April 12, 2011

Bleeding Blue? No, oozing green

Winning the World Cup isn’t enough, the cricketers of India are now likely to receive tax waivers on their prize money and other such bequeaths which our government has generously provided them with for bringing home the Cricket World Cup 2011.
Is this different from any other team and any other World Cup I ask? The prize money isn’t (though in 1983 the prize money was 20,000 pounds and now it is 1.9 million pounds), perhaps this isn’t even the first time cricketers have been given properties. What is different however is the financial climate. What is different though is this above mentioned tax relief. What is different is that we’ve all been played for fools......well perhaps that’s not so different. 
So that there are no misunderstandings let me inform you: yes, I am not a fan of cricket, yes, I do think the game is outdated or meant to be played by a group of lazy colonists while their delicate rosy cheeked women pick on cucumber sandwiches and darjeeling tea. But let me be clear: I am Indian, its impossible for me to hate the game, being raised in Delhi by a cricket zealot father, I know more about the game than I do about any other sport and I have been known to get caught up in the cricket fever when it’s in full swing (because lets admit it, it spreads faster than the common cold!). I went to Mohali and cried my throat hoarse to support the Indian cricket team, I waved the flag and danced around India Gate with the rest of Delhi when we won the World Cup. I did this because I was happy.. not because we won the game but because I watched the game unite an entire nation. That is the beauty of it after all. One nation, one colour, bleed blue!
Now...its been a week since and we’re still bleeding; this time we ooze green. Green for the cricketers who finally brought the cup home; green for want of funds that could easily be put to a better use than to give them exorbitant amounts of prize money. Where does this prize money come from we ask? and we’re told that it comes from “a surplus” in our Education Funds. Look around you, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to ask the question - what surplus money could we possibly have? Last I checked, we were a country riddled with political, infrastructural, economic problems that we could scarcely afford to pay for.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself. To begin at the beginning, let us ask, where does this money come from? Whose filling up the Education Fund that is so liberally being used by our governments, which in all honesty is not given to honor the sportsman but to get a five second foot into the door of a positive front page headline. The Education Fund comprises of money collected by our government through an Education cess, which is a tax enforced in order to collect funds for education - by the current Budget it is calculated as 2% of a Service Tax or Income Tax. It’s deducted from all central taxes. It’s taken from your paychecks, your electricity bills etc.

You know who could use a few rocket scientists? India! You know who could use any extra money that’s floating around the Indian Education Fund? the children of India; the youth of India; we’re one of the youngest countries in the world ladies and gentlemen and an alarmingly large proportion of this youth hasn’t been educated past the tenth grade level. For those who want to be educated further; our universities are horribly under-equipped because there’s no money to modernise; and terribly understaffed because the teachers are not paid enough. 

Still, I bet my writing hand that at least 5% of the people out there don’t mind that the Indian cricket team is being paid with that 2% of their paychecks or their 1000 rupee electricity bills (but at over 10 crores in overall prize money bequeathed, that 2% sure does add up , huh?) Further I bet just as Sheila Dikshit probably was, that no one would ask too many questions about where the money was coming from. 
Here’s something that she didn’t count on though: there is someone in her camp that’s blabbing. The Times of India ran a piece yesterday that let us know that the cricket prize money was indeed coming from a surplus in the Education Fund but that while the surplus was only 2.4 Crore, the total prize money given away is 6 Crore. 
The question begs to be asked - where did the rest of the 3.6 crore come from? Certainly not from Ms. Dikshit’s private funds; those are most likely squirreled away in bank accounts that the government does not know about and which the government is not taxing. No this money is going to come from other sources, from a re-structuring of the city’s budget. In short some project - it could be the cleaning up of the rivers, it could be the construction of better roads, it could be new school books for the government funded schools - some one somewhere is going to have to pay for this - and it’s not going to be Ms. Dikshit, it’s not going to be the cricketers. 
Ok it could have been the cricketers, perhaps the prize money received by the cricketers will be taxed? There is such a thing is Gift Tax in India is there not? But no, this money is not going to come back into the system that easily. Why? Because one fine evening, our Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced a 100% income tax exemption to Team India for its World Cup win.

The irony can escape no one because on the surface he trumpets reforming tax laws; he says he seeks to increase social spending and limit unrequired tax exemptions. So was it a case of cricket fever? A lot of us made ridiculous offerings in those first few overs after Sehwag and Sachin were taken out but this one seriously? Perhaps he really is the “Lucky Financial Minister” for Indian cricket - but the question hangs - for who is he acting? the country or the team?
The problem isn’t just central, various state governments have also jumped on the band wagon and presented the players with housing projects, plots of land; you’d think its enough that a stadium is going to be built and named after you but apparently not.
What this demonstrates is the endemic flaw in a democratic government  (apart from its inevitable slide towards corruption) - its need to cater to the minute by minute desires of the masses at all costs - why? because come re-election, it is the masses that decide its fate. Why they assume that masses have long memories but individuals are stupid has always baffled me.
So now let me ask one final question:  Where is the Indian cricket federation coming up with the cash money to pay the cricketers? Last time I checked they owed various cricketers over $ 6 million for the Champions 20Twenty cup.  
We’re still reeling from a recession that could have easily turned into a depression and lets not fool ourselves, we haven’t fully recovered yet. Yes, Mr. Manmohan Singh can rest assured that India is one of the only Asian economies that continues to grow at the just-about-acceptable rate of 6% but given decisions such as these that highlight our governments obvious disconnect with the ground reality of the situation and apparently every minister’s willingness to gain a bit of publicity at the tax payers’ expense - are we really going to be able to trumpet our success much longer? 
My solution: GROW UP! realise that the country’s cash reserves need to be utilized for bigger problems and in doing so, you will automatically affect morale. Realise that the cricketers’ didn’t just play for the love for the game and afford them a reasonable cash prize. Realise that they are going to bombarded with fan mail/ fan followings which in turn are going to result in lucrative endorsement offers - realise that they do not need the tax payer’s 10 crore. Pepsi/ Coke/ Adidas are lining up to give them much more and what’s more (in the interests of fairness) we as consumers are willing to spend money on the Pepsi/ Coke/ Adidas type products just because its got Sachin’s face stamped on it. Isn’t that enough? 
It’s easy to take the high road when you’re broke and very difficult to give back a fool’s money when he’s just giving it away; but I would urge the cricket team (I bet their PR team could spin this in their favour better than Ms. Dikshit’s will be able to in hers), give back the housing projects to the people who need them, donate the money to the causes that could use them; you and the rest of India (heck the rest of the world) knows you’re already getting paid enough; and frankly, while you earned our respect, our adoration and a consumer following for any product that you should now endorse: you did not earn these prizes; one does not earn this sort of money playing a game. 
To put things in perspective: In 1998 Amartya Sen, a highly respected, amazingly intelligent man who contributed a lifetime to the study of welfare economics and is an active civil rights advocate, received the Nobel Prize; the cash prize was (and still is) $ 1 million. Following this, in 1999 he was awarded the Bharat Ratna but no other cash prizes, or plots of land. You, my dear boys, played with a bat and a ball. 


  1. damn! this is the first time i've read someone build such a solid case against anything cricket without resorting to hyperbole. neat.

  2. Thanks! not so much a case against cricket than blindly stupid corruption....but..thanks =) if I may, how'd you find the blog?