile, the inefficiency of WBIDC came to light when it was unable to attract any passenger car making unit when such units were mushrooming throughout the country. Moreover, Chatterjee’s incompetence has also been exposed with WBIDC’s accumulated loss of Rs 54.52 crores as on March 31, 1999. Finally, despite the “Destination West Bengal” of Raichak and similar jamborees in the past few years, investors are still reluctant to invest in West Bengal because of its poor work culture and the existence of trade unions. Demonstrations, gheraos and strikes are also keeping investors away. It is a pity that the West Bengal chief minister, after reigning for 23 years, could not reverse the industrial misfortunes of the state.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur
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