August 08, 2020
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Bindra's Bogus Patriotism

And how money-grubbing Board mandarins are ruining cricket

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Bindra's Bogus Patriotism
illustration by Sorit
Bindra's Bogus Patriotism
It's a matter of great shame that some members of the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) still remain feudal lords of the past. This realisation hit me during the recording of NDTV's We The People programme, hosted by Barkha Dutt, last week. Barkha is an immaculate presenter of a very popular programme of human interest issues ranging from natural disasters and communal riots to calamities in such places as Afghanistan and Pakistan. She's a person of substantial intellect and compassion.

I'm a great fan of Barkha because she takes on the high and the mighty and loves to call a spade a shovel if need be. She's knowledgable and articulate, but some of her guests are downright ignorant and arrogant. The programme I was part of examined Cricket vs Terror in the aftermath of the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore.

The natural point of debate during the discussion was how safe India was to host the IPL, with its dates clashing with that of the general election, and with both the home ministry and the IPL machinery at a loss to provide foolproof security for both events simultaneously. In the wake of the 26/11 attack, and with the background of blasts in Jaipur during the inaugural IPL jamboree, this gains critical importance.

Terror clouds are hovering over the subcontinent. Some foreign players have already expressed apprehensions about taking part in the second episode of the IPL. But if some are least bothered about the dangers lying ahead, they are the BCCI and its ancillary, the IPL governing council. They're blissfully unaware of terrorists who might lurk in general elections booths as well as in IPL venues.

The BCCI is adamant that both the elections and the IPL can run smoothly with proper distribution of security forces—some wishful thinking that. Most of the crowd in Barkha's programme was either ignorant about the quality of the cricket dished out by the IPL or was just arrogant about the moolah to be reaped. "You don't know anything about it, it's a different game today," snigger the BCCI mandarins smugly.

My own view is that with the IPL, cricket has reached its nadir. Add to that the constant fear of terrorist attacks. Home-grown terrorist groups, both Hindutva and Islamic elements, have shown they will stop at nothing to gain their warped, ghastly ends. Still, the mandarins say that "life must go on as it ought to", no matter how many fall prey to the bullets of the terrorists.

The BCCI, or more precisely the wheelers and dealers of the IPL, couldn't be bothered. Postponing the IPL for a few days is unacceptable to them, and the Lok Sabha polls are of little consequence. What counts is the money spinning into the BCCI's coffers, no matter how. If, in the process, a few human lives are lost, so be it. One gentleman, R.K. Pachauri, sensibly suggested that no action be taken in haste. But his voice was often lost, as normally happens in a crowd of irrelevance. Poor Barkha was at a loss to gauge every opinion in the hall. In any case, the few cricket purists present were outnumbered by those who couldn't care less if the game's basic character was destroyed and rubbed into the dust.

At one point, I.S. Bindra, the president of the Punjab Cricket Association, kept on harping about the IPL and national pride—knowing fully well that club cricket can't be associated with national pride. I couldn't take this bogus appeal to national pride and had to remind him of our meeting in 1984 during the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, when I was without a shelter for a long time. Most reluctantly, I'd gone to see him in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, where he was then the special assistant to the President of India, to seek help.

Like a fool, I expressed my frustration that I could either return to my hometown in Amritsar, where I had little or nothing to do, or leave this country. Prompt came the helping hand: "If I were you Bishen, I'd leave this country!" What a magnificent piece of advice coming from the country's highest office! And the same man is now lecturing us about national pride.

At the NDTV studio, as I narrated this incident, I thought I heard him say "bullshit", at which I had to ask him to mind his language in public. With administrators like him in cricket, national pride is an obsolete idea. Once, he even questioned my wife: "What have you given Bishen except two children?" That explains exactly the sort of man he is.

(Bishen Singh Bedi is a former captain of India)
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