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All is Fair in Indian Politics and Cricket?

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Lalit_Modi_IPL_Indian_Premier_League_cricketIt was in 2009 that the Indian Lok Sabha (LS) elections and Indian Premier League (IPL) coincided for the first time. The government then was unable to provide security for both the events during the same period. I was living abroad then and I didn’t vote; if I had, I would have voted for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

In the same year, IPL was shifted away from the country and it was well hosted by South Africa. As a fan I was happy and as an Indian, I was impressed with the manner in which Lalit Modi and his team managed to convert a crisis to an opportunity. Five years later, there is again a clash of dates between the LS elections and IPL; and again, IPL has been shifted away from the country. Neither the clash of the dates nor the parallel between Indian politics and cricket is coincidental.

As an eternal optimist and a biased observer, at first I didn’t smell that “something was rotten with the state of Denmark” either with the UPA government or IPL. When the ‘2G scam’ erupted, I was more numbed than angry. And my romance with IPL actually lasted for years. In sharp contrast, there were people like Ramachandra Guha, to name one, who were dead against IPL from day one. Guha, a well respected historian as well as a fan and writer of the game, articulated his reasons eloquently why he was opposed to IPL and stated that he would not watch a single IPL match. I, on the other hand, flew to watch three IPL finals in three different stadia - twice taking an international flight. To note, I have travelled to five different continents to watch the game (across the three forms of cricket) at the stadium in my life. And I have co-authored two books on the game. That would give you an idea of my passion for cricket. I have also been a keen follower of Indian politics for decades.

Both have been rocked by scams – financial corruption and more importantly, in terms of ethics and morality. Through the last two-three years, Indian politics and Indian cricket seem to have been running like two parallel lines of a rail track hurtling towards hell. The unholy nexus between politics and sport (and that between the two major national parties too) has affected not only cricket. You only have to remember that Suresh Kalmadi, a Pune Congress man was the president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and chairman of the organizing committee of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in 2010. Vijay Kumar Malhotra, a BJP senior leader has been the senior vice president and acting president of the IOA after Kalmadi was arrested by the CBI. It is interesting that the current IOA president is N. Ramachandran, who is N. Srinivasan’s brother. Tempting it may be, I will restrict this piece to politics and cricket. Both are at crucial crossroads. And this is where we need to decide which party to vote for as a voter and which team to support as a cricket fan this summer. M.K.Gandhi’s immortal quote, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”, can be very useful at this juncture.

With UPA-II, we have seen the peak of corruption and the nadir of governance in India’s h.istory. Therefore a sound defeat of the UPA is my first desire from this year’s election.

Alas! There is no dearth of corruption or unethical and immoral behaviour on NDA’s part either.

Alarmingly, the data of MPs who have criminal cases against them is depressing whether we look at the UPA, NDA or other traditional parties. (Here's the source)

Both camps seem to have unlimited funds to fight the elections, be it in terms of advertising, usage of chartered flights and helicopters or ‘help’ from the Indian corporations, be it Ambani group or Adani group. Neither camp seems to bother about accounting for the funds in a transparent manner.

I advocate a party which is clean. If you can’t find any clean contestant in your constituency, vote  “None of the above” (NOTA) to send a clear message.

The parallel between politics and cricket over the last couple of years has been truly remarkable. Ashok Chavan claimed that he can’t call his mother-in-law as part of his family – oh, perhaps she got a flat in the Adarsh Society because she was a Kargil war widow? N.Srinivasan has been trying (in vain) to distance himself from his son-in-law in the betting scandal. Just as A.Raja and Kanimozhi spent time in Tihar jail (for the 2G scam), SreeSanth and Subrata Roy (owner of Sahara) have been inmates of the same jail.

The unholy nexus between politics and cricket on the one hand and the one between the two major parties on the other is exemplified with the fact that both Congress leaders (e.g. Rajiv Shukla, IPL chairman) and BJP leaders (e.g. Arun Jaitley, former vice-president of BCCI) continued to support N.Srinivasan till the Supreme Court made a scathing statement, "It's nauseating that N. Srinivasan continued as BCCI chief; he should go if cricket has to be cleaned.”

Cricket fans now face the question which team to support in IPL-7. The Justice Mukul Mudgal report shows a deep rot in Indian cricket overall, especially in IPL. Gurunath Meiyappan, one of the team owners of Chennai Super Kings (CSK), has been found guilty of illegal betting. The list of conflict of interests with this team is long. The Mudgal report has recommended a deeper investigation of Raj Kundra, one of owners of Rajasthan Royals (RR) on illegal betting. A couple of players of the team, including SreeSanth, an international India team player has been found guilty of spot fixing. On top, a CSK-RR match in IPL-6 is under the scanner. Pune Warriors India (PWI) has folded up. And its owner is currently in jail, though not directly connected to IPL. And it is important to note that his company (Sahara) was the sponsor of the Indian team. It is ironic that we have to think of the boorish behaviour of Shahrukh Khan, an owner of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at the Wankhede, which earned him a ban from entering the stadium as a minor issue in relative terms. And to be fair, he apologized; something the famous and powerful Indians (be it in politics or cricket) don’t seem to believe in. A couple of other teams have been trying to sell out. Deccan Chargers (DC) has actually managed to do so and the team has new owners – Sun TV, owned by the Marans of DMK and the team’s name has been changed to Sunrisers Hyderabad. DMK was at the root of the 2G scam.

Should I support my usual team, Mumbai Indians (MI)? But I am not sure I will be focused on the ‘doosras’ and ‘googlies’ their bowlers bowl rather than thinking if the gas pricing was fair or not, did Mukesh Ambani actually manage to transfer in and out ministers of oil and gas ministry. Should I think of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), led by Virat Kohli, everyone’s darling these days? But I am not sure I will be focused on the fours and sixes he and Yuvraj hit rather than thinking of the unpaid salaries of employees of Kingfisher Airlines. Such is our choice today. So, which team should we support in IPL-7?

Again, I go back to the first principles and the supreme priority – the game itself. The players I enjoy watching, the team that doesn’t believe in sledging, and the team that plays with flair rather than method - all these are secondarily, even though these factors may be important for me. Above all, I want to watch a clean game. For example, when I see a ‘no-ball’ I don’t want to worry if it was a mistake of the bowler or if it was a case of spot fixing. Sadly, BCCI has done absolutely nothing to clean the muck in the game overall, in IPL in particular. The religion of Indian cricket has lost its piety and all its temples have been desecrated. The Supreme Court has shown its disgust in no uncertain terms about the status now and has given a clear direction to cleanse the game. But we can’t (and shouldn’t) expect it to organize the game. What can we, the Indian cricket fans do to change the system?

The only language BCCI understands is money. And that is where we should target. Similar to my recommendation on the election, I advocate a total boycott of IPL-7. Do not watch a single match in the stadium, on TV, Willow or YouTube. Do not read a single report or a scorecard. Let the TRPs, valuation of IPL, owners’ profit all go down the tube. Perhaps then, BCCI will be forced to overhaul and revamp Indian cricket. Remember, the real power in sport is in the fan’s hands; no fan, no game. Exactly the same way, no vote, no government.

So let me address the question I had posed in the title: should we resign to the status quo and reconcile that all is fair in Indian politics and cricket? My answer is a loud ‘no’ to the question. We deserve much better. My love for India is far greater than my like for any party. I want to see a country free of criminals in the parliament, free of corruption and transparent funding of political parties. Everything else is secondary.

In case you have an issue with the political candidates, then I suggest you vote, “None of the Above” (NOTA). I know which party I’ll be voting for even if they are relatively inexperienced.

My love for cricket is far greater than any player, owner or team. I want my game to be cleansed fully and it to be an epitome of integrity and sportsmen spirit as it used to once upon a time. Everything else is secondary. Therefore I strongly advocate that we boycott IPL-7 fully.

 

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