21 January 2012

‘Fixing’ can define dimensions of entertainment, health, sovereignty and existence

For years certain NGO personalities, academics, politicians, diplomats, journalists, political commentators and even heads of state argued that the LTTE could never be militarily defeated.  Today we know that these predictions were part conviction, part hope and part psychological operation to dent opposing view and military strategy. 

Kumar David, a well-known commentator, insisted, for instance, that the LTTE will never be crushed.  He said, at the time, that it was imperative for Marxists to hold and express this view. Many, like Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu (Centre for Policy Alternatives) and Jehan Perera (National Peace Council), launched well funded campaigns to convince people that the LTTE’s demands would have to be accommodated in some way ‘because Prabhakaran can never be defeated’.  Sudarshana Gunawardena (Rights Now) screamed ‘The government’s war balloon will burst in Killinochchi!’  Today we know who these people were batting for and why they had to read the game in a particular kind of way. 

It is hard to predict the when and how of conclusion in the case of a war that has dragged on for decades. As such, I doubt that the bookies were giving odds on outcome.  Perhaps there were bets being placed about specific things. For example, someone could have posted 4:1 odds on the Army capturing Killinochchi on or before January 2, 2009.  People betting on the matter might have considered the fact that well-known defence columnist Iqbal Athas had written on December 28, 2008 that it was virtually a toss up, that either party could emerge victorious.  The bookie would have made a killing because the said journalist has a reputation and is expected to know more about these things than the average person on the street.  It was no ‘toss-up’. It was a rout.  In the process, some balloons did burst -- those of people like David, Gunawardena, Jehan and Paikiasothy. 

People gamble all the time.  It is not a clean game. It is not ‘cricket’ (or maybe it is!).  This is why there is ‘fixing’.  For example, it is well known that the share market is negatively influenced by a terrorist attack. So, if someone had prior information of an impending terrorist attack, he/she could save a lot of bucks by selling off large chunks of his/her portfolio.  The late Dharmeratnam Sivaram (who wrote as ‘Taraki’) often knew of an LTTE attack a few hours ahead.  That knowledge could easily have been transformed into bucks if he tipped off someone who speculated in the share market.  I need not elaborate on the buck-making potential of information, especially ‘inside knowledge’ except to say that it is a short step from this place to that of getting the LTTE to set off a bomb.  Yes, we could call it ‘spot fixing’. 

It’s an old game.  Gambling artifacts have been recovered from ancient China (2300 BC), India, Egypt and Rome.  The Mahabharatha tells us that Prince Yudisthara gambled away the kingdom and much else in a game of dice.  Someone could very well have made a bunch by betting that he would stake Draupadi (the common wife of the 5 Pandava princes) if there was whispering that did not go unheard.  That would be called ‘spot fixing’ too. 

It is of course easy to speculate about these things after the fact.  Especially in cricket. There’s been so much talk about match-fixing and spot-fixing, after all.  India beat Pakistan in the second semi-final of World Cup 2011.  Did Pakistan throw the game? Was Umar Gul paid to deliver an uninspiring and indeed match-throwing spell?  Was Tendulkar paid to offer catches at 27, 45, 70 and 81?  Was he dropped because the entire Pakistan team was paid to lose (Tendulkar getting a good score would enhance the possibility of an Indian win, everyone knows)?  Did Younis, Misbah, Kamran and Umar get a bonus for dropping him?   Was Afridi in the plot, after all he persisted with Gul when he was being clobbered and didn’t show concern when one or two of his star batsmen were happily plodding away the overs?  Or was his innocence proven beyond all shadow of doubt because he left Shoaib Akhtar out of the team?  Unless someone rats, we wouldn’t know. Better to assume innocence. 

What is more important is learning from error and learning to predict events.  In other words, use science; state a hypothesis up front and put it to the test.  In cricket, for instance, given what we know and the patterns that have emerged, we could predict something like the following.

So and so will bowl Sehwag juicy, hittable leg side balls and two wides in his first three overs. So and so will produce only 10 runs in the first 30 balls he faces. So and so will bowl in a particular way in three overs at such and such a stage of the game.  Now, if this actually happens, we should flag the person and monitor his performance, the ups and downs.  If there is shady stuff happening, the lines of the pattern will get more pronounced and we then learn to predict the kind of contracts that may be given to susceptible players.

The same principle can be applied to identify people who are in the pay of corrupt corporates. We can, again based on observation over a period of time, that so and so in the Health Ministry will do or say such and such and/or support such and such a move.  We can predict that this cabinet minister will push that policy or that this senior administrator will get subtly smeared in the private 'free' media so that he is vulnerable to being removed or stops being too honest for the liking of the corrupt. This particular IGP, DIG or minister will be portrayed in this way by this particular TV station or media group, we can predict.

After watching the events in the 'Middle East' (by the way, what ‘East’ and what is Bahrain in the middle of?) we need to see who are the agents ready to be given arms to 'rise against' any nationally oriented government in a given country. Or which party is paid to be hostile to which neighbouring country so that tension can always be maintained - ready to use when needed.

Let’s take nothing for granted.  That seems to be a good rule of thumb for the honest, responsible and patriotic citizen in these days clouded by gambling, match-fixing, spot-fixing and nation-selling

[first published in the Daily News, April 1, 2011]