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Bishan Singh Bedi: The Grand Old Socialist Of Indian Cricket

Wishing a very happy Birthday to the “poetry in motion”, the “Sardar of spin” and the “rebel with a cause”- Bishan Singh Bedi. 

Growing up in India in late 90s and early 2000s meant even if you didn’t actively wish for it, you would spot Sachin Tendulkar on your television screen every now and then- not only when he was representing India in a cricket match, but also when he appeared in the advertisements of major brands. This was India post globalisation, moving away from Nehruvian socialism, and falling into the clutches of capitalism.

I, of course, did not understand the meaning of socialism and capitalism back then, and thoroughly enjoyed Sachin’s batting as well as his advertisements, among which the most famous one was where he lied that a drinks brand was a “secret” of his “energy”.

Cut to 2021, global pop-star Rihanna tweeted in support of the Indian farmers protesting against the three farm laws introduced by the centre. It irked the Modi government so much that it got major Indian celebrities from all fields to post tweets in its favour. One among them was the ‘God of cricket’- Sachin Tendulkar.

Sachin, on that particular day, chose to stand by those in power, and also by a businessman who was at the centre of the farming privatisation controversy. That night when I lay in my bed, disillusioned in the man I idolised being a child, I also asked myself if the farmers, who were braving the cold and rain in the streets for their rights, also watched Sachin bat and rejoiced at the records he achieved. The chances were overwhelming that they did. Didn’t Sachin let those fans down?

The master blaster’s stand on the issue, unfortunately, was symbolic of something very important. It was symbolic of the complete rupture of Nehruvian socialism at the hand of the biggest product of globalisation.

At the same time, Bishan Singh Bedi, who I did not have a fortune of watching play cricket, and who had retired from the game even before I was born, took a distinctive and idealistic stand on the issue, though not openly but subtly.

It was then that I started reading and listening more about this grand old man of Indian cricket. In Mr Bedi, I saw the idealism the modern cricketers did not carry. In Mr Bedi, I saw the Nehruvian socialism, that even Nehru’s own party disowned post 90s. During today’s times when the so called celebrities choose silence over outspokenness, and throw values and principles out of window for monetary kickbacks, Mr Bedi continues to speak his mind, without any fear or favour.

A legendary spinner and a human being par excellence, Bishan Singh Bedi turns 75 today. This article explores the human side of Bishan Singh Bedi, rather than the cricketing one, which has been critically analysed and praised over the years.

 

Fighting for rights

Mr Bedi, apart from being one of the best left arm orthodox spinners to have played the game, has also been a torch bearer of progressive values. He fought for the things he believed in. He was the first player to confront the cricket board for better remuneration for players.

“His run-ins with cricket’s administration for players rights are stuff of legend, something that would have left a lesser person weary and a casual observer mildly suspicious of his intentions,” Siddharth Saxena wrote in the ToI on Saturday, describing Mr Bedi’s efforts to get better remuneration and facilities for the players representing the country.

Narrating a tale about an unofficial test with Sri Lanka in 1975 in Nagpur, Mr Bedi recalled in a TV series: “I was captain of the team. We were made to stay in an MLA hostel. It was during the month of December and the winter was at its peak. But only I had warm water coming in my room, and not other players. So I called the secretary of the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) and told him to provide warm water to all players. I told him that people who would be coming in numbers to watch the match will not come to see him but the players. I had an altercation with him and he behaved very rudely. I must have abused him too. It was so bad that after the match ended, they (VCA) did not even book the first class railway ticket for me and another player. We had to travel sitting in the luggage rack of general compartment in that cold weather.”

Mr Bedi also clashed with players like Ajit Wadekar and Sunil Gavaskar over the issue of Mumbai players dominating the Indian team. In one of the recent interactions at a book launch, Mr Bedi recalled one such incident. Mr Bedi, who was captaining the north zone in Duleep trophy, was competing against the west zone team led by Ajit Wadekar, who was also the Indian team captain at that time. Mr Bedi recalls that after his team defeated the west zone, Ajit Wadekar told him that he proved out to be a better captain than the captain of India. “I told him to grow up. I told him that cricket was played in other parts of the country as well and not only in the west and Bombay,” Mr Bedi claimed to have told Mr Wadekar in his response.

After his retirement, Mr Bedi refused lucrative commentary contracts and dedicated his time to nurture and mentor young cricketers in the coaching camps he ran.

 

Bishan Singh Bedi with Sachin Tendulkar.

 

Bedi on Patriotism

Mr Bedi spoke briefly about patriotism in 2017, and expressed his dismay over tagging people “anti-national” for asking to bring back normalcy in India-Pakistan cricket relations.

One should not “narrow down the meaning of patriotism” by politicising bilateral cricketing relationship with Pakistan, the former Indian captain said.

“Why politicise cricket? Have you been able to wipe off terrorism by not playing cricket? Cricket is a platform to come closer,” Mr Bedi said.

Asked if patriotism in the current social scenario is intrinsically linked to being anti-Pakistan, one of the finest left-arm spinners of all time, said: “This is not right. I am not talking anti-India if I am asking for a cricket series with Pakistan. Let’s not narrow down the meaning of patriotism.”

Against BCCI & IPL

Mr Bedi has also been a staunch critic of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and its glamorous T-20 tournament Indian Premier League (IPL).

In 2018, Mr Bedi criticised the Indian Premier League, calling the cash-rich T20 league a “scam”.

“I don’t want to say anything about IPL. There’s not a bigger scam in India than IPL. Nobody here knows where IPL’s money comes and goes. The second edition of the IPL happened in South Africa, millions of money was taken out of the country without the permission of Finance Minister,” Mr Bedi said at Sahitya Aaj Tak.

The legendary spinner has also spoken about Virat Kohli having quite a monopoly over decisions in and around the Indian cricket team and felt that the same happened during the infamous fallout between him and the then Indian coach Anil Kumble.

 

Bishan Singh Bedi with Virat Kohli.

 

Politicians in cricket

Mr Bedi has also been very outspoken about politicians getting involved in sports. In an interview with The Indian Express, he said: “Politicians in sport, not just cricket, are a necessary evil. By and large, they have created such a situation that everybody, cricketer, badminton player, footballer, everybody has to come to their door. Earlier we were slaves of the British, now we are slaves of our own hukmaran (rulers). This slavery is not leaving us.”

He has not only spoken against the politicisation of cricket, but also stood against it when the time came. Recently, lambasting the DDCA for deciding to install a statue of its former President Late Arun Jaitley at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground, Mr Bedi asked the body to remove his name from the spectators’ stand, named after him in 2017.

Lashing out at the Delhi and District Cricket Association’s (DDCA) culture, which he alleged promotes nepotism and puts “administrators ahead of cricketers”, Mr Bedi also renounced his membership of the body.

 

DDCA had named one of the stands at Firoz Shah Kotla stadium after Bishan Singh Bedi in 2017.

 

His anger against the DDCA was justifiable, for he is the person who was largely responsible for the Delhi team playing 12 Ranji trophy finals and winning 6 of them after 1976-77, before which they had not even once won the title. Bishan Singh Bedi is one of the main reasons behind Delhi’s emergence as one of the superpowers of Indian cricket.

On current dispensation

Last year, on the occasion of Independence Day, Mr Bedi wrote a moving piece for The Indian Express. In his article, the cricket legend was as blunt as he always has been, and did not spare anyone including the ruling class as well as the general public.

Of the “heartbreaking images” that the prime minister’s unplanned lockdown produced after Covid-19 hit India, Mr Bedi wrote: “It highlights the utter lack of compassion in our politicians, who enforced the sudden and complete lockdown. Honesty and transparency, too, are missing when it comes to coronavirus numbers.”

Mr Bedi remarked that “the one thing that has really pulled this nation down is sycophancy. I have experienced this in the past and now I see it all the time.” The former team India manager also deplored the fact that “even the young and the educated are joining the political conundrum and are reluctant to raise their voice. The reason: sycophancy.”

 

Gavaskar and Bishan Singh Bedi with Bob Simpson after India’s 3-2 Test series loss in 1978.

 

Socialist Bedi in capitalist india

Born in 1946, Mr Bedi grew up along with India as an independent country. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he was a product of Nehru’s socialist India, the values of which he dearly follows till this age.

The aforementioned was visible in his TIE piece, in which he wrote: “I, fortunately, had the gumption and the strength of character. When I was young, and so was India, I was able to stand up and be counted. Now, it is too late in life. But I am not a pessimist, I have faith in my spirituality and I have hope. We survived wars and invasions and we will survive the political pandemic, too.”

It’s often said in cricketing discussions that the British gave cricket to the world, but India gave Sachin to cricket. We, on his 75th birthday, should also mention that India also gave Bishan Singh Bedi, and that somehow, makes us strike the fine balance between the socialist India and capitalist India.

Wishing a very happy Birthday to the “poetry in motion”, the “Sardar of spin” and the “rebel with a cause”- Bishan Singh Bedi.

 

Bishan Singh Bedi in an episode of Breakfast with champions.

 

 

 

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