Privilege, and everything it entails, is being redefined every passing moment today. A whiff of medical oxygen is a privilege. A life-saving medicine, or rather finding even an antipyretic, the good old paracetamol, is a privilege. The vaccine is turning out to be a privilege as we speak. In the national capital of India — in and around the power corridors of New Delhi — one was told repeatedly in the past month that there is no guarantee anybody’s ‘pull’ would work in finding a hospital bed for someone who is fighting to stay alive against Covid-19. Even within privilege, there is a pyramid structure. The system is redefining privilege. What system? The system that is non-existent…
And, as we brace for the tempestuous journey to recovery from the marred and scarred state the country is at the moment, we realise the enormity and gravity of the word “underprivileged”, a word which used to be thrown about callously. A word whose meaning will now haunt us forever. A huge number of people in this country are underprivileged — the numbers and demography bigger than we previously thought. And then there are those who aren’t.
From where we stand, on this side of the boundary line — fenced out of a technically sterile but in all essence classist biosecure bubble — we look in awe at the privilege and arrogance Indian cricket is indulging itself in. Yes, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is postponed indefinitely. And yes, the grand ostriches at the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) finally took notice of a raging pandemic in the country. Or did they?
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Denial is the hallmark of fools, they say. And foolishness, stupidity — along with arrogance — are privileges the BCCI has held on to, despite being taught a lesson by the virus. Lessons are for lesser mortals, yes. Lessons for those on the streets. What was the word for them — underprivileged — yes. But not for the most powerful body in the game played by 12 nations, give or take a few.
The BCCI is busy in denial. The board and its cash cow, the IPL, are caught in their own sense of grandeur, believing still, despite the forced cancellation, that by staging the league amidst death and sorrow, they were indeed trying to soothe the pain and suffering of the masses. Indeed they were. After all, we saw people celebrating a boundary by MS Dhoni while standing outside a hospital in Delhi, or any Indian city for that matter, waiting for some good news of their kin inside gasping for air. They did. God bless Indian cricket.
The BCCI is also busy portraying itself as this responsible sporting body, which, to ensure the safety and well being of the players as well as those involved in organising the tournament, cancelled the league. They are not worried about the losses, nor are they worried about the availability of a window to stage the remaining matches. As of now, the primary concern is safety, said BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal in an interview with the Indian Express.
If safety was a concern, then the Board should not have continued with the matches till it became impossible for things to be staged and the pandemic to be trivialised. That happened when their bubble was breached by the virus, and not because they took notice of the suffering outside and heard the wailing ambulances plying the streets when they were playing cricket inside the Kotla or the Wankhede. They are yet to acknowledge or address the callousness they exhibited towards the life-and-death struggle outside. The sad irony of the IPL this year was how they were busy celebrating the charm of the death overs while death became a reality all around.
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Now that the league is shelved, they are indeed hinting concern for the safety of the staffers. Which includes groundspersons, security guards and many other lower-level workers who make the bubble and the IPL happen, one can only hope. They were the ones who risked it, despite grappling with the realities of the pandemic outside. They did not have the privilege to leave it all and go back home, like Ravi Ashwin did. They need their daily bread. So the workers stuck around, despite not being accorded the privilege of the bio-bubble by the BCCI, and knowing all too well that their safety was not the concern of the Shah-Ganguly trope at its helm. The workers, after all, were not in contact with the priced assets of the league — the players.
The BCCI bosses, sitting atop their ivory towers in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Ahmedabad, perhaps did not realise that the virus sees all human beings the same way. It does not show discrimination. It reaches you, and shakes you up. It did shake the BCCI up, eventually. Though, as it is the norm, there was denial on that front too.
Earlier this week, when the first reports came out of players testing positive, the BCCI’s first reaction was denial. A smokescreen of misinformation too citing sources and team officials. The standard PR mismash. They have learnt such tricks from the larger powers at play in the country. And learnt them well or maybe even stepped it up a notch.
Almost immediately news was released saying the positive cases at Chennai Super Kings (CSK) were instances of false positives in the RT-PCR test. This day, CSK airlifted Covid-19 positive Mike Hussey and L Balaji back to Chennai. Now we know it was not false positives but false rhetoric. Indians are masters of spin after all.
From this incident alone, it is evident that the BCCI, even when cases were coming up from different franchises, were not willing to shut shop. Not on that day at least. They were, on the contrary, trying to get their machinery into action to limit damage, both to control the spread of the pandemic (which they were right in doing), and spread of accurate news and information (which reeked of cunning).
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Speaking of honesty, the BCCI treasurer, apt in a way that he is the talking head since money is a major factor at play here, was honest enough to acknowledge that the IPL would have gone to the UAE had they known about this escalation. Now, this takes things beyond callousness and empathy.
As of now, the Board’s arrogance revolves around the fact that they have the money and the resources to charter or air-ambulance the players involved to their homes. The Aussies are in Maldives waiting for the mandatory quarantine to get over before flying home. The South Africans and the Caribbean players have been taken care of along with the domestic ones. Safely, like Dhumal puts it. This, however, isn’t and shouldn’t be over.
If not the larger question of accountability and empathy, the Board should not ignore its own failure. Many reports have surfaced which hint at the rather shaky safety protocols and systems that were put in place this time around, compared to the 2020 IPL in the UAE. The Board, for its own sake, should launch an inquiry into where it went wrong. This will be in tune with its claim of acting responsibly to the players and those involved in the IPL.
The rest, like we all know now, is a privilege the Board, and the IPL, can hold on to as long as their revenue, and fans will allow. Money remains with the Board and more has come in despite the partial staging of the IPL. But is money alone enough to keep Indian cricket and the BCCI relevant in the larger socio-political and cultural cauldrons which are boiling over at the moment?
A responsible Board would have mulled all these before insisting that the show must go on even as people die for many millions would still watch TV or live streaming. This kind of callousness is not one sided. The BCCI is clearly mirroring the average Indian. But then, as the statistics show, the average Indian can (if not already) never remain untouched by this anymore.
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That privilege has been taken away from him or her. What remains is a choice. A choice to learn a lesson from this, unlike the BCCI, and choose wisely next time they have the mandate. And let the IPL play itself into a spiral of self-serving oblivion after what it has done and what it failed to do in this pivotal season, this scorching, painful summer of 2021!
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