Archive for November, 2011


(A truncated version of this piece appeared on the editorial page of the Sakal Times today)
Around six months ago, the people were disillusioned. There seemed to be a ‘disconnect’ between the government and the citizens; corruption cases were popping out of the woodwork and politicians of all hues stood accused in various scams. Names of everyone from the prime minister to the lowest-ranked bureaucrat were being muddied, and just no one seemed to be in control at the helm.

Into this mess came Anna Hazare with his simple call, “Let’s end the corruption around us”. His simplicity and his earnestness struck a chord. After all, why would a retired army driver/villager-turned-social activist step into stem the rot of something that, for all practical purposes, seemed beyond any redemption? Wasn’t he better off in his village, Ralegan Siddhi, which he had reformed and transformed?

So when Hazare launched his anti-corruption movement the people suddenly found the outlet to voice their angst. His small bunch of supporters became a crowd and then a movement. People believed that someone finally had the guts to grasp the bull by the horns. And the politicians were worried. Proceedings in both Houses of Parliament that week mirrored the disgust of the people. There was excitement and hope in the air. People believed that the government was finally listening to them.

The government began in earnest to go after Team Anna. Their PR machinery went into overdrive digging up all the dirt they could find. The financial dealings of the NGOs run by members of Hazare’s core group were being questioned; Arvind Kejriwal was slapped with notices by the IT department; But the dirt just wasn’t sticking. Team Anna was in control.

Now six months later, the script seems to have gone awry. The first rumblings began when Team Anna talked about campaigning against the government in the various by-polls. A lot of people thought it was the wrong move. He was deviating from his focus on corruption, it was felt. Some members of his core group distanced themselves from the movement, others quit. Soon after, Kejriwal paid back the Rs 9 lakh, that he owed the government with the explanation that he was doing so under duress. Not everyone was convinced.

Then Kiran Bedi was accused of making full cash claims on air tickets she was entitled to at a concession. She admitted she had, and offered to pay back, but the damage was done. Soon fingers were again being pointed at the Trusts being run by some members of Team Anna. Prashant Bhushan put his foot in his mouth when he spoke of the need for a referendum on Kashmir, which angered many. Recently Hazare’s blogger, who quit the team, claimed that people close to the activist were using him to further their own interests. It seemed to a lot of us that Team Anna was exceeding its brief – that of tackling corruption.

The latest scandal to hit them has been one, again involving Ms. Bedi. This time she has been accused of receiving huge donations to impart free computer training to children and families of BSF, CISF, ITBP, CRPF and police personnel under the banner of her trust ‘India Vision Foundation’, which, it is alleged, she never did. She has denied the allegations. Unfortunately, now the dirt is beginning to stick.

People know Hazare is an honest man, but they are beginning to questioning the honesty of some of his team. Secondly, is personal honesty and integrity enough to tackle issues of national importance? It’s also obvious that the government machinery is in overdrive to ensure that anything and everything unpleasant about Hazare and his team is made public. With their backs already pinned to the wall, can Team Anna take the fight to the government on the issue of corruption and the lok pal bill, when they themselves now stand sullied? Let’s hope for the sake of the lakhs who believe in Anna Hazare, they can.

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Vinod Kambli has always been the kind of person who seeks attention and thrives on it – on the cricket field and off it. And the latest incident where he has claimed that the 1996 World Cup semi final against Sri Lanka was fixed is another example of that. Before that was his outburst on TV that Sachin could have helped him get his place back in the team, but never did.

Sometime in 1988, a journalist friend called me to ask if I would be interested in carrying a feature in the Maharashtra Herald, on the other and lesser known half of the Tendulkar-Kambli combination. Vinod Kambli was then a 17 year-old-year living in a one-room tenement in Kanjurmarg, in the suburbs of Mumbai, unlike his more famous and younger-by-a-year friend who lived in Bandra.

He and Sachin had just set up a world record score of 664 in schools cricket, and while everyone was raving about the talent of the cherubic Tendulkar, who was already been spoken of as a player to watch, not too many people were talking about Kambli.

So when this journalist friend spoke to me, I was not too convinced. But he used all his powers of persuasion to convince me of Kambli’s talent and the fact that the ‘biased’ Mumbai sports media couldn’t see beyond Shivaji Park and Dadar Gymkhana!

So we carried a full-page feature on Kambli and it made fascinating reading. Here was this boy from the lower strata of society, who knew that everyone was talking about Tendulkar, said he didn’t mind because Sachin was his best friend. The young Vinod would travel by local train to Shardashram School where both the boys would go through cricketing lessons under the watchful eyes of their coach Ramakant Achrekar.

He was sure that one day soon his time would come, that people would take his name in the same breath as they did Tendulkar. And they did, in 1993, four years after his friend Sachin made that spectacular debut against Pakistan. In his first seven Tests, Kambli scored two double-centuries and two single ones. Not even his best friend could have boasted of such a sensational start.

He then made that very telling comment, “Sachin used the elevator and I used the staircase.”

Nothing could have been better for Indian cricket at that point. I genuinely liked the kid and thought he deserved his success. From January 1993 to November 1995, Kambli had played 17 Tests and scored 1084 runs at an average of 54.20. He had scored 2477 in 104 one-dayers. Pretty impressive record, but then somewhere along the way, I believe his success went to his head. Unfortunately, his career never took off because he was, like many others before him, suspect against the rising ball.

There were also various instances of indiscipline and a tumultuous personal life, which probably also contributed to his slump. His behaviour on and off the field was in marked contrast to that of his friend Sachin, who was never involved in any unsavoury incidents – personal or professional. Even the fact that Sachin ended up marrying someone seven years older was overlooked by the media. And since Kambli was supposed to be his best friend it was natural for the media to compare the two. In this comparison, it was Kambli who invariably ended up with the bad reviews.

I remember speaking to some senior sports journalists, much more knowledgeable and experienced about the game than I was, and their opinion was that Kambli just wasn’t as good as Tendulkar and had been outmaneuvered by the opposition bowlers, because of his weaknesses outside the offstump. They also felt he had messed up his career by his antics off the field.

Around the time when he was out of the Indian team, I remember writing a piece for the newspaper, where I praised his batting in some first class match. Kambli’s first wife called me to complain about the piece. She said I had no idea what he was up against and instead of supporting him I was running him down! I didn’t have the patience to clarify and didn’t see the need to apologise.

A few years later, I was at a medical shop in Pune, near my home, when I saw Vinod in shorts and a tee-shirt buying a crate of beer. I remember thinking, as he struggled with a paunch to load the beer into the car, that this is what happens to players who get dropped. I then heard that he had got into a brawl at some disco in Pune, because some people tried to make a pass at his wife.

A few days later, the advertising manager David Sawant came to my cabin to tell me excitedly that Vinod Kambli was coming to our office to book a full-page advertisement on Valentine’s Day for his wife. Frankly, I had no interest in Kambli’s antics and couldn’t understand why he needed to announce his arrival. My caustic comment was, “Does he think he’s Sachin Tendulkar?”

For Vinod Kambli, I guess that’s what it has really been all about since he was 17.