The Last Word: India should fix itself not fixate on Pakistan

Overblown reaction to cricket scandal hides worries over alleged corruption at Commonwealth Games
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The Independent Online

India and Pakistan have for decades been the most vigorous of rivals. Since each was created when British India was hastily torn apart in 1947, these neighbours have fiercely contested actual wars, sporting clashes and the broader struggle for global influence. In each of these arenas, at least in more recent years, it is India that has usually come off the better.

And this week India outdid itself again, with a breathless display of hypocrisy and schadenfreude from its media that Pakistan's own, sometimes narrow-minded press might have struggled to match. The topic? Match-fixing.

Until last week's revelations by the News of the World reverberated around all cricket-playing nations, much of India's English-language media had been preoccupied by the nation's faltering preparations for the Commonwealth Games, due to begin in Delhi in less than a month.

With an impressive relentlessness, its newspapers and TV channels had been delivering ceaseless reports about the failure to meet deadlines, the shoddy workmanship and the allegations of corruption and bribery that hung over the entire affair, on which the country is hanging so much.

Such was its dedication to trying to expose such homegrown corruption that potential news distractions such as the massive flooding in Pakistan, which had inundated a fifth of the country, were barely given pause for thought. Indeed, the floods only really made the news pages when there was an angle that made President Asif Ali Zardari look bad (of which there was no shortage) or else suggested the military was going to launch a coup (which was not true, but that did not stop it being written.) But then the NoW scoop landed with a mighty thud and suddenly there was something else to go on the front page.

If the newspapers appeared somewhat overheated as they tried to outdo each other with their screaming headlines – "Cricket's Shame"; "Pak stands by its tainted boys" – they were an oasis of calm compared to the 24-hour news channels, which must always have the words "Breaking News" on the screen. It seemed they had lost all reason.

One well-known anchor, usually a quite smart observer of Indian society, wrote rather gormlessly on Twitter: "Maybe Pak players have no pride in representing Pak. When president visits his Swiss chalet amidst floods, why believe in nation?", somehow suggesting that whatever the players were up to was in response to Zardari's absence in the first 10 days of the floods.

It was not that the Indian media had leapt so enthusiastically on to the alleged betting scandal that disappointed me. Indeed, one would have been unimpressed if the story had been allowed to slide. But I was a little surprised as to the context, or rather the lack of it, in which the story was dealt with; it was as if the Indian media's own revelations in the previous months over the Commonwealth Games had been instantly forgotten. One might have assumed that corruption in sport was a purely Pakistani phenomenon.

It is not as if India does not know better. Six years ago, two Indian international stars were implicated in a huge betting scandal that revolved around South Africa's captain, Hansie Cronje. More recently, the IPL tournament, the world's wealthiest cricket league, has been the focus of allegations of corruption and impropriety that even cost an Indian minister his job. When I ventured to remind people of such realities, also using Twitter, I was told that such things were "old news".

Would the Pakistani media have behaved any better? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. While properly shamed by the revelations over their Test players and in many cases leading the demands that they be banned for life if the allegations are proved true, they have been much less opportunistic over the Commonwealth Games preparations in India. When I was in Pakistan last month covering the floods, I found little evidence of the shrill, hysterical coverage of the Games I had anticipated. And given that Pakistan is a participant, it has a legitimate right to question the health and safety of the mosquito-infested facilities in Delhi. Perhaps everyone was too distracted by the scale of the disaster created by the country's worst flooding in history.

The sad truth is that in both India and Pakistan, as elsewhere in South Asia, corruption is endemic within everyday life. People, especially the poor, pay bribes to police, government officials and middlemen. Politicians, powerful businessman and, in Pakistan, feudal landowners conspire together to enrich themselves and maintain their status. So-called "black money" represents a parallel economy.

And yet rarely do such issues get properly discussed. While individual cases of corruption are highlighted and exposed, a broader national conversation about the way corruption permeates every aspect of life, is – perhaps for obvious reasons – never held.

In Pakistan, the floods may have changed that. The slothful response of the authorities, revelations that landowners may have diverted floodwaters to protect their own lands and claims that Pakistan's reputation for corruption may have dissuaded potential aid donors, have set in motion a widespread debate that could lead in many directions.

But in India, that has yet to happen. Dodgy payments have been revealed, favouritism in the awarding of contracts has been highlighted and yet, so far, a more fundamental public examination of why and how corruption affects everyone from the lowest to the highest in society and, crucially, how it might be countered, has not gone ahead. It is something that India, a country with huge potential but held back by this wretched, corrosive corruption, cannot afford to avoid.

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