Bishan Singh Bedi stands alone, just like the newly-installed statue of Arun Jaitley at the Feroze Shah Kotla ground. The difference, though, is in the people who stand around them.
When the statue was unveiled at the Kotla, Union Home Minister Amit Shah was present along with members of Arun Jaitley’s family, Union Ministers Hardeep Singh Puri and Anurag Thakur, BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah, and former India and Delhi captains Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. And that is just to name a few. There were plenty of hanger-ons too.
In sharp contrast, when Bedi protested against the installation, his cries were greeted with a deathly silence. Madan Lal, whose association with Bedi goes back a long way, voiced his support. Kirti Azad did so too. But the DDCA didn’t bother replying to his letters, the BCCI had nothing to say either, the Indian Cricketers Association (which is made of retired cricketers) didn’t stand by one of its own either. Nothing from Sunil Gavaskar. Nothing from Kapil Dev. Nothing from Sachin Tendulkar. Nothing even from Rahul Dravid.
It was a bit surprising. Well, not really. After all, what would any of them gain by standing with Bedi?
The point Bedi was making was a valid one. It wasn’t about corruption in the DDCA, which he has been trying to fight for a long time. Rather, it was about symbolism. When you go to a cricket stadium, you should see the statues of cricketers. Why then must a statue of Jaitley be installed when India has had so many great cricketers?
Those in favour will argue that Arun Jaitley was the president of the Delhi and District Cricket Association for 14 years, from 1999 to 2013, before he opted out of cricket administration due to the 2014 general elections and became a big-time politician. It also helps that presently the DDCA is headed by his son Rohan, 31, who was elected president unopposed on October 17.
So, then, who, someone might ask, is Bedi?
The current generation may know him as an agent provocateur. A bit of a mad hatter. Someone who has an opinion on anything and everything. But, he is also one of the greatest cricketers India has produced. A master of flight and loop who was part of India’s great spin quartet. A former India skipper. The first Indian bowler to take 200 Test wickets and his mark of 266 wickets stood until it was overtaken by Kapil Dev. One of the first Indians to be honoured in the ICC Hall of Fame. And a true lover of the game.
But with Bedi, there is no grey. It is all black or white. He will call it as he sees it. Bedi, the bowler, had far more patience than Bedi, the retired cricketer, ever will.
As a bowler, he would lure the batsmen in; he would bait them with flight and dip; he would wait out the bad periods with sublime grace; he would even applaud the good shots.
But, now retired, he has little patience for what he sees as wrong. After a defeat in the Rothmans Cup to Australia at Christchurch in 1990, he had famously declared to the media: “The entire teams should be dumped into the Pacific”, he didn’t think twice before calling Harbhajan Singh a chucker and never changed his opinion of Muthiah Muralitharan either. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Dhoni, Kohli, and the BCCI regularly come into his sights as well.
The one thing that does stand out in all of Bedi’s comments, though, is that there is no ulterior motive. He is expressing an opinion; his opinion. It could be right or wrong. He knows it too.
But in this particular case, he has only made a point that perhaps every Indian cricketer should have. He has asked for cricketers to have more representation at a cricket ground – as we see at the Melbourne Cricket Ground or at Wellington in New Zealand or at Barbados or even at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in Delhi. Do sportspeople not deserve to honoured even on the grounds they have helped nurture?
“People who surround you presently will never inform you that it’s WG Grace at Lord’s... Sir Jack Hobbs at the Oval... Sir Donald Bradman at the SCG... Sir Garfield Sobers at Barbados & Shane Warne of recent vintage at the MCG... who adorn their cricket stadia with the Spirit of Cricket never out of place,” Bedi reminded Rohan Jaitley in his letter.
So why then did no one stand with Bedi? The answer, perhaps, lies in how the BCCI deals with the people who raise uncomfortable issues. Contracts will be lost, coaching positions will become unavailable, you won’t be deemed good enough for commentary or a place on the state or national selection committees. One of these things could happen to the dissenter or maybe even all.
Bedi, now 74, doesn’t care for any of these things.
“You needn’t worry about me or my legacy. God Almighty has been very kind to me to keep me alive with my cricketing convictions. I don’t wish my strength of character to be maligned by my silence or association to this unsporting act,” Bedi wrote in the letter.
But any other cricketer who wants to support him... will. After all, who wants to be in the bad books of the BCCI or, as it may seem in this politically-inspired decision, the BJP. Standing with Bedi and fighting for convictions means nothing in a monetary or networking sense and to voice your support isn’t an easy decision. In fact, it is a rather perilous one.
Not speaking about it or lending support is fine. After all, you don’t have to believe in every cause. Some BCCI or BJP supporters will speak their mind too but most cricketers chose silence, not knowing that the moment one starts weighing right and wrong against what you gain or lose, the battle has already been lost.
So Bedi will stand alone for now but he won’t, unlike that Arun Jaitley statue, ever quietly watch the proceedings. Maybe in that, there is a lesson to be learnt too.