The great Indian farce

Written by Rajesh Chakrabarti | Updated: May 1 2010, 04:15am hrs
Going by the media attentionthe present piece includedLalit Modis ouster from the IPL is a national event of considerable consequence. In three short years, Modi has, successfully and single-handedly (meaning together with others working from behind the scenes) created a competitor (or maybe co-opetitor is a better description) to the other national sport in Indiapolitics.

For almost sixty years, politics has been without a rival in the entertainment space in India. Its quinquennial national championships create so much excitement that they are frequently advanced just for spectator delight. The state tournaments are second only to the national championships in public interest.

The panchayat and civicand equally uncivilcontests evoke greater thrill than almost anything else. Tennis ball versions of it are practiced in joint-families and offices all over the country.

The attention that it has received over the years has been completely well-earned. This is not anybodys glass of nimbu-paani. The charm, the charisma, the flexibility, the immunity to insults, abuses and inconvenient truths, the connections, the sense of timing in switching sides, the ability to read minds of the bosses, not to speak of the writing on the walls, the capacity to send out coded signals and all the myriad other virtues necessary for success here do not come easy. Little wonder then that the superstars of the game enjoy near-celestial status.

The sport is a simple one and consists of two rounds. The one thing the subcontinent is not short of is people. These are the chips necessary for access to the table. Collect enough chipsnot easy given the competition, refer to a subset of the skills listed aboveand you can have your place at the table when the real game begins. It is mostly about strategyread deception and betrayalwith occasional use of muscle power. Barring the inconvenience of having to renew your chips periodically, the game can go on uninterrupted, for generations.

But things changed elsewhere. Technology and liberalisation enhanced the power and the bandwidth of media. The possibility of dishing out more excitement went up and even Indian politics began to look a bit like Test cricket. The new generation, spoilt by a distinctly American preference for getting everything, including killing time, done in haste, began to reveal a startling lack of elegance. Test matcheswith their gentlemanly penchant of arriving at mutually respectful drawswere passed over for one-day frivolities soon to degenerate into the T20. All this impatience spilled over to the more serious pursuits as wellpolitics was falling behind.

The style changed as well.

Liberalisation removed the hypocrisy of being one with the masseshow ridiculous! It was now OK to flaunt wealth, however acquired. Some used it to get a few of those chips to get to play the old game more transparently than before. But some others just found the going a bit too dull there.

And then Lalit Modi came, with an idea whose time had decidedly come. The new game also had its rules. Thankfully, here the chips could be bought rather than begged or bribed, as it should be in every self-respecting free society. They are more colourful than in the other club. They even entertained by throwing balls and swinging bats. But thats just a side showat the end of the day, nobody remembered who won and who lost. It all happened so quickly anyway, so many teams, so many games, so much beer. The real game is elsewhere. Scores are kept in millions of dollars. And spectator interest there is drowning even that other pastime.

Trouble started, as it always does, with the dual-membership issue. A clash of clubs ensued, with its first victim being the tweeting Mr Tharoor. His tweets, however, may have less to do with his fall than conjectured, given that he managed to get into one of the upstairs rooms of the old club despite having authored a booka gory abattoir of holy cows (and a delightful read, by the way)that compared Nehru to Dhritarashtra, his daughter to Duryodhana and the Emergency to Draupadis disrobing. But holding a junior ministers friend to the standards of Caesars wife, that is a bit presumptuous too, isnt it

Anyway, Mr Tharoor had to go, but it made the old club close rank for revenge (and avert such ungentlemanly glare on friends and family in the future). Ergo, round one to the old clubbattered but victorious!

The drama has hardly ended with the Modi exit. As Mr Tharoor had observed long back, There is no end to the story of life. There are merely pauses... Todays end is, after all, only tomorrows beginning.

He better be right. Our need for entertainment extends far beyond the skimpy IPL season.

The author teaches at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad