The only surprising fact about most corruption stories is that anyone in authority gets surprised. Everyone in charge knew that the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee was buying toilet paper at art paper prices, and turf at the rate of platinum. This was not considered unusual, let alone criminal, because the price of cream is built into public expenditure.
Every detail of the spectrum sale bazaar was public knowledge and raged in epileptic spasms across media. Four years ago, this month, police taped conversations between lobbyist Nira Radia and other middlemen, and indeed middlewomen, to force Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh to keep A. Raja as telecom minister. They succeeded.
The system knew why Santosh Bagrodia, a minor Calcutta businessman with a major genius for dipping ten fingers in the till, was made coal minister in UPA1; to set up the coal scam. There are two reasons why mortals became ministers: political clout and personal utility. Bagrodia’s talent was distinctly fiscal.
Similarly, everyone involved in T-20 knew that a serious stench was emanating from the underbelly from inception. Some punters were attracted by precisely that, the stink. One top honcho, now out of his depth as well as his league, used to brag before freeloaders that whenever his preferred team lost, he won — through bookies. Such party talk elicited the usual oohs and aahs from priests of this religion called wealth.
Everyone in IPL is not corrupt; most owners and managers came for the novelty, for the fun and for the possibility that legitimate money could be made in a new form of entertainment. By far the majority of cricketers still cannot believe their luck as they check their bank balances; their wildest dreams never foresaw such lottery-level riches for four overs of work and 20 of vigilance. But there was a price. Silence. Any leak about the underbelly would contaminate the whole tamasha.
Now that the police investigation has gone public, reports are tumbling out about parties hosted by slurping bookies, and how so many manful, morality-intense cricketers refused to go. Why did some cricketers stay away from bookie Chandresh Patel’s party at the Country Club in Gurgaon on 6 April, when general standing orders are to spread fun in all directions? The absentees knew this would be a gathering of crooks, and that some of their playing brethren were very happy indeed to sup with thieves. What did they do next?
Kept quiet. Did they tell their captain, or their coach? Cheating changes a result. We do not know. Did the superiors add to the growing silence? Was everyone instructed to stop squealing for the larger good of the circus? Were owners told? They keep in close touch with the team, as everyone who watches them prance across the playing fields of Cheaton for the glory of television coverage is aware. [Apologies for the pun, but it was irresistible. If the playing fields of Eton were the epitome of character for the long-departed Duke of Wellington, then surely a scribe can coin a rotten pun when irritated.]
Was the field marshal of this glitter, sex-and-six gala, Rajiv Shukla, aware and kept quiet, for which silly fool is going to decapitate the goose that lays golden eggs every night, and often twice a night? We do not know, and you can bet your non-IPL fortune that we are unlikely to be told. The principal culprit — at least till the moment more names are revealed — Sreesanth, a ranking idiot, might break down and admit his mistakes, but he is a wobbly child compared to steel-faced tycoons at the top. As the public mood shifts from popcorn exhilaration to cynicism and anger, there is a growing feeling that even this post-expose clamour is merely dust in the consumer’s face: dust that will cloud the truth, buy time, and finally settle after scapegoats have been sacrificed, in the hope that there is nothing shorter than an ass’ tail or the public’s memory.
Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar has lived through torment since his appointment. He deserves our congratulations now, not just for the physical dissection of a public cancer, but for the courage in challenging the collective silence that protected this racket. That required guts. It might be easier to take on a tottering government than a towering cricket establishment these days. Kumar knows that he has only scratched the surface. But once the police begin scratching you never know which suppurating sore will begin to bleed.
This disease is not limited to 20 overs. It spreads into the national game. Test cricketers have been photographed in the obedient company of bookies, and they have kept their place with the help of an obliging captain and selectors. There is more to investigate than Neeraj Kumar has time for.
In the meanwhile, keep a beady eye open for the deluge of cosmetics that will drench the underbelly in the hope that you confuse malevolent odour with perfume.