Sloshing in the dugout

>Cricket and money go together in India now as never before. We can call the game mocket or croney. Not that other sports, also viewed by hundreds from the stands and by millions on the screen, are austere. They are not, they too need money and are funded. Commercial endorsements plaster the stands, slice the telecasts of football, hockey and even aquatic tourneys. Money follows them around as well. But to cricket it is glued.

Cricket and money are like bees and honey. With or without out any apologies to Shakespeare’s lines in The Tempest, money can say of its life in Indian cricket:

Where the bee sucks, there suck I / In the leg slip’s bell I lie / In winter from a frozen crease / He bowls the ball with total ease / In summer’s drought he does the same / For he has me to gild his fame / My lack of shame and disgrace / Glide into his flowing pace / As my boundless appetite / Lifts his over-vaulting height / From his bat’s back I’ll ever fly / To heights un-dreamt of in the sky.

That is money speaking, >money in Indian cricket. In cricket, money has found a force multiplier. Cricket is its bullion, its mint.

Maharashtra and political play

The sport has long had an association with another ‘M’ as well — Maharashtra. The knowledgeable will find names missing from the list of Marathi-speaking cricketers that follows: beginning with the legendary Palwankar Baloo and D.B. Deodhar to Vijay Hazare, Vijay Manjrekar, Hemu Adhikari, the Gupte brothers, Chandu Borde, Bapu Nadkarni, Ajit Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai, Sunil Gavaskar, Eknath Solkar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sachin Tendulkar — the list is seamless — Maharashtra has been to Indian cricket what Dharwad-Hubballi have been to Hindustani music. And Mumbai by itself has been to Indian cricket exactly what it has been to Hindi cinema — its natural habitat, its principal home, its gracious host. Its stadiums have been to the willow what its studios has been to the clapboard.

On that west-facing Sahyadri of cricket has also risen another phenomenon — >Sharad Pawar. Maharashtra’s most powerful Congressman since Yashwantrao Chavan, and the State’s tallest non-Congress politician since the era of Achyut Patwardhan, S.A. Dange, S.M. Joshi, N.G. Goray, Mohan Dharia, Madhu Dandavate and Madhu Limaye, he is also the biggest non-playing Maharashtrian in Indian cricket. As president at different times of the >Mumbai Cricket Association, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the International Cricket Council, he is Indian cricket’s Emperor. He has made that game an empire, Mumbai its capital. Like a Chandragupta he has ‘maintained’ its great force of its sportsmen like brave-hearts to ‘resist’ and ‘repulse’ armies that come from across its borders on land and sea. Mr. Pawar is also Indian cricket’s Vishnugupta, otherwise known as Kautilya or Chanakya. He has not only made cricket imperial but intensely canny. He can write, should he wish to, a cricket equivalent to the Arthashastra, a Treatise on Self-Interest, and not just that of the empire’s aristocracy but of its populace as well, generating an appetite beyond the known scopes of human gastronomy and metabolism. I take my mean cap off to him not merely because he has achieved what he has on cricket’s glistening greens but because he has done that while also being in charge of our farms’ deeply sharded browns and greys.

It is not quite appreciated as well as it should be that the founder of the Nationalist Congress Party is also India’s longest-serving agriculture minister (2004-2014) since his fellow-Maharashtrian Panjabrao Deshmukh (1952-1962). And it has been a testing, trying stewardship. No agriculture minister, it is said, knew the behaviour of the soils of India as >Babu Jagjivan Ram did, no one understood the crops and rivers of India as C. Subramaniam did, and no one followed our farmers’ links with fertiliser and grain markets as Balram Jakhar did. But no agriculture minister has had two ‘things’ Mr. Pawar has had: one, the benefit of the most thorough-going and transformational report on farmers ever written by the M.S. Swaminathan-led National Commission on Farmers. Two, the trauma of seeing, in the years he was agriculture minister, 1,53,795 farm suicides. That National Crime Records Bureau figure must be refined to say that since Mr. Pawar came to Krishi Bhavan in mid-2004 and left mid-2014, the suicides “on his watch” numbered about 1,40,000. If the suicides had to happen they would have happened irrespective of who the Union agriculture minister was. But Mr. Pawar was stoic and stoicism is an admirable virtue.

Was he sthitaprajna — unmoved and unmovable — in his other expertise? No, his passion for cricket or, one might say more accurately, for cricket administration saw him stay unflaggingly agile. The proud son of Baramati should have, in the normal course, gone from being cricket’s non-playing captain to becoming its elder statesman. But the BCCI and cricket’s swanky son, the >Indian Premier League (IPL), became so mired in charges of corruption and spot-fixing as to make the Supreme Court order an investigation into them and thereby bring cricket administrators under a dense fog of contention.

Too invested to pull out

Mr. Pawar is not in office now. But neither agriculture nor cricket leave him in peace. As the skies over Maharashtra stay parched, its farms are going through one of their worst droughts. Famine, like a bird of prey, broods over the dry shards of that State. And the IPL, ‘his’ cricket’s prince, is locked in a conflict with the interest of his own farmers. During his recent traversal of the drought-affected districts of India with the Swaraj Abhiyan, Yogendra Yadav had warned Maharashtra of its impending crisis. Husbandry in parts of the State has ground to a halt. Farms thirst. Turfs guzzle. No one can envy Mr. Pawar.

The BCCI argues that it is not going to hurt the State’s thinned-out water sources, that it will use recycled sewage water from the race course, not ‘fresh’ water, to host 17 IPL matches in Maximum City and Pune. It is thanks to a public interest litigation filed by an NGO, Loksatta, that the Bombay High Court demurs and asks in words different from the following construction, but in the same spirit of disbelief: is this the time for the one commodity that is staggeringly scarce in Maharashtra — water — to be diverted in lakhs of litres to entertain the sport-hit when it is denied to the drought-hit? What code of sport permits its glorification at the price of thirst, hunger, possibly even suicide?

The issue is not about cricket, the sport. It is about the stakes and investments in the 17 matches of the IPL. These are far too big, far too deep, to suffer any risk. An IPL pull-out will hurt money. And money must not be hurt.

Alongside the matches, a far greater match is on: that between the machinations of money and the desiccations of drought. But we cannot blame Cricket Inc. alone. The cricket-crazy are equally, if not more, to blame. They must have their fun, come rain come sun. The >Great Indian Middle Class does not realise that its on-screen sportoxication is, in times like these, complicit in a great wrong. This complicity by the urban Indian middle classes in its own exploitation would not be half as gross if it were not happening in a drought.

An opportunity has come to Mr. Pawar, as comes but rarely to political leaders, to do something different, something big. He can show national, not just cricketing statesmanship, by saying life is greater than sport, greater than money, that cricket does not thrive in isolation, that in a choice between watering the IPL and saving the BPL [below-poverty-line people], cricket can be expected to choose aright.

And our only cricket Bharat Ratna, a >Member of Parliament as well, Mr. Tendulkar, has an opportunity now to dazzle the nation by saying cricket is his life but there are lives beyond his own that are no less important and that no water, ‘fresh’ or recycled from sewage, must be used by money to spin more money at a time like this. That would recycle a sewage world of opportunisms, greed and worse.

The use, misuse and abuse of water in the Maharashtra IPL matter is not about water. It even goes beyond money to our priorities as a nation.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is Distinguished Professor of History and Politics, Ashoka University, and former Governor of West Bengal.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 6, 2021 2:06:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/maharashtra-ipl-matter-is-more-than-just-water-sloshing-in-the-dugout/article8476408.ece

Next Story