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Pennies from heaven

columns Updated: Apr 09, 2011 22:55 IST
Karan Thapar
Karan Thapar
Hindustan Times
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I've done a little test to see how right or wrong my views can be, and I'm delighted to tell you that, at least in this one instance, I'm almost spot on. I sent some 50 different people — journalists, politicians, authors, ambassadors, civil servants, doctors, elderly aunts, etc — an sms outlining my response to the way state governments have competed with each other to shower gifts on our World Cup winning cricketers. To my pleasant surprise, almost everyone responded readily, if not also immediately. So, now, I'm pretty confident I know how most people think!

The sms I sent read: "What do you make of this competition to give money or land or houses to the team? I find it questionable if not distasteful. What's your view?"

Three things stand out about the responses I received. First, practically everyone replied. This has rarely happened before. So, clearly, this is a subject that struck a universal chord. Second, not one person defended this gratuitous money-giving. Third, several responded with passion, even anger. I don't recall any replies that suggested mild or lukewarm concurrence.

Let me, therefore, draw a few conclusions. No doubt we all want to acknowledge, applaud and, even, reward our World Cup winning cricketers but doling out cash, land or houses is both morally wrong and demeaning. One of my respondents, not inaptly, compared the outpouring of crores to the way maharajas used to throw gold coins at courtesans. By that token cricketers are today's nautch girls! Others pointed out, again quite justifiably, that this suggests the team was only playing for money.

The second conclusion is possibly more damning. This behaviour betrays our own twisted set of values. Is money the only way of saying thank you? Is it the most meaningful way of doing so? Our chief ministers should think carefully about this. Their gifts reflect their thinking.

The third conclusion is actually a question: whose money did they gift away? Not their own but the tax payers. Yet in a country where hundreds of millions live in miserable poverty — even if you don't want to accept Arjun Sengupta's figure of 77% living on Rs 20 a day or less, you can't dispute this — should we be giving crores to those who already have several, in some cases hundreds? Is that responsible government? And is this how the aam aadmi is best served?

I wish just one of our cricketers had politely declined the cash or, better still, announced he would donate it to charity. Even if the new players could not be expected to do so, what about Sachin or Dhoni or Yuvraj? They don't need this largesse but the respect they would have earned from a polite refusal to accept would have catapulted them to moral stardom. Instead, we've ensured they remain only cricket heroes.

Let me, however, end with a thought that was not part of my sms. If the team deserves Rs1 crore each from the BCCI why should their coach, Gary Kirsten, without whom they all acknowledge they would not have won, get less?

I can think of sound arguments for giving him more. But that did not happen. The only case for giving him half what his team got is either he wasn't very good — but the team dispute that — or the BCCI doesn't believe in generosity to people who aren't Indian.

Once again, that raises a whole set of disturbing questions. But where do we get the answers?

The views expressed by the author are personal.