When the heavens darkened
Game is the thing
Letters to the Editor

Public memory is short and twenty five years is long enough to slough off the fear and terror that the Emergency instilled in the minds of all democratic minded people in India. Forgetfulness can be healing but it is important for democracy in India that the Emergency is not immediately forgotten. On June 25, 1975, Indira Gandhi suspended all democratic rights in India by imposing an Emergency. The exact reasons that impelled her to take this step will remain a matter of speculation. Her admirers continue to argue that there was a genuine threat to India from the various forces that were then ranged against her. Through a sleight-of-hand, they equate a threat to her power as a threat to India. Her critics hold that the Emergency was the culmination of certain authoritarian tendencies that were inherent in the way Indira Gandhi and her clique of advisors exercised power. There is also the maverick role of Indira Gandhi�s second son, Sanjay, who emerged during the 18 months of the Emergency as the most powerful individual in the country and his mother�s closest adviser. There were politicians then who advised Indira Gandhi on the legal and constitutional niceties about the Emergency and also self-serving bureaucrats who remained loyal to the prime minister and her household. What should also be recalled on the silver jubilee of the eclipse of democracy in India is the enthusiasm with which sections of the middle and upper middle classes greeted the suppression of fundamental rights and the rule of law. That enthusiasm is a warning about the fragile roots of democracy among the educated classes of India.

Embedded within the Emergency was violence. And Sanjay Gandhi epitomized this. It was under his initiative that some of the worst acts of terror were perpetrated on the poor of India. Under the slogan of family planning, thousands were forced to undergo vasectomy; under the banner of cleaning up New Delhi, thousands were rendered homeless; under the guise of protecting democracy, thousands who opposed Indira Gandhi were imprisoned without trial. A knock on the door at midnight came to acquire terrifying dimensions reminiscent of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Mother and son behaved as if India was theirs and nobody else mattered. It was India�s closest brush with dynastic autocratic rule.

That the Emergency and many of its excesses stemmed from Indira Gandhi�s personality and her desire to perpetuate the rule of her family cannot be gainsaid. She was also utterly blind towards her son. But there was more to the Emergency than mere personal failings. At the heart of the Emergency was state power, its use and abuse. Since Independence, the state had been assigned an important and overwhelming role in most spheres of public and political life: in economic planning, in promoting social change, in education and so on. From the late Sixties, Indira Gandhi brought to state power and its role a different and a dangerous dimension. She began to erode the checks and balances of the democratic system by concentrating power in the prime minister�s office. In the early Seventies, almost every single important policy decision came out of the PMO and was masterminded by either P.N.Haksar or Mr P.N.Dhar, the two most powerful mandarins of Indira Gandhi�s regime. The subversion of democracy in India began in a sense in the PMO. During the Emergency, the locus of power merely shifted into the prime minister�s household. Behind this kind of extra-constitutional concentration of power was the idea of a maximalist state. Indira Gandhi and her socialist advisers believed that in the power of the state lay India�s deliverance. The Emergency was an outgrowth of this ideological premise. The danger of the Emergency can be forgotten only after India has successfully dismantled state power and jettisoned the notion of an interventionist state. The dark lining in the silver jubilee of the Emergency is the faith that Indians continue to have in the power of the state. Individual enterprise is the bulwark of democracy.    

Tucked away in Hansie Cronje�s devastating deposition before the Edwin King commission in South Africa is a piece of information that all concerned are trying to ignore.

Cronje says that during the tour of India in 1996, before the final one-day international, he was made an offer of $ 200,000 if the South African team threw away the match. Cronje placed the proposal before the entire team in a formal team meeting. The offer was rejected. After the meeting some of the players were curious to know if the offer could be raised. Cronje spoke to the person concerned and the sum was raised to $ 300,000. It was an agreement within the South African side that such an offer would be accepted only if there was unanimity among the players.

This incident, or at least Cronje�s version of it, is imbued with significance. Though three players � Andrew Hudson, Darryl Cullinan and Derek Crookes � spoke strongly against the offer, nobody told the South African captain that it was an insult to place such a proposal to the team. Nobody stood up to say that he refused to play under a captain who could even consider an offer to throw away a match. One can think of a few cricketers of yesteryear who would have slammed their captains if they had presented such a proposal. The unanimity clause is an euphemism for a conspiracy of silence. None of the cricketers informed the South African cricket board or the media of the things their captain was up to.

What is even more alarming is that the present South African captain, Shaun Pollock, was a part of the squad and was present at that team meeting. Cronje does not mention Pollock as one of the players who objected strongly to the proposal. May be he was a silent disapprover. But did he take any steps to stop such an incident from happening again? The question is important for Pollock, since his uncle, Graeme, is a powerful member of the selection committee. A word from Shaun could have alerted the selection committee and perhaps even resulted in the removal of Cronje.

That this did not happen suggests one of two things: either Shaun kept silent or that Graeme knew and took no steps. The second possibility cannot be ruled out because there are indications that cricket administrators in South Africa were probably aware of what was going on and had decided, for reasons best known to themselves, to turn a blind eye to this aspect of the game. Bob Woolmer, the South African coach, has now revealed that he had in fact told Ali Bacher about Cronje�s attempts to fix matches in 1996. What seems to be emerging is a chain of complicity.

To come back to the silence of Shaun Pollock and others like him, who did not speak out against Cronje after that infamous team meeting. David Richardson, the former South African wicket keeper, has said that it was then rather exciting to be approached by a bookie to tank matches. Here emerges a different kind of excitement. This is not the excitement involved in the winning of a cricket match, the thrust and parry of competition and of being part of a game whose second name is uncertainty. Rather, this is the excitement of being chased by big money, of receiving presents and of making illicit gains. Was Shaun Pollock susceptible to this kind of excitement? If he was, then there are grounds to fear that South African cricket may not be free from the shadows of betting and bribes.

The discovery of Cronje�s nefarious activities was a stroke of sheer luck. Cronje took advantage of the indemnity that the South African government offered and has confessed. There is no guarantee as yet that he has spoken the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He is under the spotlight. Outside the spotlight everything is in darkness in more ways than one. In that darkness lies the chain of complicity. It is quite clear that Ali Bacher, the head of the South African cricket board, had contacts with a bookie codenamed �Mr R� whose identity he is now trying to protect. There have been no explanations offered for his hobnobbing with a bookie and for his desire to protect the bookie�s identity. It would not be unfair to conclude that cleaning up the game of cricket is not topmost among Ali Bacher�s priorities.

The point is important because after Cronje�s confession, public disappointment and justifiable anger has been directed at the players. This is not to exonerate players who in return for money did not play the game. They deserve the strongest possible punishment, like a life ban. But the scope of the enquiry should be broadened because it is quite clear from whatever has come to light that the players are not the only ones to be blamed for the present plight of cricket.

Cricket administrators have consistently ignored evidence of corruption and on one notorious case, actually tried to suppress facts. There is no explanation for the attempts of the Australian Cricket Board to shield Mark Waugh and Shane Warne and for the lenient attitude the International Cricket Council took towards the two players and the ACB. An exemplary punishment at this point of time could have nipped things in the bud. Similarly, why did Ali Bacher choose to ignore what Bob Woolmer had told him about Cronje�s dealings with bookies? Surely he could not have underestimated what was being said by the coach of the team.

In India, predictably, things take a more bizarre turn. Here, officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, after hearing Cronje�s testimony, exclaimed that there was no evidence available about Indian cricketers and their involvement with bookies and punters. The sheer inanity of the statement is enough to take any one�s breath away. The assumption seems to be that fly-by-night bookies and bribe-givers will go around leaving a trail of documents about their nefarious activities. Or that players receiving money will hand over signed receipts. What kind of evidence can there be about transactions that are altogether underhand?

Steps have to be taken on the basis of circumstantial evidence. The BCCI is not a court of law. So it need not be bothered about legal niceties. It can always take action against players whose motives and activities are suspect. There is nothing that stops the selection committee from not selecting a particular player. There might be unfairness, but the game of cricket is much more important than the reputation of individual players. A cricket team, under the present circumstances, cannot afford to have a single rotten apple.

Cricket administrators, if they are to convince cricket lovers about their bona fides, must show an overwhelming desire to clean up the game and to change the atmosphere in which it is played. The latter involves putting the game ahead of making money. If this means putting a moratorium on one-day internationals for a period of five years, so be it.

Cricket has never faced the crisis it faces now: it is a crisis of credibility. Millions of fans across the cricketing globe are now suspecting that they have been taken for a ride for a number of years. They will accept that some of their heroes had their feet sunk in slime if they can be certain that the game they love has got back some of its dignity and self-respect. Men sitting in the Long Room at Lord�s cannot duck the bouncer, they have to hook it out of the ground. Otherwise they will not be playing cricket.    


Scapegoats required

Sir � What has the Bharatiya Janata Party achieved by branding Laloo Prasad Yadav as worse than Pakistan�s Inter-services Intelligence (�Laloo worse than the ISI: BJP�, Wednesday, June 21)? There is a difference between the Rashtriya Janata Dal brand of violence and that fuelled by the ISI. The RJD is too far gone to hide their lawlessness, whereas the ISI has mastered the art of being invisible. Besides, the BJP has not been able to comprehend that violence within a state and international terrorism are essentially different. The saffron party is in perpetual need of a scapegoat to cover up its failings, and for this, Laloo Yadav will do just as well as the ISI, both of which confront the Centre with forms of anarchy that render it equally helpless.

Yours faithfully,
Suresh Rawat, Calcutta

Water of life

Sir � The Calcutta Municipal Corporation has decided against all political pressures to dispense with the number of roadside water taps to prevent wastage. It has also begun work on a number of reservoirs in Muhammed Ali Park, Bagmari, Park Circus and Behala, while there are proposals to construct a few others at Jadavpur and Garden Reach.

The Asian Development Bank is offering a soft loan for the improvement of the city�s water supply on condition that water metres are installed. The water metres need to have a certain water pressure to register the consumption. As such, the reservoirs under construction will help maintain a steady level of water pressure over all the supply points.

Another major form of wastage is water leakage from the overhead tanks of residential buildings. An approximate volume of 10 litres of water overflows per house per day.

Given the seriousness of the problem, a suggestion was made to the CMC for a mandatory installation of a simple device, consisting of an ordinary float assembly, a micro-switch and a length of electric wiring in all houses. The whole apparatus does not cost more than Rs 300. On my request, the commissioner and a CMC engineer inspected and assured a speedy installation at the CMC headquarters.

Unfortunately, just as all good things die a natural death in West Bengal, the idea has not yet seen the light of day. It is time to ask ourselves whether we can afford to keep on wasting water.

Yours faithfully,
Bachaspati Goswami, Calcutta

Sir � The government is being advised by some to pass laws to make rainwater harvesting compulsory in all houses. There can be nothing more ridiculous than this, especially given the large number of unenforced laws around. Why add one more when the existing laws cannot be enforced, or are enforced by corrupt officials and politicians to make money for themselves?

Instead, the government and its agencies should advise citizens to go in for rainwater harvesting, or else, not to look to the government for providing water. Those who can�t help themselves do not deserve to be helped. Less of government action, and more of citizens�, is the only way to ensure civic improvements.

Yours faithfully,
T. Mani Chowdary, Secunderabad

Parting shot

Sir � There was a time when newspaper readers read the last page first, each morning, to turn away from the scandals in the first page. Now, even this last sports page is infected by first-page politics.

Yours faithfully,
Bedashruti Mitra, Raigarh

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