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December 16, 1997


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Acts of Omission

Prem Panicker

A couple of years ago, I was browsing the bookstalls when I found a courtroom thriller titled The Advocate's Devil. The price was around 220 bucks and I paid up without a murmur.

For why? Because the author was Alan Dershowitz, the mega-profile lawyer whose client list includes O J Simpson, Mike Tyson and Claus von Bulow. So I figure hey, guy with that kind of experience, he's going to write a cracker of a tale, for sure, lots of insider stuff.

Three hours later, I tossed it aside in disgust, having found after wading through it that he couldn't plot for nuts, or write for toffee. Couple of little legal tricks apart, the book was the kind Dorothy Parker once said 'should not be laid aside lightly -- it should be hurled from you with great force!'

More recently, two eminent Indian jurists have proved as incapable of writing quasi-fiction as Dershowitz -- though luckily, this time I didn't have to pay good money to find it out.

I refer, of course, to Justice M C Jain and Justice Y V Chandrachud. Both former Supreme Court judges. Both asked to head important one-man enquiry commissions in their retirement. Both producing reports within days of each other. And both, wouldn't you believe it, goofing big time.

Politics not being the theme of my song here, I'll push Justice Jain onto the back burner with just a passing mention. I mean, this guy is a judge, right? And he in his interim report on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination writes lines to the effect that all the Tamils of Tamil Nadu aided and abetted the LTTE.

I mean, can a line like that, coming in course of a judicial judgment, stand up in any court in the country? Even this country?

With that one line, what Justice Jain has done, effectively, is to taint his entire report, to render it a laughing stock, to ensure that he spends the rest of his life defending the indefensible while the very party -- the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham -- that he set out to indict is now, in actual fact, enabled to take the offensive.

Coincidence, perhaps, but that is pretty much exactly what Justice Chandrachud, too, has done with his report into the betting and bribery allegations rocking Indian cricket.

Let's do some straight thinking here. When the BCCI appointed the Justice Chandrachud commission, what was the intention?

Obviously, two things. One, to shut up -- at least for the conceivable future -- the media-fuelled rumours about match fixing and bribery being endemic in Indian cricket. And two, to shut up that loose cannon, Manoj Prabhakar, and his persistent allegations.

In an analysis in October, I had indicated how Judge Chandrachud, by not examining all the evidence, by refusing to call some potential witnesses and ruling that some evidence was not part of his 'brief', had effectively ensured that no matter what his final report said, no one would take it at face value. Simply because the evidentiary holes are large enough to drive the entire team bus through.

So let us, for now, look at just how effective the commission has been at countering Prabhakar's allegations.

The main one was that an unnamed Indian player offered Prabhakar Rs 2.5 million to play below par during the Singer Cup in Sharjah a couple of years ago.

Let's do some logical thinking here -- we've all seen Prabhakar play, we know just how effective he is with bat and ball. But Rs 2.5 million? For him to play sub-par in just one match? Hey, if that kind of sum was offered to say a Kapil Dev, I would probably believe it because Kapil at his best could -- indeed has -- single-handedly swung matches India's way. But Prabhakar? Granting that he was a gutsy fighter, a key component of the side, I still don't see anything in his arsenal worth that kind of purchase price, do you?

All Justice Chandrachud had to do was ask Prabhakar to name the player. For very obvious reasons -- and I don't mean that famous death threat Manoj keeps talking about -- the former India all-rounder would have refused.

End of story -- Justice Chandrachud merely reports that he asked Prabhakar to substantiate his allegation, and that the latter refused to do so. That, effectively, would have been that.

Instead, what happens? Judge Chandrachud in his report says he asked Prabhakar to name the player and the latter refused. Prabhakar, in his latest signed piece in Outlook magazine, says the jurist at no time asked him to reveal the name!

It is now Prabhakar's word against Judge Chandrachud's.

Why did such a situation come about? Because the jurist, going against every norm of running an enquiry commission, did not have a stenographer taking it all down verbatim. Had that happened, there would have been an official record which would have cleared the air one way or the other. As it stands, Judge Chandrachud can't even prove he did put the question -- and that, in turn, means that the allegation still stands.

Okay, granting it is one man's word against the other's. I suspect most people would have taken Judge Chandrachud's word that he did indeed ask for the name -- except that the jurist made an even bigger blunder in his eagerness to fulfill his brief.

Remember the second allegation Prabhakar made? That games were being fixed, as in the instance where Azhar and Aamir Sohail both once came back to their respective dressing rooms, each claiming he had won the toss?

That, frankly, is an impossibility. Why? Because for the last five, six years, in ODIs, the toss takes place live before the television cameras. And immediately after the toss, the first thing the television presenter does is ask the captain who won it why he has decided to bat, or bowl, first.

So again, Prabhakar had given Judge Chandrachud a full toss, here -- a delivery easy to hit for six. All the jurist needed to do was flip through the record books, list all the times that Sohail and Azhar had tossed together, ask the BCCI to procure the relevant video tapes, check the post-toss media briefing, and point out that in each instance, the toss and its result had been clear cut, and that, therefore, what Prabhakar said happened, neither could not did happen.

Instead, what does Judge Chandrachud do? With no research whatsoever, he says in his official report that Azhar and Sohail have never tossed together. A statement that flies against every rule of evidence, really.

I mean, I know that ODIs are being played at the rate of one every other day, but hey, even the most casual of cricket fan could not have forgotten that Wasim Akram pulled out of the World Cup quarterfinal, that Sohail led the team in Akram's place, and that Sohail and Azhar, on that occasion, did toss together?

As a matter of fact, Sohail and Azhar have tossed even at Sharjah, as even a cursory examination of the record books would have told the jurist.

That statement was a blunder. And thanks to that blunder, Judge Chandrachud has effectively ensured that his report goes straight down the rubbish chute. Anyone reading it, and seeing that statement in it, will go, "Yeah, right, if this is the kind of conclusion he has come to, who knows how accurate his other statements are?"

What is even worse is that Jaywant Lele, the BCCI secretary whose foot is more often in his mouth than on the ground, actually makes a media statement to the effect that based on the Chandrachud report, the Board is contemplating legal action against Prabhakar.

On the basis of this report? Hey, such a case would be laughed out of every court in the land.

Yes, even if Justice Chandrachud himself were presiding.

Postscript: Signing off with a thought for Lele and Justice Chandrachud to chew on. In the report, referring to the Sohail-Azhar toss allegation, the judge has in so many words said that Prabhakar is lying, and that such an incident never happened.

I wonder if those two worthies have considered the possibility that Prabhakar can now file a suit, claiming defamation? I mean, if you call a public figure a liar, it can land you in a mess of trouble -- more so when it is you who got your facts wrong in the first place.

Funny that one of the most eminent jurists in the land failed to see that simple fact.

The Matchfixing Scandal

Prem Panicker

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