Saturday, February 23, 2008

POLITICIANS, CRICKETERS, CATTLE AND AUCTIONS

The Indian Premier League (IPL), a Twenty20 cricket competition modeled on the lines of European club football, has already made the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) richer by close to $1.75 billion even before the first match has been played. It has also made many young players millionaires overnight by industrialists and film stars who own various teams. And this seems to be just the beginning. If the idea takes off, as it certainly will, some cricketers will make the kind of money soccer superstars make in Europe.

When the smell of money is so overpowering and Indian politicians are missing out big time, can criticism from them be far behind?

Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thakeray has already fired the first salvo at the one truly financially smart politician who is looking after the golden goose that BCCI has become due to the IPL. What is Thakeray’s real worry? If industrialists continue to wield their money power like this, he says, the government will be rendered unnecessary and industrialists will call the shots and run the country. Of course he does shed false tears for cricket too, warning that due to this gambling by industrialists, where cricketers are being bought and sold, the concentration of the players will be affected and the sport will decline!

Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav has called the auction of cricketers a national shame and violation of human dignity. Are the players human beings or cattle which can be bought and sold like this, he has asked with grave concern. The Left, stuck immovably in a world long gone elsewhere, can only see the ‘distortions’ that IPL will cause in the cricketing world, generating a handful of millionaires while hockey players continue to get a pittance for their efforts and thousands of farmers continue to commit suicides!

For decades, our politicians have reveled in being treated like cattle whenever electoral arithmetic demanded that some of them had to be auctioned to the highest bidder interested in forming the government! This was one of the great fruits of the hopelessly divisive brand of multi-party democracy that they have created to maximize personal gain! Till the IPL jolted them with the kind of money a 19 year old kid was going to make merely by throwing a cricket ball at speeds above 150 kilometers per hour, they thought they had a great revenue stream all their own, so what if it was immoral and illegal. And so what if it was dubiously financed by the same industrialists who have now put ‘white’ money up front for cricketers?

Don’t be fooled by this criticism at all. Already, politicians, some of whom may not know the difference between a cricket ball and a hockey ball or between a cricket bat and the ‘bat’ used by dhobis and housewives to beat the dirt out of clothes, have got into the administrative machinery of the game, both at the national and regional levels. With the prospect of an unprecedented amount of moolah being generated in future, thanks to the trail blazing done by IPL, it will be surprising if almost all ‘worthwhile’ appointments are not cornered by the deadly combo of politicians and bureaucrats who will demand and get their ‘share’ from the very industrialists they are now criticizing!

This budding criticism may well be a step towards compelling all stakeholders to get the combo fully into the ‘cricket’ loop too!

Will you be surprised tomorrow if a Raj Thakeray demands that the Mumbai team should have only ‘Marathi manus’ and foreigners but no North Indians? The DMK might also invoke Tamil pride and start a protest against paying the highest amount of Rs 6 crores to Jharkhandi MS Dhoni for playing in the Chennai team. The Akali Dal may also have a problem with Malayali Sreesanth in the Mohali outfit! Without doubt, the Left in Kolkata will then use the beaten dead socialist ideological argument while the others will just bring the state to a grinding halt – it is not their own money that will be lost, you know!

All this and more will lead to the real cattle fair, but you and I will never get to see it televised live; we may never even get to hear about it. The ‘auctions’ of politicians will again be quiet and concealed, and the IPL will take off as planned!