At the outset I owe a clarification to the reader. I must acknowledge that I am no Dan Brown (author of The Da Vinci Code) and I do not possess any of his investigative techniques -- encrypting symbols or even a basic understanding of his by now well-publicised Kabbalistic methods.
Yet, this piece essentially attempts to compare and contrast the performance of the Indian cricket team (which went to the West Indies recently to play the World Cup) and the United Progressive Alliance government.
Nevertheless, even by a superficial observation, I find a startling similarity, striking parallels and unexplained uniformity between the two. Lest the readers get me wrong, the exercise is not merely limited to the success or failures of the two -- rather it begins there.
What I see is an interesting pattern emerging, linking the dramatis personae of the UPA government and Team India.
It may be noted that the UPA government completes three years in office this week. And this is indeed a report card of the UPA government using Team India as a metaphor (or is it the other way around? I leave it to the readers).
Having given this brief prelude let me proceed with the comparisons:
1. Manmohan Singh and Rahul Dravid: First let me begin with the captains. Both are thorough gentlemen and thoroughbred professionals. Both are acclaimed as one of the very best in their respective fields. If at all there were one reason for every other country to be envious of India, it would be the sheer calibre of our PM as an acclaimed economist and for his deep understanding of economics.
And this logic fits Dravid, the cricketer par excellence too rather squarely. And till date, despite their long careers in public life they remain untainted, uncorrupted and uncomplicated. Importantly, the media glare does not seem to have affected their personality and success has not gone to their heads.
But the similarity does not stop there. Both men, despite their personal achievements have been a relative failure when it comes to leading men. In fact, both are uninspiring leaders so much so it is suspected that they do not have the necessary trust of their own team members.
Even more to the point their very own colleagues would like to replace them at the earliest. More importantly, Dravid's performance as a batsman has dipped ever since he took over as the captain of the Indian cricket team. So has Dr Singh's. When did we see something sparkling, remarkable and refreshing from these two gentlemen -- as players or as leaders?
2. Sonia Gandhi and Greg Chappell: Call them coach, mentor or the guiding personality -- these two have everything in common. While no one doubts their professionalism, the fact remains these two are foreign-born and have distinct disadvantage in dealing with Indians, especially given our myriad combinations, nuances and attendant complications that are so peculiar to India and Indians.
The similarity does not end here. They seem to have one more thing in common -- in the selection of the head of the team. While Dr Singh must owe his elevation to the post of the prime minister to Sonia Gandhi, Dravid is suspected to have been favoured by Greg for his elevation.
More to the point, both of them wielded enormous power behind the formal authority. And as events post World Cup show, the failure of the cricket team did not rub off on Greg, efforts are on to carry out a similar exercise with Sonia Gandhi so that the failures of the UPA government are not extended to her.
It is quite obvious that their communication skills are suspect and they are never known to have been the best of communicators. But all of us know for sure that the 'buck stops at their table.'
3. Sharad Pawar and Sachin Tendulkar: Both of them now seem to be a burden on their respective teams. Plagued with ill-health and injury, age seems to be fast catching with them. In their prime they could take on anybody and they would invariably emerge as winners. Today their body has reduced them to a pitiable state and they remain as mere passengers in their team, a shadow of themselves.
Interestingly, both of them do have strained relationships with their coach or mentor of their team -- Pawar with Sonia and Sachin with Chappell.
Yet, if press reports are to be believed, both harbour a secret desire to be the leader of their respective teams. Crucially, if their health holds and lady luck smiles on them, they could well achieve what they aspire. But for the moment, Pawar is a comprehensive failure both as a whole time agriculture minister as well as part time Board of Control for Cricket in India president! Ditto with Tendulkar -- he is a huge failure, both as a specialist batsman as well as a part-time bowler.
4. Pranab Mukherjee and Sourav Ganguly: It would still seem that these two gentlemen are the best bet for all seasons for their respective teams. The Man Friday for the UPA government, Pranab, if press reports are to be believed, is the front-runner for the post of the President at the time of writing this piece. This for a man who had an ignominious exit from the Congress immediately after the assassination of Indira Gandhi is something remarkable.
Ditto with Sourav. Dropped after his first ODI in the early nineties, Sourav went on to become India's most successful captain of all time. Crucially, he came back successfully again early this year after being dropped last year. And should Dravid fail this summer, the return of Sourav as captain might not be surprising.
If Sourav is the person who is perhaps the only one to perform with some relative credibility in the World Cup, Pranab is one of the most able and performing ministers (again relatively speaking) of the UPA government, both in external affairs ministry as well as in defence. Sourav and Pranab, no doubt, are the very few successes of their respective teams.
5. Montek Singh and Virender Sehwag: Both have one thing in common -- both owe it to their respective captains to be in the team. But the similarity does not stop there. No one is certain about their role. One day Sehwag is dropped. The next day you find him being talked of as the stand-in captain. One day he is selected as an opener, only to figure out that he comes in the middle order during the match.
Such confusion about his role is matched by the lack of role clarity of Montek Singh. As deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, he has been like fish out of water. A born liberal and a staunch believer in the free markets, Montek Singh now heads the Planning Commission, the very anti-thesis of free markets and liberal views.
6. Shivraj Patil and Ajit Agarkar: The lacklustre performance of India's home minister is matched only by Agarkar's non-performance. Crucially their presence in the team is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle. Who, why and on what basis were they selected remains a complete mystery. Remember the weak link in Agarkar's bowling -- one 'boundary ball' per over. Likewise, it has been virtually one security lapse every season for Patil.
7. Lalu Prasad and M S Dhoni: One thing that is common to both is that both of them are complete successes within India. If Lalu is credited with a turnaround of Indian Railways, Dhoni has performed consistently within India. But that is all about it. Lalu has forgotten that Indian Railways is a service organisation and not a profit-making organisation.
And in the process what we fail to appreciate is the fact that while the average running speeds of trains in most countries would exceed 250 kmph, in India we have 'express' trains plying at 50-60 kmph.
Likewise Dhoni has forgotten that he is a keeper first and a batsman next. Nevertheless, as a batsman too, he is yet to prove his mettle outside the Indian sub-continent. In short, when the comparison with the outside world begins, Lalu's and Dhoni's failures become stark.
8. A K Anthony and S Sreesanth: Both are honest, dedicated and extremely talented players. Yet they are under-utilised. More specifically they are yet to bloom to their full potential.
9. P Chidambaram and Anil Kumble: Long back one gave us a dream spell and captured 10 wickets in an innings, the other a Dream Budget and captured the imagination of the nation. Both seem to run out of ideas and now are a pale shadow of their former selves.
Call it the efflux of time, age or what you may, but both of them are merely passengers in their respective teams. While Kumble has retired (from ODIs), PC is expecting others, notably the PM, to do it for him by dropping him from the Cabinet.
10. Selectors and Communists: In fact, many in the past have used the epithet -- jokers, buffoons and morons -- repeatedly against the selectors of the Indian cricket team. Despite such abuse used against the selectors, I refuse to compare, though fully justified to do so, the Communists with the selectors, lest, I be visited by a defamation suit from the BCCI itself!
11. Pak cricket team and the Opposition: One solace for the Indian cricket team fans is that the Pakistan cricket team too had an equally inglorious exit from the World Cup. Likewise one saving grace for the UPA is that the Opposition, especially the NDA, and more specifically, the BJP, is in disarray.
12. The Twelfth Man: Finally, the spectators and the common man (Aam Admi) -- you and me both get short-changed -- one by Team India and the other by the confusion called the UPA government! What a strange coincidence? Isn't it?
The author is a Chennai-based Chartered Accountant. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org