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April 22, 2000


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The four monkeys

Prem Panicker

Mohandas K 'Mahatma' Gandhi made the three monkeys, who wouldn't see, hear, or speak evil, popular.

The recent match-fixing controversy has added a fourth to that simian brigade -- in the person of former justice Y V Chandrachud, who strenuously denies evil even when it is served up to him on a plate.

In editorial parlance, there is something known as a 'talking heads' story. That is where a reporter takes a subject, goes through his phone book, digs out half a dozen numbers of 'celebrities', calls them up, asks for their reactions, and strings them all together in the guise of a 'feature story'.

The words of the 'celebrities' are quoted verbatim, without any attempt being made to probe further, to check the veracity of these statements. There is, further, no independent thought put in by the reporter, but merely a summation of the quotes dished out by the celebs.

It is a style of reporting that most serious editors shun. It is a style of story Chandrachud would, had he been a journalist, have excelled in.

Because that is what the Chandrachud report is -- a talking-heads story. The jurist was asked to probe allegations of betting and match-fixing. The jurist chose, instead, to call a lot of celebrities relating to the field being probed, called each of them before him, and asked, Dear X, do you think there is no match-fixing in cricket? And the celebrities, one and all, went , Dear Mr Chandrachud, there is no match-fixing in cricket, it is impossible, unimaginable.

And the jurist promptly, in his summation, re-quoted all the comments quoted earlier, and said: From the above, it is obvious there is no match-fixing in cricket.

>Some pesky journalists refused to toe that line, and argued that match-fixing was in fact rife. But that was easy to dispose of. The jurist said that some journalists had argued a case for match-fixing; that he thought they were basically good people motivated by a love for the game, but that they didn't know, poor fellows, what they were talking about.

The bulk of his attention was devoted to Manoj Prabhakar. And from the way the report is structured, it becomes easy enough to guess what actually happened behind the scenes. You can almost see it, can't you? The BCCI calls the jurist and tells him, boss, there is this guy, Prabhakar, shooting his mouth off, something has to be done to shut him up and will you please do the needful?

Chandrachud, ready to rush in where angels would have hesitated, promptly takes the job in hand. Goes through the motions of an inquiry. And then spends the bulk of his report wielding the hatchet on Prabhakar.

Let's see, how did it go? Prabhakar told the jurist: " I remember the incident at Sharjah when Aamir Sohail and Azhar went out to toss and both came back claiming that the other had won it."

As per the jurist, and we quote verbatim, "The incident mentioned in clause (g) shows Manoj's total unconcern for truth. Aamir Sohail and Azhar were never captains of their teams at the same time or in any match whatsoever. They never tossed together. Azhar tossed with Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Moin Khan but never with Amir Sohail."

Item: In the 1996 World Cup quarterfinal between India and Pakistan played in Bangalore, Aamir Sohail took over the captaincy after Akram dropped out with an injured shoulder, and walked out with Azharuddin to toss.

Item: On April 5, 1996, at the Padang Cricket Ground in Singapore, Aamir Sohail and Mohammad Azharuddin led their respective sides, and tossed.

Item: On April 12, 1996, Mohammad Azharuddin and Aamir Sohail walked out to toss, at the Sharjah Stadium. And again, three days later, on April 15, 1996.

So, by the jurist's own yardstick, can we now turn around and write a report on his report, wherein we say: 'Justice Chandrachud, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, chairing a committee asked to probe a serious allegation, shows his complete unconcern for the truth when he says that Mohammad Azharuddin and Aamir Sohail have never tossed together, when in truth the two have performed that function, at the head of their respective teams, on several occasions'?

In other words, can we say, flat out, that the 'respected' former chief justice lied?

We can. He did.

Take another statement Manoj Prabhakar made, and the jurist quotes:" I distinctly remember the match at Sharjah in 1991 when I was at the crease with Sanjay Manjrekar, when we decided to walk off because of failing light. To our surprise we received the signal from the team management to play on."

Now for Chandrachud: . "The incident mentioned in clause (a) above is falsified by the statement of Sanjay Manjerekar, which I accept as true. He says that the match at Sharjah against Pakistan in October 1991 started late. He and Manoj Prabhakar were on the right path when the umpire said that the light was bad. There was only a brief stoppage in the game. Manjrekar has stated categorically that he and Manoj did not go back to the Pavilion and the statement made by Manoj Prabhakar is wholly untrue. Manjrekar's statement accords with the probabilities of the case."

In the first place, what we have here is a case of one person's word against the other. On the basis of what investigation, by what rules of evidence, does Chandrachud say flat out that Manoj was lying? He could conceivably have said that there was no clear evidence one way or the other -- but how does he blandly brand one person a liar, and the other as telling the truth?

But there is a more valid point that appears to have escaped the jurist's attention, in his haste to apply yet another coat of whitewash. Sanjay Manjrekar says, merely, that they did not return to the pavilion. But where does Manoj Prabhakar say they did? His statement is very clear -- we decided to walk off because of bad light, but to our surprise we received a signal... to play on.

Nowhere does Prabhakar say that the two of them returned to the pavilion -- in fact, he clearly indicates that while the batsmen decided to, they were waved back onto the field of play. And what does Manjrekar say? That the players did not return to the pavilion.

How does Manjrekar's statement make Prabhakar a liar?

Now read Manjrekar's own words: "Our match at Sharjah aganst Pakistan in October 1991 started late. We were on the right path when the umpire said that the light was bad. There was a brief stoppage. But it is untrue that Manoj Prabhakar and I went to the pavilion. Ashok Mankad was the manager of the team."

Does one little factoid in there strike you? Manjrekar says, 'we were on the right track.... Now go back to that game.

Pakistan batted first and made 257. In response, Shastri and Kambli put on an opening partnership of 124 at a rate better than four an over. Then came three quick wickets, including that of Azhar bowled by Akram Raza for nought. Then came a partnership between Manjrekar and Tendulkar, that took India to 219, just 39 short of a win, before Tendulkar (49 off 38 balls), and Kapil (0), fell off successive balls.

And then the light, which was deteriorating rapidly all along, failed completely. What followed was confusion. Had play been called off at that point, in over number 44, India would have won on the basis of superior run rate. The umpires however, after a brief stoppage in play during which they consulted with the organisers, asked the Indians to bat on.

After the match, the last six overs of which were played in light so bad that streetlights blazed outside the stadium, the umpires claimed the Indians had never appealed for light. Both Manjrekar and Prabhakar said that they had in fact appealed, and that the umpires said they were not sure of the rules and asked them to bat on.

India lost, from a winning position.

The questions proliferate: Who took the decision to continue the game in light that was obviously unsuitable? Why?

Now read the words of Ashok Mankad, the manager for the game in question: ">The Sharjah match of which he speaks did not take place at all. Besides, it was an inconsequential match since India had reached the final."

The match did not take place at all??!!!! Both players agree the match did take place, and the manager says not?! And then adds, besides, it was inconsequential?!

What is all this about?

To take the second point first, it was only 'inconsequential' from an Indian point of view -- Pakistan needed to play that game to qualify for the final. Besides, what has the consequentiality or otherwise of a game have to do with it? Is it Mankad's, or Chandrachud's, contention that people bet only on consequential matches?

Meanwhile, go back to the written brief given to the jurist by then BCCI president Raj Singh Dungarpur. Item 11 says, "Mr. Chandrachud will be provided with secretarial assistance and other facilities to enable him to conduct the enquiry officiously."

Now go to the portion where Chandrachud describes his modus operandi. We quote: "During the course of my inquiry, I interviewed past and present members of the Indian cricket team. managers of the team, physiotherapists of the team and certain journalists. I took down in my own hand the statements made before me by the players, the managers, the Physiotherapist, and two journalists -- Mr. Krishna Prasad and Mr. Makarand Waigankar. The statements of the others, mostly journalists, were dictated by me in their presence to my personal secretary who typed them out in their presence. A few of them, just a few suggested minor changes in what I had dictated. Those changes were forthwith incorporated in their statements."

Says the jurist: I took down in my own hand....

Given the way the report has shaped, you have to ask -- why? Why were the statements of the players and managers taken down by the jurist himself, when there was a secretary present and deputed to do that job? An obvious conclusion you cannot help but draw is, that this meant the jurist could keep out anything that was not convenient, since there was no third person, in the form of a secretary, to keep track of what was said and what was taken down.

The final straw is this summation: "I have no hesitation in rejecting the allegations made by Manoj Prabhakar. They are imaginary and unrealistic. The question naturally arises as to why he should have resorted to tactics like these. The answer is provided by his own peers. According to them Manoj lost his equipoise because firstly, to quote his own words, he was " thrown out of the Indian team". That deprived him of the opportunity to make handsome gains by the use of his unquestioned cricketing talents. Secondly. he was then discarded by his own home team the Delhi District Cricket Association. That definitely unhinged him because, having been a hero of the crowds for quite some years, he was relegated into oblivion. From the admiring eyes of countless fans to a dark room is a fall too big to bear even for the most philosophical. He then tried to open a new leaf in his life by contesting an election to the Parliament. He rushed in where angels fear to tread and lost his wicket like a tail-ender. That was the last straw which broke the brave back."

In sum, Chandrachud calls Prabhakar a mentally unbalanced liar. Which, as the jurist will perhaps be the first to agree if you put it to him, is clearly libellous (there is, in fact, a case for Prabhakar filing suit against Chandrachud, here).

Now that it is obvious that the Chandrachud report is less than honest, can we turn around and say that the jurist, once the highest judge in the land, the darling of the legal fraternity, went into oblivion after he quit that job, and 'this was the last straw that broke that brave back'?

Sauce for the goose, and all that?

One thing is obvious -- the Chandrachud report raises more questions than it sets out to answer. Questions that deserve to be answered by the jurist himself.

And that brings up the funniest part of the whole episode. In the days before the release of the report, every day carried a fresh quote from Chandrachud, in crusader mode, blazed across the front pages of the media. 'Why' he repeatedly demanded, 'is my report not being tabled in Parliament?' 'Why is my report not being made public, so the people can see for themselves?' And so on, and so forth.

And then the report was finally tabled. And made available to the public. And its flaws became blindingly apparent to all. And questions began to be raised.

At which point, Chandrachud came up with his final quote on the subject, carried in today's newspapers: 'In the best traditions of judicial functioning, I have decided not to comment'.

Could it be that Chandrachud heard of these 'judicial traditions' in the 24 hours before his demanding that the report be published, and realising that his whitewash job hadn't fooled anyone?

You are the best judge of that.

Postscript: At Rediff, we have made it part of our working tradition to respond to every single mail sent to us. However, the incredible volume of mail following the publication of the Chandrachud report make it impossible for us to respond individually. At least, immediately. Every mail, though, is being read, and will be responded to in course of the coming week, as time permits. Thanks, meanwhile, to all who wrote in.

Night cricket without the floodlights
Murky doings in Sharjah

Prem Panicker

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