Saturday, April 24, 2010

A fairy tale, minus happy ending

Byline by M J Akbar: A fairy tale, minus happy ending

The secret mantra of The Greatest Circus in the World was quite simple: keep everyone happy and pass the loot to a cosy club. This brilliant formula deserves all the credit possible in an age where profit is the sole morality and mass entertainment the highest art form. This was entertainment on a spectacular level, with a ticket-pricing policy designed to serve the most important psychological weakness of acquisitive Indians, the ego. The astonishingly exorbitant ticket to the rather tardy lounge at the top of the crest quickly became the perfect gift to anyone with even a modicum of influence. Those who purchased a more moderate ticket became surrogate members of this cosy club, permitted a few thrills from the fringe while club owners laughed all the way to the bank — or, in many cases, tax havens like Mauritius and the British Virgin Islands where the colour of cash is a permanent black.

If the owners had one fear, it was the thought of an intrusive Government that might begin to investigate their financial shenanigans. They bought into Government by sharing the loot with politicians in return for protection. And so, even when tax authorities did put together a note on Lalit Modi, action was aborted. Paradoxically, this encouraged Modi’s self-delusion to the point of self-destruction.

There were institutional rewards as well. It seems unbelievable, but this circus was exempt from entertainment tax. Maharashtra alone could have earned Rs 500 crores so far. Such exemptions are given for mass media with some noble message. If anyone has discovered anything noble in a show whose most exciting attraction is a bunch of imported, under-dressed cheerleaders, then it would be good to know.

The script was superb, and the finest actors were contracted for all the roles, but there is nothing, alas, called a perfect movie. You can square a bunch of ministers, but how do you woo a belligerent Opposition? It was silly to believe that the Opposition — or indeed media — could be silenced with a few throwaway tickets in the front row. When a silly altercation between primary stakeholders and nouveau riche gatecrashers opened, as it were, the floodgates, the power of media and Parliament became suddenly apparent. It was too late. Opposition parties have already introduced two slogans that are going to reverberate across the country: the Government belongs to IPL, while Opposition is concerned with BPL (that is, those below the poverty line). If this sounds a trifle ponderous, the second one is tangy and spicy in Hindi: Dal mein kaala zaroor hai,/Aur kitney Tharoor hain? Shashi Tharoor is a prawn compared to the big fish in the net. As for the proportions of dirt in the daal, it might be more accurate to reverse the equation. There is just some lentil in the dirt, rather than the other way around.

We do not have a full idea of the level of muck. The private betting done by some franchise owners is still a story waiting to be told. When owners bet, it is axiomatic that matches are fixed. More money can be made, privately, when a good team loses than when it wins. As is well known, bribing players is not impossible. The older players get, the more they thrash around for retirement benefits. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has been exemplary in ordering raids, and there is already talk that data and emails reveal an owner-betting underbelly of significant proportions. So far, Government has been resisting the appointment of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate this scam, but for how long? A JPC would be entitled to all the information collected by Government in these raids, which would put it in the public domain.

IPL honchos still believe they can get away without much damage, because destruction of IPL could fracture the Government. The sacrifice of a couple of scapegoats would be a peanuts price compared to the bloodshed that awaits a proper accountability. That jaded crutch known as the “necessary evil” is being trotted out to justify some of the excesses, along with a solemn promise that everything will be cleaned up if the show is permitted to continue. As someone more wise than famous said, once you assuage your conscience, this begins to look more and more necessary and less and less evil.

The damage in cash terms can be calculated, but who will do the accounting of the damage to IPL’s credibility? There is cynical response: why should a circus need any credibility? Who believes a Hindi movie to be the essence of truth, and if it is the essence of truth, who watches it? But Cabinet ministers do not use their power to preside over the Hindi movie industry, or divert Air India aircraft to pick up cast and crew. The story has reached where it has because the credibility of the Union Government is also at stake. Try being cynical about this.

When the scriptwriters of IPL promised to make everyone happy, they forgot an essential requirement. They needed a happy ending for themselves.


NMB said...

You truly are the Akbar of Writing in Modern India......

Ram said...

Deaf Akbar Ji,

Well said but can you please tell us wehre this will all end. All's well that ends well-as you have rightkly mentioned all these scams will br buried by politicians-EK CHOR KABHI DOOSRE CHOR KO EXPOSE NAHI KARTA, AAKHIR UPA SARKAR BACHANE KI BAAT HAI-Compromise to jaroor nikalega aur JANATA HAMESHA KI TARAAH BEWAKOOF BAENGI-Bofors, bank scams we havbe seen it all in both Congress and BJP rule so what's new? Maharajahs have gone but reincarnated as politcians and businessmen the process of looting Indians will nevr end-WILD WEST HAS REINCARNATED IN INDIA-only difference is the looterras are Indians in INDIAN BAZAAR---------------

"The more things change more they remain the same-only looteras have an exclusive Club-IPL and BCCI"

Warm Regards


Raja Swaminathan said...

Have been a big fan of your writing since you got into SUNDAY in 1976.

This BCCI team came into power on the promise of transparency and being "clean". We are now seeing how clean they are.

I wonder how this could have happened without ANY checks or balances. Like you say, everybody has been in on the act. Are there any auditors at all for the IPL and if so, where are they ? If not, why not ?

Pardon my scepticism but I am not hopeful of any structural revamp of the system. There will be scapegoats, there will be some tinkering. But as long as there is so much money to be made with such little accountability, there will be greed merchants looking to grab as much of a piece of the pie as possible in any which way.

I understand the changes the game of cricket has had to undergo to keep up with demands of modern times. However, since when did corruption of the sport become part of the demands of modern times ?

There was an old song "Ek ritu aaye ek ritu jaaye re..mausam badle na, badle naseeba". I get a feeling this applies to Indian cricket too. Have been following it from the days of Sunny and Vishy. Then the complaints of mismanagement were of a different type (player salaries, selection policies), today the complaints are of a different type (financial mismanagement).

Of course I am hoping that I am very wrong and that everything will sort itself out just fine.

Or else I have to just stomach all this and accept it as "coming with the territory" for an Indian cricket fan.

Whichever way you look at it, the fan is being milked and knows he can do nothing about it.

गूगल मित्र said...

Dear MJ,
I vividly remember the night at Ravishankar's (he is no more a friend, so he says) in east of kailash, where you sang ''dam dam diga diga to poor Arjun Singh. I love your writing, perspective on most of the subjects--mostly on Kashmir issues,
Alok Tomar