Harsha Bhogle writes - Hang on, don’t hang them

Harsha Bhogle writes - Hang on, don’t hang them

Post by the phanto » Thu, 27 Apr 2000 04:00:00

Turbulent times call for calm minds, and I fear we are losing some sense
of perspective. News-papers are full of allegations against individuals
and it depresses me, because in the absence of evidence I believe we
have no right to cast aspersions on people who might, in reality, be
honourable men.
To be fair, these people might not be honest, but the impact of calling
an honest man a cheat outweighs, by a million times, the damage that can
be caused by allowing a cheat to live in the guise of honesty. That is
the essence, not just of law but of dignified society, and it cannot be
cast aside for the thrill of seeing a headline in print.

It is different once there is evidence, and that is why the condemnation
of Hansie Cronje is legitimate, even though I suspect a lot of people
are being holier-than-thou. And that is why I was outraged, and I
believe a lot of people should be as well, that the Sunday Times in
London chose to publish a half page colour photograph of Mohammad
Azharuddin on the front page of their sports section with an inch-thick
headline that said Accused.

It was based on what Rajesh Kalra had, apparently, told the Delhi
police. That was considered enough and I find it staggering. I dont
even care if in course of time it is found to be true. At the time the
headline was printed, there wasnt a shred of evidence against
Azharuddin.

And yet, nobody thinks twice about maligning people. We are living in
very murky times, arent we? And yet, that didnt surprise me because a
couple of days earlier, I had received a call from someone in the London
Times in my hotel room in Singapore where I had gone to host the
telecast of the Australia v South Africa series.

Do you know which Indian players are likely to be involved? was the
question. I thought it was a terribly unfair question, but I was not
surprised because the impression that I had gathered till then was that
the rest of the world was quite happy to toe along with the initial
reactions from South Africa; that anything murky in world cricket has to
come from the sub-continent.

I remember telling him that much as I feared that whispers had acquired
legitimacy in this new and depressing environment, we could not make
whispers public. It is an attitude that ties in with other reports,
sympathetic to the South Africans, which talk of the harassment that
visiting cricketers face in India.

All along, it was the heat, the dust, the humidity, the food, the
mosquitoes and now it is the harassment of the Indian fans. We must be a
very cruel country to push pious visitors into wrongdoing; to grab them
by the throat and thrust them into the tunnel of deceit!

An English newspaper then suggested that their team not visit India till
the menace was sorted out. Good heavens! The m***high ground is
acquired through grace, through understanding of cultures, not by
succumbing to age-old stereotypes. Remember, all this was in defence of
a team that had three team-meetings to consider whether or not to accept
money to throw a match.

What faith are we talking about here? What harassment?! I thought faith
was a mans ultimate defence in troubled times. There was no harassment
in a closed room in a meeting to consider throwing a match! Harassment
indeed! You would like to think, wouldnt you, that the world has moved
on towards more progressive thought!

But everytime a stereotype is threatened, progress seems to go out of
the window. And so it was that so many writers in England and South
Africa sat on the high horse of Western honesty and Christian faith. I
am not fighting a battle here; it is not us and them.

And believe me I would never say that there is no such thing as a
Christian faith. I am only amazed that it was used so freely to
whitewash all thought. That is why I found a piece by Michael Atherton
in the Sunday Telegraph very interesting. This is what he says : In
essence, last weeks scandal says as much about the rest of us as it
does about match fixing or Hansie Cronje.

The very same people who nod knowingly when an Asian cricketer is
accused initially dismissed the rumour out of hand when a South African
became involved. Although the Sub-continent does seem to be the powder
keg of this problem, that approach says a lot, I suppose, about the
question of racial stereotyping. And he goes on: After all, show me a
man that has not made mistakes in his life and I will show you a man
that has not lived.

The worm will always nibble at the flower. It does not matter what land
the worm comes from and what land the flower blooms in. And that
includes our own land as well. We must be aware that if respected
cricketers from other countries are tempted, there is no reason some of
our own could not have been either.

My only concern is whether our governing body has the stature, and the
presence of mind, to react to a similar situation. I thought the United
Cricket Board of South Africa did a sterling job even if there was a
hint of disdain in the early statements. But they stood by their players
till the evidence came through.

Then they took action very quickly and that is how I believe it should
be. India had the opportunity of taking the lead in such matters when
the Chandrachud commission was appointed. Apparently there is a strong
legal difference between an enquiry and an investigation and that
the commission had no legal status to force people to depose.

But the report itself, if the extracts are any indication, was extremely
superficial and there was no attempt to probe further. If the BCCI was
really determined to weed this menace out, they could have regarded the
report as insufficient and delved deeper.

After all, two managers had reported wrongdoings, and it now transpires
that the President at the time knew of errant behaviour as well. Sadly,
the truth is that the BCCI found a little corner under the carpet that
was considered inaccessible, and pushed the report, and the whole issue,
there.

Hopefully, we will know very soon if they might indeed have been
shortsighted. I fear, and yet I hope, that the next few days will reveal
more. And I hope we wait till a verdict if pronounced before passing our
own judgement on people