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October 20, 1997


The Cricket Column/Prem Panicker

Not proven!

In jurisprudence, worldwide, you have two possible verdicts -- guilty, and not guilty.

Scotland goes one better, with a third option -- "not proven".

And while mulling over the various statements Justice Y V Chandrachud has made at the conclusion of his one-man man commission's sittings, I find myself wishing that we could do what the Scots did, and introduce a "not proven" into our judicial vocabulary.

More -- I find myself wishing that Indian cricket had not been burdened with this particular commission in the first place. Because every way I look at it, I fear this thing is going to do more harm than good.

Having come this far in my thinking, I find myself anticipating reader response. That is one of the big boons of working for an online publication -- the response is instantaneous, and detailed. The flip side is, you find it, at times, colouring the way you think and write.

Why I thought of reader response here and now is because in the past, I have had some people write in and tell me that I tend to change my opinions. To say one thing at one time, and another thing altogether a bit later. And I suspect that the minute people read this, I am going to get mail saying hey, weren't you the chap who welcomed the appointment of this commission in the first place? So how come you're singing a different tune now?

Okay, I guess the answer to that question is relevant to what this piece is all about... so I'll lead with that.

When, in the aftermath of the Manoj Prabhakar allegations as aired in Outlook way back in May, the BCCI appointed Justice Chandrachud to examine the question of whether or no bribing and match-fixing play a role in Indian cricket.

That was, per se, a good thing. Because Prabhakar, by refusing to name names, had launched a trial by innuendo, whereby every single player in the side was automatically a suspect. In the eyes of the fans and the media, mainly -- leading to a situation where every bad performance, every expensive over or needless runout or every bad stroke, led to cries of "He's taken money to play badly".

However, at the time we had argued that by not appointing a sitting judge, the BCCI had effectively deprived the commission of teeth. And that by doing so, they could just have undermined the value of the exercise.

That fear came true when Prabhakar went before Justice Chandrachud -- and refused to name his colleague who, according to him, had offered him Rs 2.5 million to play badly against Pakistan.

A sitting judge would have been in a position to demand an answer. And the threat of being jailed for contempt of court had Prabhakar refused to provide the name would have forced the former all-rounder to either put up, or shut up. Justice Chandrachud, by virtue of being a retired judge with no official standing, was in no position to enforce compliance. And that to my mind devalues his commission by about 50 per cent, right there.

However, the commission could still have done immense good, by making an honest effort to examine all aspects of the question, by hearing everyone, by being objective. Maybe at the end, the report may not have been able to answer the question of whether Prabhakar was in fact approached with a bribe. But it could have told us whether players in fact had links with bookies; whether they had received bribes; whether cricket matches had been fixed... or whether, in fact, all this was just a media creation.

Whether there was really a fire under all that smoke.

Today, even before the Justice Chandrachud Commission submits its report, we know what the bottomline is going to be -- 'not guilty'. The judge has himself given strong hints to this effect in his press briefing at the end of the sittings, so it is not even a matter of speculation.

Now a 'not guilty' verdict is not a bad thing. In fact, for Indian cricket, it is a very good outcome, because it would have not only taken the pressure off the cricketers, but also allowed the fans to clear their heads of everything but the game itself, and thus added to their enjoyment.

But this 'not guilty' verdict is not going to have any such effect -- simply because, with all due respect to a judge who during his tenure in the highest court in the land had built up a reputation for probity, the commission has not done its work with the thoroughness expected of it.

True, the commission met Prabhakar and, in fact, a whole lot of cricketers past and present. But not one single bookie! The judge's argument? 'That is not part of my brief and anyway, the bookies can hardly be expected to come before me and own up'.

Not part of the brief? Come again? The brief was to investigate whether bribery and match-fixing goes on in Indian cricket -- and bookies are central to that question. As to the other part of the argument -- by the same reasoning, neither can the cricketers be expected to own up, can they? I mean, do you -- more to the point, does the judge -- expect X cricketer, past or present, to come before him and do a little George Washington number and go, 'I cannot tell a lie, I was the one who attempted to bribe Prabhakar?'

Okay. Fine. For whatever reason, the judge did not see the need to talk to bookies. How about cops? For instance, how about the sub-inspector in Bombay, who was quoted by Outlook -- in course of the article that sparked the commission -- that he had actually been a witness to conversations between a bookmaker and some Indian players and officials, while the team was involved in a tournament in Sharjah?

The cop concerned had told the magazine that he had proof, in the form of tapes and telephone bills, that the conversation(s) had taken place. So was he called to produce that evidence, to depose before the commission?


During the sittings, a police official called the judge from Calcutta, indicating that he had proof of bribery and match-fixing and that he was prepared to come down and depose before the commission. The judge turned him down. Why? Because, according to him, the caller refused to divulge his identity on the phone.

Justice Chandrachud has been in law enforcement long enough to know all about anonymous informants. Experienced enough to realise that informants do not like to blab on the telephone -- especially when the information they have is sensitive. Since the informant had indicated that he not only had relevant information and evidence which he was prepared to lay before the commission, it would have cost the judge nothing to have summoned him for a hearing.

This was not done.

While the commission was in session, a major raid in Calcutta netted not only a big time bookie, but also -- according to the police personnel who participated in that raid -- files and other items of evidence that seemed to indicate that bribery and match-fixing was in fact endemic to Indian cricket.

I would have thought the commission would have jumped at the chance to lay its hands on said evidence. To summon the cops, and hear what they had to say. But no, Justice Chandrachud turned down the chance to summon them. Arguing that a mere arrest proved nothing, and unless it was 'proved' that cricketers in fact were guilty of taking bribes and fixing matches, his commission wasn't interested in a police raid in Calcutta.

Surprised me, that -- I mean, if it is proven that cricketers are in fact guilty, then why would we need the Justice Chandrachud commission in the first place? And how, given the brief Justice Chandrachud had, can he sit back and say that he won't listen to any evidence unless and until it is already established to be conclusive?

Isn't the job of the commission -- any comission -- to examine all sources, gather all evidence available, and then and only then make up its mind what is real and what is false, what can be believed and what can be ignored?

If all this weren't enough, look at what happens with the people who are interviewed. The case of Outlook's Aniruddha Behal is just one instance. Here is the man who, along with Krishna Prasad, co-wrote the original article that, among other things, made the BCCI appoint the commission. And further, Behal was the man who, during the Asia Cup triangular in Sri Lanka, came up with an article based on an interview with former Pakistan stumper Rashid Latif, wherein Latif is supposed to have pointed fingers at five Indian players.

Latif subsequently denied the interview. Behal -- and Outlook -- stood by the story and claimed to have Latif on tape. Wouldn't the commission, logically, have wanted to hear those tapes -- if only to find out if the allegations were actually made?

In point of fact, however, the commission showed no interest in the tapes -- contenting itself with merely having a chat with the correspondent concerned.

Interestingly, at least two of the correspondents who were interviewed by the commission indicate that the entire conversations were not recorded -- the judge merely listened, and took notes every once in a while.

Which, again, goes against the basic style of an inquiry comission's functioning. And we in India have had enough of them to know the ground rules -- first, the commission announces in the media that it is sitting to hear whatever the case is, and that it welcomes depositions; then, it examines all witnesses prepared to depose and who can be presumed to have some knowledge of whatever is being examined; and it records all depositions in full.

This particular commission has erred on all counts.

And this is why I feel today that the commission has devalued itself, by its style of functioning. It has given the impression that it is interested only in hearing what it wants to hear. More, that it is not interested in hearing anything that is not in keeping with its own thinking.

In other words, we are talking pre-judgement, here.

And Justice Chandrachud only underlined it when he hinted, immediately after his last sitting, that his verdict is likely to be 'not guilty'.

Where it should, in fact, read 'not proven' -- not proven, mind you, because not only has there been no real attempt has been made to look for proof, but people who could possibly provide it have been ignored by the comission.

So the report will be tabled before the BCCI. Which in turn will release it -- or rather, portions thereof -- to the public. And what will the reaction be? Total disbelief.

You can almost hear the voice of Joe Citizen, can't you? 'Arre yaar, this commission didn't talk to bookies, to cops, didn't look at the people who have evidence to present. So what is the point of all this? It's just another whitewash job!'

Worse, Joe Citizen will go on to infer that the whitewash was a planned operation. That the BCCI intended for this to happen all along. And that this, in turn, implies that the BCCI has something to hide.

That there is, in fact, a blazing fire beneath all that smoke.

In other words, that Indian cricket -- and cricketers -- are still suspect.

And there is one other aspect to this that needs mentioning. That betting exists is a given. But assume, further, that there is bribery and match-fixing in Indian cricket. Assume, further, that cricketer X is the kingpin in the whole racket.

Now see it from X's point of view -- he can now do his stuff without any sort of hesitation, without any fear. For why? Because hey, if fingers are pointed again, after another bad performance by the team or the player(s) concerned, he can turn right round and tell the accusers, 'Why point fingers and make these stupid allegations? Don't you know that the commission of enquiry has reported that there is no match-fixing and bribery in Indian cricket?'

In other words, if there is wrongdoing in Indian cricket today, then the commission has effectively legitimised it.

And this will, in the end, do more harm to the game in this country, than if a commission had never been appointed in the first place -- and therein lies the real pity of it all.

The Betting Scandal

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