The Telegraph
Wednesday , May 5 , 2010
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Tragedies continue while India watches the IPL farce

Karl Marx famously said that history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce. The upper-class Indian’s obsession with the IPL imbroglio shows how, in these historic times, we are utterly preoccupied with the farce. The tragedy has taken place quietly behind the scenes.

I understand little of cricket and nothing of high finance. I would submit that even the first condition, and certainly the second, applies to most Indian citizens, including a sizeable group with comfortable incomes and urban lifestyles — not to mention the spectral 40 per cent below the poverty line. Such people contribute little to consumer investment and nothing to advertising revenues. Hence they count for little in the wealth-driven, media-acclaimed priorities of our State and society. By current wisdom, they are stowaways, not stakeholders.

The stakes run very high. The Telegraph has estimated the cumulative inflow to the Board for Control of Cricket in India and its franchisees this year at Rs 2,117 crore. Presumably this excludes all earnings by all parties not directly routed through the recorded transactions of the BCCI and franchisees. Rs 3,235 crore was paid for the Kochi and Pune teams, and Rs 3,300 crore for the other eight in 2008 (all payments in dollars). There are reported bribes of Rs 200 crore. The reports may be false, but they are apparently credible. Is it too bold or too cautious to suggest that total IPL-related transactions to date touch the trillion mark?

Let us put this in perspective. Someone worked out that the price of the Kochi franchise alone would provide midday meals to all Indian schoolchildren for a year. In 2009-10, the revised plan outlay of the ministry of agriculture was Rs 9,708 crore, that is, to feed the whole of India, Sharad Pawar invested just three times what the two new franchisees paid for their teams. For woman and child development, the revised plan outlay was less than three times the price of the bid; for health, less than six times; for school education and literacy, just seven times. For irrigation, incredibly, it was only one-sixth, Rs 540 crore.

Now for a truly incredible avowal. Perhaps alone among Indian citizens, I am assuming that every paisa remotely linked to the IPL is rightfully earned and exchanged. All taxes are paid, all laws observed, all proprieties maintained.

To one so naïve, much may be forgiven. So let me make a point so crass that I am embarrassed to state it. Can I be the only Indian to feel that, all questions of malfeasance apart, there is something disquieting about these contrasts in national expenditure? That it indicates warped perceptions among the hyper-rich about what to do with their money; in the government as to what it induces them to do; and most fundamentally, in the affluent classes at large — the classes whose television consumerism is the cornerstone shoring up the IPL? Until the storm broke, not even the populist politicians now screaming foul had uttered a squawk. Today the storm itself is an item of entertainment, like a cyclone watched on TV. It must be doing wonders for the bottomline of the news channels: they needn’t even pay for the franchise.

There are limits even to my naïveté. I am not suggesting that the IPL should be banned, its expenditure capped or operations controlled by law. Still less am I exhorting the super-rich to donate their wealth to the poor. I know it is not the business of a sports body to feed or nurse the poor. I am simply suggesting that because it cannot serve these functions, we should see it in proportion. It is not a matter of the illegal or the immoral but, more basically, the preposterous. There was even a bizarre possibility that the finance bill might have floundered and the government fallen because of a sports tournament.

There have been football wars in Latin America, but those were fuelled by poverty and manipulated by military dictatorships. Our democratic state is rocked by the greed and smugness of a secure plutocracy. The general style of governance, irrespective of party, has supported that greed and smugness. We, the articulate classes, have approved that style by our own incestuous preoccupations. Hence we lap up the IPL as a nice shiny package of the sports, showbiz and money programmes that — unlike in capitalist countries — make up the bulk of prime-time national television.

The real good that wealth does is to create more wealth and extend it (however unevenly) to more and more people. The ‘percolation model’ of enrichment is morally repugnant, but it is the model that seems to work most consistently among imperfect human beings. The most depressing feature of the IPL affair is not the money involved, nor the alleged wrongdoing, but the utterly sterile use of that money. It has generated no employment, created no national assets, had no triggering effect on the economy. By contrast, the film stars and the liquor baron singing its praises have earned their original wealth through productive means in industries of great spread effect. In the IPL, a handful of hyper-rich people are merely circulating their wealth among themselves, augmented by offerings from the affluent classes generally. The very employees of the front companies belong to the charmed circle. Otherwise, the IPL benefits nobody beyond the snack-vendors in the stadium.

Nor did the governments (Union or state) think to draw some public revenue from the windfall. Amazingly, the IPL was exempt from entertainment tax. The Maharashtra government alone may have lost Rs 500 crore thereby. I say nothing of the free services and diversion of public personnel — police, municipal, infrastructural. The BCCI itself was exempt from tax as a quasi-charitable body. It is credited with building a few cricket stadiums with its gains. Farooq Abdullah, who, if anyone, might have taken a broader statesman-like view, has justified it on that score.

An adult nation may feel it is not enough. Somewhere, sometimes, there are issues that cut closer to the nation’s bone. A remarkable effect of the IPL imbroglio is that it has quite obscured the Dantewada massacre, not to mention the Maoist question generally. We have lost interest in what’s happening out there: as also in unglamorous reports that poverty statistics are being fiddled to reduce the number of families entitled to subsidized food. But attention is gradually shifting to other stories closer to ruling-class interests: the tapping of VIP phones, a mole in our mission in Pakistan, the arrest of the Medical Council president on corruption charges.

Such scandals chronicle the continuing tragedy to which the IPL provides the farce: public cynicism, complacency, blindness to social issues, brazen immersion in one’s exclusive well-being. Open corruption is only a symptom of this greater affliction, affecting the mass of notionally honest and law-abiding citizens. We would all serve such a system to our advantage; but we are its victims as well, tormented by cynicism of a more corroding kind. Hence the frustration of the staider bourgeoisie and the more active reactions of ‘new India’, from financial misdoing to extremist violence and its crude suppression. These are the elements of an unfolding tragedy. No wonder we want to divert ourselves with farce.

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