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April 20, 2000


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Nothing to declare

Prem Panicker

WHEN money talks, everyone listens.

An axiom that was proved yet again when, today, it was decided in the Lok Sabha not to press for a CBI inquiry into the ongoing match-fixing scandal rocking the cricket world.

Apparently, the consensus was that since the BCCI was an autonomous body, it wouldn't be fair for the government to interfere in its workings. And that it made more sense to wait for the ICC, to which the BCCI directly reports, to act.

Strange -- since when were autonomous bodies above the laws of the land? Since when did 'autonomy' become a license for lawlessness?

Face facts -- the Delhi police have already proved that illict monetary transactions have taken place. The Delhi police have already announced that while their investigations are at an early stage, they are confident that at least two Indian cricketers are involved in the whole deal. In other words, the government is aware that there is proof of wrong doing in the first instance, and a prima facie case to investigate in the second.

But no, the government is seemingly more worried about preserving the BCCI's autonomy, than in defending the laws of the land.

Instead, they will wait for the ICC to act. The ICC has already said that it will not act.

The ICC has said that the South African angle has been left to the UCBSA to probe, and the Indian end is in the hands of the Delhi police. Which does raise the question -- why then do we need the ICC? But that is a question no one is asking, or answering, just yet.

In the meantime, our nation's lawmakers will while away a few leisure hours reading the Chandrachud report, which will be tabled in Parliament shortly.

'NOTHING to declare' is a line you hear at the Customs counter in international airports. Pretty soon, you will hear it in the words of former Supreme Court chief justice Y V Chandrachud.

The word is that the 75-page report submitted by the jurist is finally going to be made public. Jaywant Lele, complete with copy of said report, is in the BCCI office in Bombay as I write this, 'discussing 'modalities of the report's publication.

'About time', did someone say? In fact, quite a few emails over the last few days have asked one common question -- if the BCCI has nothing to hide, why then is it not making the Chandrachud report public?

Actually, the reason that report has been hidden from public view all these years is because its public airing will finally reveal sensational truths. What the BCCI is really scared of is that when the report is made public, the people will see for themselves what a big con job it is, will understand how thoroughly the former jurist whitewashed the whole match-fixing-betting-bribery scam.

What is the conclusion Chandrachud draws, after his elaborate inquiry? Simply this -- that he is convinced, as a result of his "wide ranging, in-depth investigation" that betting, bribery and match-fixing does not exist in cricket. Which conclusion, in light of recent events, comes across as completely farcical. And this is what the BCCI has been trying so desperately to avoid -- letting the public realise just how big a farce it all was.

Perhaps the best indication of how relevant Chandrachud's 75-page essay in thinly disguised fiction is, can be had from Lele himself. A freelance journalist of very good repute and considerable experience happened to be with Lele, in the latter's office, when the original report was couriered to him hot off the presses. Lele ripped the packet open, and our journalist friend got into adrenalin-overdrive, thinking he was on the verge of scooping the world with some sensational stuff.

As the journalist in question tells it, Lele took one look at the contents of the package and, without even bothering to flip through the pages, tossed it aside on a side table. Aren't you going to read it, said journalist wanted to know. 'Why should I waste my time I say,' Lele at the time shot back, in characteristic style. 'It is all rubbish!'

'Rubbish' is by way of being a favourite word of Lele's -- but this time, he got it right on the button. Rubbish it was, rubbish it remains. And soon enough, you guys out there will get your chance to decide for yourself just how shoddy the inquiry commission was, and how valueless its report.

Lele will in all probability deny it, the denial being accompanied by the appropriate bluster and threats to sue. And we will produce the journalist in question. And Lele will shut up, as he did in the past. So what else is new?

A prevailing impression, to judge by the emails I get, is that the honorary secretary (honorary, please note, is not to be confused with honourable) of the BCCI never tells the truth. I think that is unfair. In fact, I have it on good authority that yesterday, someone asked him what date it was and he said, April 19. Which, as we all know, is the plain, unvarnished truth. So there.

Facetiousness aside, does the entire Chandrachud episode raise a question in your mind? Item, the commission was deliberately constituted in such a way that nothing concrete would emerge. Item, the report, despite its verbosity, does not contain one single, solitary fact. Item, the BCCI has been using this report to trumpet its official line, that cricket in India is clean.

Which brings up the question -- why was the BCCI so desperate to cover up the entire mess? Why was it in such a hurry to sweep the match-fixing allegations under the carpet, with Chandrachud wielding the broom? What is the BCCI's stake in covering up what is obviously a crime, both against the laws of the land, and against the fans who support the game?

We are talking of investigations into players -- do you guys believe, as I do, that the scope of those investigations should be widened, to include the administrators of the game?

THEBCCI, with ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya providing the impetus, has decided to come up with a Code of Conduct for its players.

The code will say that any player approached by a bookie should immediately report it to the team manager; that no player should accept money from bookies; that any player....

I'm impressed. Aren't you?

What impresses me is not the code, but the assumption, by the administrators, that they have a monopoly on brains -- and that the entire cricket-loving janta is wet behind the years.

I mean, has the BCCI ever heard of something called the Indian Penal Code? The IT Act? FERA?

As per the provisions of the above, it is illegal for any Indian citizen to gamble, or have any dealings with bookmakers; it is illegal to have undeclared money. Both the above are indictable offences, not just for cricketers but for any Indian citizen.

All these laws, backed by the deterrent of salutary punishments, have made no difference to the players or the bookmakers, who continue to play their nefarious games. So we are expected to believe that a code of conduct, formulated by a board that has in the past shown itself not only toothless, but also lacking in the will to clean up its act, is going to make the difference. We are expected to believe that cricketers who don't give a damn for the laws, the police, the enforcement directorate et al, are going to behave because the BCCI has told them to.

Or are we to believe that this is one more in a long line of 'measures' intiated by the BCCI, not in order to make a real difference, but in order to lull the fans into a belief that it is actually doing something?

HAVE any of you guys actually seen, or been part of, a pie-fight? It used to be a big regret of mine, after watching some Hollywood flicks, that I never managed to be present when those kind of hi-jinks was happening.

I must say, though, that our cricket administrators are doing their best to make up for this lack. The way the pies -- mud pies in this case -- have been flying around would put any of Hollywood's slapstick efforts to shame.

First off, there is Inderjit Singh Bindra, with his statement that Dalmiya is in the grip of the mafia. And Muthaiah's immediate reaction, that Bindra is full of it. In passing, you have to wonder why Muthaiah is in such a hurry to play attorney for the defense -- isn't Dalmiya capable enough of dealing with his own problems?

But that apart, Bindra has been biding his time for quite a while. And sitting on a minefield of information which, or so he claims to all who will listen, will blow Dalmiya out of the water. Until now, he hasn't, however, had the right kind of climate to vent in -- but now that people are finally prepared to listen, Bindra has suddenly begun airing his mind, and word is that it is merely a matter of time before he stops his generalised allegations, and gets down to specifics.

The more interesting exercise in mud-slinging, though, came from no less than Dr Ali Bacher. Who, this morning, upped the ante on match-fixing even further, alleging that some World Cup games were fixed.

Bacher in his statement said that at least two games, and a few umpires, were under suspicion -- but when it came to specifics, only named the Pakistan side, and Pakistani umpire Javed Akthar.

I don't know about you -- but the way the Bacher outburst strikes me, is as an attempt to divert attention away from the South African angle, and rope in the usual suspects.

I mean, granting Bacher's premise that some World Cup games are suspect, why not, while he was about it, think of the South Africa-Zimbabwe league game? And if we are talking of umpires, can the finger of suspicion equally be pointed at a certain Rudi Koertzen, whose decisions during a recent home series in SA had the cricket community in a state of hysterics?

I'm not trying to argue that other teams are above suspicion, and SA is the only culprit. Nor that umpires are not worth taking a closer look at. What I am not so sure about is Bacher's motive in naming just one team, at this point in time -- which, at least from where I stand, seems part of this whole 'paint the sub-continent black, and hope the flying muck will distract attention from what our own presumed paragon of virtue (or is it paragon of presumed virtue?) did' thing.

Bacher says, further, that betting, bribery and match-fixing have been rampant for quite a while, that it is a huge evil and needs to be stamped out, et cetera.

It raises one question. Bacher has been involved with the ICC for a decade now, he is easily one of the most influential members of the governing body of the sport. So how come, you have to wonder, the seriousness of the situation occurs to him only now? Where was he, and what was he doing, these past five years and more, when allegations of match-fixing have been flying around?

The funniest bit in the Bacher press release is the line where he says that match-fixing is a global phenomenon, and no country can afford to point fingers at any other. Which, coming at the fag end of a statement where he has done nothing but point fingers at the Pakistan players and umpire, is a bit rich, wouldn't you say?

Prem Panicker

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