In the matter of Jaitley statue, what's your question for Bishen Singh Bedi?

File photo of Bishen Singh Bedi
Yabba, in the second row at the Sydney Cricket Ground, doesn’t blink when there is action on the field, nor when there is no action on the field. Yabba doesn’t blink. It is the statue of Stephen Harold Gascoigne, an unwavering follower of Australian cricket, who got Yabba as his nickname for being a bit of a talker. (The legendary heckle — “your length is lousy, but you bowl a good width” — is his.)


If you step away from statues into the world of tomes, you would find Peter. Peter was a cat who lived on the Lord’s cricket ground in London from 1952 to 1964. He is the only animal to have an obituary in the Wisden Almanac.


In the non-linear oddity of a game that is cricket — with its meal breaks and everything — you would expect eccentricities such as Yabba and Peter to go along with the usual smattering of players, politicians, and administrators — and their statues. An outstanding example is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where India will start a Test on Saturday, which has statues of not only former cricketers but also of Olympic champions, and of players of Australian rules football.


Why only cricket, statues are everywhere. Depending on whom you ask, some of them deserve to be there, some not. Think of Joseph Stalin’s statute lying on its back in Hungary in 1956, or of Saddam Hussein’s giant stone head being pushed around in Baghdad in 2003. This year alone, statues were toppled or vandalised in support of the Black Lives Matter movement against racism.


The point is, statues, inanimate and unblinking, do stir passions. That is the reason why they get erected. Usually low on cost (unless you calculate the cost of putting up a particularly tall one in India), they are high on symbolism. Especially in countries where resources are sparse, and therefore the need for symbolism high, statues come in handy. We take them in our stride.


So, what could possibly be Bishen Singh Bedi’s beef with Arun Jaitley’s statue being put up at the Feroze Shah Kotla ground in New Delhi? Actually, it is the Arun Jaitley ground now. Let the eponym have a statue, you might say.


So, is cricket’s Bold B wrong?


Frankly, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that he has come forth to ask a question in a game where questions are not encouraged. It is a game where you can be sacked as coach for questioning the captain. It is a game in which you can be ousted from the commentary box for reasons that never truly come to light. It is a game where the Supreme Court had to step in to clean things up, with mixed results. It is a game whose chief governing body could be brought under the Right to Information Act only after a legal battle.


Bedi’s questioning of Jaitley’s statue is contentious, but who else could have asked the contentious question? Bedi was a great player, but a greater personality. During the 1976 Test at Kingston, he declared the innings to protect his batsmen from hostile bowling, setting West Indies a victory target of just 13. As manager, he once responded to a poor performance by the team with an outburst that recommended dumping the entire team into the Pacific.


Four years ago, during the T20 World Cup in India, when this writer wrote a column questioning the conduct of the Indian captain, and the captain’s fans vented their disagreement through abuse on social media, Bedi called. Our paths had never crossed before. But he took the trouble of calling sports journalists for my number and called to praise me for my courage. “No cricket journalist would have had the courage to question the captain,” he had said, or words to that effect.


It is time to return the favour. No other current or former cricketer would have had the courage to raise the question why Arun Jaitley’s statue should be installed at a stadium named after him. That too in a letter — you go, Bishen! — addressed to Jaitley’s son, Rohan, who is now the president of the Delhi and District Cricket Association, which manages the stadium.


If you disagree with Bedi, tell him. Write to him, tweet to him. Ask him why he did not publicly question the naming of the stadium after Jaitley. Do not try to shut him up by maligning him.


As a nation, we are witnessing the death of debate. Yes, we see protests. We see slander – loads of it. We see one-way communication – truckloads of it. We do not see much debate.

Let’s thank Bishen Singh Bedi for starting one. Do talk to him. He is around. I want to ask him why he used the ampersand in a formal letter.


What’s your question?

Suveen Sinha is a writer based in the Greater Delhi area

Views expressed are personal. They do not reflect the view/s of Business Standard.

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