Friday, April 4, 2014

Open Letter to Narayanaswami Srinivasan, former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)


“As he was valiant, I honour him. But as he was ambitious, I slew him.”
William Shakespeare 

Dear Mr. Srinivasan,

The tragedy in this saga is the fact that the sport that you were meant to champion and steward has been the greatest victim of your hubris. We realise that money can buy many things; votes, support from local, regional and even international cricketing boards but what you have never understood is that it cannot buy you the one thing you covet most – respect. Granted money also buys you the illusion of power, and make no mistake that it is nothing more than an illusion, because it is based entirely on surrounding yourself with spineless sycophants who will march to your tune, follow your orders and fill you with hot air – as long as you keep lining their greedy and sweaty palms and not a moment longer. You see it is only your money that these people respect, and not you. If this type of power is all you seek, then I feel sorry that you will never know what it feels like to truly earn the respect of people, based on your deeds and your actions; the only real and lasting respect in this life.

The respect to which I refer could have been earned by building a true legacy for the BCCI, by furthering the cause of cricket and doing right by it. This honour is earned by putting your country and our sport first. It is an honour reserved for men who are willing take on the greatest mandate the BCCI has ever had in its history, and use it to put India and Indian cricket on the world stage. For years global cricket was dominated by a small minority of overlords in England and Australia because they had the financial muscle to call all the shots. Even though it was the contribution of many other teams and boards that enabled the growth of cricket, the power structure remained unchanged. Then came an era of explosive economic growth in BRICs which helped open the floodgates of fan support in Asia. Along with the tide of fans came a tidal wave of advertisers and marketers falling over themselves to write large cheques to the BCCI for a small share of the billion plus Indian eyeballs and wallets. It is easy to discount another very important reason for this cricket frenzy and that is the men who wore the Indian blues with great élan on and off the field during the same time. I am talking not of our current young Turks who earn six figure paydays for IPL matches but of the men who played this sport because it was their passion; Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tedulkar, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh to name a few, can be credited with lifting India on their able shoulders; their dedication, integrity and hard work took Indian cricket to its zenith, thus giving the BCCI a mandate that a single cricket board will likely never again have. However, under your stewardship the BCCI chose to exercise this authority not by showcasing our largesse as a nation or by commanding the world’s respect based on our actions but by embarking on a small minded, medieval and myopic grab for power. Your BCCI focused all its efforts on gaining control over cricket’s governing body, the ICC, fought for more revenues (BCCI already has more money than they know what to do with), threatened meeker boards to submit to your whims and fancies, and bullied everyone into allowing you to be crowned Chair of ICC.

For years the BCCI opined about how poorly all the non-white teams were treated; about how the sub-continental boards were underrepresented and never given a voice. For years we complained about the fact that there were no TV cameras at the World Cup we went on to win, when India and Kapil Dev outplayed Zimbabwe, as it was not considered an important match for the ICC to waste precious resources on. Under your stewardship of the BCCI, India had a chance to shine by presenting ourselves as a beacon of fairness and integrity. We had a chance to lead by example and show the world that when the tables turned and we had the decree to lead, we did not spend our time trying to even old scores or by seeking revenge. But that we showed our one-time oppressors how everybody deserves to be treated - based on their contribution to the sport and not based on the colour of their skin or the thickness of their accent. We had a chance to demonstrate that we can take the high road, the path less traveled and carry even those who once exploited us, showing them a better way forward. You could have brought the minnows of cricket in from the cold and leveled the playing field forever. After accomplishing all this you would have likely won the ICC chair on merit and based on overwhelming support from every cricket board in the world. Then you could have focused the ICC’s energies along with the BCCI’s financial muscle on spreading cricket fever into the untapped meccas of football. From Europe to South America, you could have recruited the game’s greatest ambassadors and dispatched them to spread the cricketing gospel; through IPL style exhibitions games designed to light a spark in young impressionable minds the world over; at a time when many are losing faith in the religion of football based on their sports own recent scandals. This, Mr. Srinivasan, could have been your legacy for the BCCI, for Indian cricket and for India. And it is for squandering this opportunity that you owe your countrymen an apology before you go quietly into the night.

Yours Sincerely,
A Cricket Fan

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Crimea & Punishment: US Influence in Decline

"If we can't persuade nations with comparable values of the merits of our cause, we'd better reexamine our reasoning."
Robert S. McNamara

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, recently visited Kiev, the besieged Ukraine capital. From there he accused Russia “of making up reasons for intervention in Ukraine, saying that ‘not a single piece of credible evidence supports any one of these claims*."  Kerry went on to further refute Russia’s justification for amassing troops in Crimea based on their assertion that “Russian-speaking citizens (were) under siege…*" (*Source: CNNArticle).

At face value I would be inclined to agree with Mr. Kerry. The people of Kiev marched in protest of their elected government led by Russian strongman Victor Yanukovich to overthrow him. It is true he was democratically elected (even though there were numerous anomalies and allegations of voter fraud and vote rigging). For our purposes let’s assume he was democratically elected. So while we can argue that his government’s demise was un-democratic in that it did not transpire at the ballot box, what cannot be argued is the fact that Mr. Yanukovich completely lost the confidence of his own ministers, cabinet and party. In the end he had no credibility, and therefore no legitimacy, left to govern the people of Ukraine. It was just a matter of time before he would have had to submit his resignation and hold new elections, which is why he fled.

What surprises me most about the current crisis in Crimea is not the recent turn of events but that nobody in NATO, the European Union, MI-5, State Department, CIA, NSA or the White House saw this coming. In my estimation, Putin was always going to take all necessary means to protect his substantial trade and geopolitical investments in Ukraine. We were all aware that Mr. Yanukovich was the Kremlin’s man in Kiev. Russia has historical ties to the region starting in the 18th century. Nikita Khrushchev gifted Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, but they still share the same language and many Ukrainians work in Russia today. Most importantly Russia has billions of dollars invested there. “Take Crimea, for instance. More than half of its 2 million people are Russian, and Russia still maintains a naval base there.” (Source: NPR Article). Did the Western powers seriously expect Putin to walk away or agree to settle this matter with meetings, phone calls and group hugs? Mr. Putin is ex KGB and a man who has long portrayed a tough guy image. We have all seen the pictures of him wrestling a bear and riding a horse shirtless. He is not going to go silently into the night when there is a direct challenge to his authority and influence within his geopolitical sphere and right on Russia’s doorstep.

Putin claims that he was asked by Mr. Yanukovich to send troops to protect the Russian speaking populations in the East and in Crimea; it is a pretty thin argument. Even without a law degree one can see that there is no legal justification for Russia’s action. Let’s for a moment forget Putin’s claims for amassing troops in Crimea and go back to 2005 to another invasion of a sovereign country. Now consider John Kerry’s statement accusing Russia and substitute Ukraine for Iraq - of making up reasons for intervention in (Iraq), and that ‘not a single piece of credible evidence supports any one of these claims;" funny how his statement still applies to the Iraq invasion. To this day there is not proof of Iraqi links to Al-Qaeda, nor any evidence they supported, funded or harbored any terrorist organizations. We all know that there was never any credible evidence presented (only anecdotal from exiles and dissidents; which were written off by German intelligence who provided them to US and UK) of a stockpile of deadly chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. There was never any imminent threat to the United States of America or the world at large, as we were repeatedly told by Cheney, Bush and Blair. No matter how you feel about the Iraq invasion there can be no dispute that there was no legal justification for it within International Law. Perhaps this is why the US was able to convince only one of the more than one hundred and ninety countries in the world of its need to invade a sovereign nation.

There is no question that Mr. Putin has no moral right or legal justification to invade the Ukraine. The problem is that after the invasion of Iraq, the United States lost its moral authority to stop Russia or any other country from doing the same. It is a simple matter of International law; if the US can break it at will, then why not another country? Bush and Cheney set a very dangerous precedent, that too at a time when US economic dominance is in decline. Mr. Putin is well aware of this fact and has taken a calculated but smart risk. He knows the US can no longer take the high ground or afford another war. While the European Union can take the high ground, they are averse to war. However, since Russia supplies almost a quarter of their oil and natural gas, Putin knows that the EU is highly unlikely to do anything too damaging in terms of sanctions or economic reprimands. Perhaps, now Bush and Cheney can add this to the already high cost of their Iraq war.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why I Boycotted Martin Scorsese


“And as I've gotten older, I've had more of a tendency to look for people who live by kindness, tolerance, compassion, a gentler way of looking at things.”
Martin Scorsese 

Martin Scorsese is not a very imposing man at 5’ 4” but few will deny the towering influence he has had on global cinema since the early 1970’s. In fact I doubt that there is anyone in the world over the age of thirty who has not seen or heard of a Scorsese film. Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed and most recently The Wolf of Wall Street, to name just a few of the phenomenal movies and enduring movie characters he has created over the years. The biggest movie stars in the world line up to be cast in one of his movies, new directors would kill to have made one movie from his long resume, in their entire career, and moviegoers flock to his latest creation in droves. Apart from the films he has directed, he has also produced countless classics and served as mentor and inspiration for a few generations of filmmakers. Being a movie fanatic myself, he has long been a hero of mine. No matter the subject matter or the cast, I used to be one of the faithful who would gladly pay to watch the next Scorsese film with blind devotion.

This is a man whose every film I would run out to be the first to see; a man for whom I had a great deal of respect. A man whose pain I personally felt, each time he was cheated out of a Best Director Oscar; amazingly he has still won ONLY one Oscar for The Departed in 2006; but I digress. The point is that in an industry filled with shallow, self-absorbed and feckless people, this was a man I admired for being the opposite. He is someone I believed held values and principles that were made of sterner stuff in the midst of an often morally bankrupt profession. This was a man who in my mind had not drunk the Hollywood Kool Aid of self-importance. Instead of using his fame to preach to us, off the camera, he spoke purely through his art; staying true to his vision and not succumbing to chasing the box office numbers and studio-driven bottom-lines. To be clear, I am not comparing him to Gandhi or Mandela but within Hollywood he was someone who stood out from the rest of the big studio sell-out pack, with his humble, gentle and self-effacing demeanor. Why then you might ask did I take this drastic step and boycott a genius and someone whom I clearly held in such high regard?

In September 2009, Roman Polanski was detained on a U.S. arrest warrant related to a 1977 child sex charge while trying to enter Switzerland. He was on his way to attend the Zurich Film Festival, where he was to be honoured. Polanski has been on the run since 1978. He was 43 years old when he pled guilty “to a single count of having unlawful intercourse with a minor acknowledging he had sex with a 13-year-old girl.” It seems there “have been repeated attempts to settle the case over the years, but the sticking point has always been Polanski's refusal to return to attend hearings. Prosecutors have consistently argued that it would be a miscarriage of justice to allow a man to go free who "drugged and raped a 13-year-old child." (Source: CNNarticle). I would be inclined to agree with the authorities. Mr. Polanski not only committed a crime but actually admitted to it. After he was arrested a section of the Hollywood community led by Harvey Weinstein started a petition to ‘FREE POLANSKI’ because they claimed "it seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him" (Source: ONTD article). The petition called on every filmmaker we can to help fix this terrible situation," (Source: CNNarticle). Martin Scorsese was one of the signatories to this petition.

Let’s begin by stating the obvious; it seems to me that these petitioners are suggesting that due to Mr. Polanski’s greatness as a filmmaker and based on his tremendous contribution to the arts, he should somehow be forgiven for raping a 13 year old girl; or worse that perhaps the laws of the land that apply to the rest of us mere mortals do not apply to Hollywood greatness. It would be one thing to request that the authorities arrest him after the function (personally, I don’t believe a child rapist should be afforded even that courtesy) but to suggest that he not only not be arrested but that he be allowed to remain a free man, is abhorrent and an insult to the rights of women and every daughter, sister, wife and mother. Also, I am aware that the girl he raped famously forgave him in 1997 and requested that the charges against him be dropped; she did so to find closure and move on with her life. Irrespective, her forgiving him should change nothing. Mr. Polanski committed a serious crime and must face the consequences for his actions. It is for the Judge and jury to weigh the victim’s forgiveness when Mr. Polanski faces them in a court of law. If we start to determine criminality and sentencing based purely on a victim’s forgiveness of the perpetrator, we may as well do away with the criminal justice system.

It honestly does not matter to me that there were other famous Hollywood personalities like Woody Allen, Darren Aronofsky, Wes Anderson and Jonathan Demme who also signed the same petition. But it troubled me deeply that Mr. Scorsese did. Perhaps, naively so, but I had never equated him with the rest of this industry and had held him to a higher standard. His signature and support to free a confessed child rapist felt like a personal betrayal and I chose to show my indignation by boycotting his movies from that day.