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6 May 2017 Editorial


6 MAY 2017

All for one?

On Congress' strategy to contest in presidential poll

Congress will need to reach out to friends and foes to make a contest of the presidential poll

That opposition parties have begun talks on putting up a common candidate in the presidential election suggests they think they may be able to pressure the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to settle for a consensus candidate as India’s next President. Over the last three years, the Narendra Modi government has shown no inclination to be accommodative of the opposition’s views, either in formulating legislation or in framing policies. A reflection of this is the strategy of bypassing the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP-led coalition is in a minority, by disguising important pieces of legislation as money bills. Thus, rather than wait in the possibly false hope that the BJP may opt for a consensus candidate for President, the Congress has decided to initiate talks with other parties on fielding a common candidate. After the election of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in 2002, when major parties barring the Left were agreed on the choice, India has not had an apolitical presidential candidate acceptable to both the Congress and the BJP. Mr. Kalam, while accepting the BJP’s nomination, had wanted to be an all-party candidate, and the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had spoken to Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the ruling combine’s choice. Both Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee were Congress politicians and the BJP fielded candidates against them. In all likelihood, the BJP will have its own candidate without following Mr. Vajpayee’s consensus-building approach. Of course, unlike in 2002, when it had less than 200 MPs in the Lok Sabha and was out of power in a large number of States, the BJP is now in an enviable position. The election is for it to lose.

Although the odds are heavily stacked against an opposition victory, the BJP is slightly short of a majority, leaving a small window of opportunity for the former. Ms. Gandhi has already begun talks with leaders of parties such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the CPI, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, and the Nationalist Congress Party, all of which have fought with the Congress as an ally in past Assembly elections. Parties such as the Biju Janata Dal may not feel compelled to join the opposition bandwagon, but the Congress might have better luck with the Trinamool Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party, though they too are not allies. In Tamil Nadu, the ruling AIADMK faction is ill-disposed toward the BJP, and the Congress might stand a chance in enlisting its support; the opposition DMK is in any case a staunch ally at this point, and is likely to back its choice. Clearly, the onus is on the Congress to find a candidate who is acceptable to such a wide spectrum of parties. The name of Vice-President Hamid Ansari would have suggested itself, but the Congress will be forced to do what the BJP is unlikely to do: build a consensus with an open mind.

Put cricket first

On BCCI being forced to name team for Champions Trophy 

It reflects poorly on the BCCI that it has to be forced to name a team for Champions Trophy

The ICC Champions Trophy may not have the allure of the World Cup or the ICC World Twenty20, but it has its own charm, especially for Indians. For starters, India is the defending champion, having won the last edition in England in 2013. And for nostalgia-seekers, there are those riveting images of Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan’s stunning individual acts against Australia in the quarter-final at the Gymkhana Club Ground at Nairobi in 2000. Yuvraj slammed 84 runs, Zaheer yorked Steve Waugh, and Indian cricket had two new stars in the new millennium. Seen in that context, it is a travesty that the Board of Control for Cricket in India is now using the Champions Trophy as a bargaining tool with the ICC (International Cricket Council) in a bid to retrieve its earlier proposed governance and revenue model with the parent body. That move had already been scuttled at the ICC meeting in Dubai on April 26 with India being out-voted. Immediately thereafter, BCCI officials floated the story that India would not participate in the eighth edition of the Champions Trophy in England from June 1 to 18. It was nothing more dignified than a public tantrum that sought to leverage the Indian team’s commercial clout given the viewership size as well as broadcast and advertisement revenues it brings.

The Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) has consistently maintained that the Indian team would indeed go to England. But the BCCI remained obstinate and refused to heed the ICC-mandated deadline of April 25 for naming the squad for the Champions Trophy. It is poor sportsmanship that of the eight teams, ranging from Australia to Bangladesh, competing in the tournament, it is only India that hasn’t announced the squad yet. Hence it is a matter of relief that in a statement on Thursday the CoA asked acting BCCI secretary Amitabh Choudhary to select the team. The CoA’s observation was emphatic: “The players’ interests are paramount and they must be given the best chance to prepare for, defend and retain the ICC Champions Trophy.” That it needs the CoA to tell the BCCI to put cricketers and their playing schedule on top of its agenda is a sad commentary on the Board and its priorities. By obfuscating issues and putting out evasive responses that the team had not been selected owing to ‘operational reasons’, BCCI officials have demonstrated a shocking degree of insensitivity. They have let down the cricketers, who are busy with the Indian Premier League but also have an eye on the Champions Trophy as it kick-starts their international season besides giving them an opportunity to defend their title. Virat Kohli’s men should compete in the tournament, and the faster the BCCI clarifies its position and selects the squad, the better it would be for the players and the game.

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