Sunday, December 18, 2005

Tripartite Solution

Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline By M.J.Akbar: Tripartite Solution

Here follows a solution to the most compelling and complex challenge facing contemporary India.

SUGGESTION NO. 1: If Govinda can become a Member of Parliament, why can’t Sourav Ganguly? The Congress leaders of Bengal, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi have expressed the deepest concern over his fate and future. The Congress has such a shortage of candidates that they put up the hapless Nafisa Ali from Kolkata, although the chances of any voter below 60 recalling that she was born in the city were as remote as the possibility of George Bush winning an election from Fallujah. While Govinda needed a Congress wave in Mumbai to defeat Ram Naik, Sourav Ganguly could generate a pretty strong tide between Narkeldanga and Garia on his own.

After all, it is fear of alienating the young voter in Kolkata on the eve of the Bengal Assembly elections that made Pranab Babu (whose knowledge of cricket, shall we say, is not quite up to selector-level) and Priya Da (whose knowledge of football has made India a tenth-rank world power in the game) identify themselves with the former captain of the Indian cricket team. The logic is simple: if Ganguly has become a vote-getter, let him get the votes for the party that needs them desperately in Bengal. Ganguly certainly isn’t much of a run-getter anymore, and, on the field, more of a run-giver than a run-saver.

It is obvious that Sourav Ganguly has reached his first midlife crisis, and requires both our total sympathy and what help we can provide. Since a sportsman’s working life is short, midlife also comes earlier. Ganguly is too famous to belong to the shadows. He needs limelight like a temperamental plant needs sunlight, or he will wither. There is no better limelight for him than membership of Parliament. In fact, after getting him elected (a Congress MP could always resign in the national interest to make way for Sourav), the Congress could turn the limelight into a spotlight by making him minister for sports. He could then use all the power and influence of office to get his friend and mentor Jagmohan Dalmiya re-elected as chief of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. The other advantage is that neither Shane Bond nor Shoaib Akhtar will ever get elected to the Lok Sabha, so Sourav should shine in the House.

SUGGESTION NO. 2: The selection of the Indian cricket team, the only team that matters to India, should be done by the same process that is used to select Indian pop idols like the new Kashmiri role-model Qazi Tauqeer and the svelte Bengali girl Ruprekha Banerjee. We are a proud democracy, and once vox populi has spoken there can be no further argument. The Voice of the People is the Voice of God.

This would take reality TV into a new dimension and assuage the ravenous hunger of TV channels for ratings. In one stroke all TV channels could become profitable. It would also appease the insatiable appetite of mobile phone companies, since the poll would, naturally, be conducted on SMS. Any other form of polling would take time and have to be managed by the Election Commission. If the EC were involved, it would stagger voting into six phases over two months, and you don’t get that much time between matches. So, my apologies to the Election Commission, but there it is: what is good for Bihar may not necessarily be good for Indian cricket.

A television-SMS driven cricket selection process would have enormous beneficial side-effects. I have already mentioned that the channels would become profitable, but look at what it would do for politicians. TV channels would no longer need to hit under the belt of Nehru suits or under the folds of dhotis with hidden cameras to get the stings that drive up ratings. They would have neither time nor interest in exposing politicians, for cricket polls would bring in far, far more revenue. Consider the ad rates for a ten-second spot just after the DJ (yes, sexily-dressed disc jockeys would run the show, not news anchors) announced, "And the winner is…! But before we tell you the name, ek chota sa break..." Since selection is already all about frenzy, imagine the frenzy generated by election.

It would also be a well-funded election. All candidates would be backed by those industrial houses whose goods they sponsor. We are talking multinational money here, my friends; not something siphoned off for asking questions in Parliament. If Indian politicians think that their elections have become expensive, they should watch what happens when Hutch takes on Airtel in the cricket stakes. I can see advertising agencies, direct marketing firms, opinion pollsters and public relations agencies sprouting up just to get their hands on the additional business. There will inevitably come a point when the BCCI charges a royalty of one rupee for every vote cast. If there is money to be made, you are not going to be able to keep the BCCI out of the loot, no matter whether it is headed by Jagmohan Dalmiya or Sharad Pawar. Business is business.

If things go well, and there is no reason why they should not, cricket-elections could add one per cent to India’s economic growth, thereby enabling the government to fund the rural guaranteed employment scheme and keep the interest rates for pension funds at 9.5%. This would immediately stabilise the coalition government of Dr Manmohan Singh, and ensure that a Prime Minister as clean as him remained in office till 2009. I can see nothing but the pervasive glow of good news in my scheme.

SUGGESTION NO.3: Ramanathan Krishnan should be brought back as captain of the Indian Davis Cup team, possibly along with Naresh Kumar and Akhtar Ali in the squad. The most persistent reason I have heard for retaining the "Mahan Kalakar", as an MP described him, in the team, is that Ganguly was so brilliant.

Indeed he was. There are very few joys in my life as great as watching Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar in partnership at their best. It was magic. I think it was Dravid who described him as a god on the off-side. Trust me, those of us who have seen Ganguly at his best find it double embarrassing when Shane Bond turns him into a Jumping Jack, and every bowler who can pitch the ball short gets an extra nip when he sees Ganguly at the crease. Any player should hate the thought of television highlighting his follies on the news. It is not a pretty sight. It is also absolutely true that Ganguly was a great team leader once, and deserves every acknowledgement. I am very serious when I suggest that he must be honoured in some way for his talent and his contribution to modern Indian cricket. What he could not handle was decay, which is always slow, invisible to you but obvious to everyone else. The rewards of sport are commensurate with its demands and dangers. The worst wound to a sportsman’s mind is the stab of fear. Once that lodges in your subconscious, it destroys you. Instead of dealing with the problem, Ganguly sought to prolong his sporting life with politics in the dressing room and the boardroom.

Indian cricket has been jinxed with its captains. Kapil Dev hung around not for the good of the team but to beat a world record in a tussle between age and utility. Azharuddin needed a disgraceful scam to be thrown out, and brought shame to a game he had done much to glorify. The Sachin Tendulkars who can leave the captaincy because it is hurting their contribution to the team are very rare. When Sachin’s time comes to go, he will not wait to be pushed. He will not surrender the aura around his name for that one series more in which you tip over into an abyss. Even the most emotional of Ganguly’s supporters argues that he should have been treated better because he was so good. The "was" is subconscious but accurate.

No player is bigger than a national team. We have a team today that can over the next two seasons be knitted into a winner of the World Cup in the West Indies. Or we can shred it into pieces, as the West Indies did to their once-phenomenal side.

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