Against cash rewards for our world champions

Why we must challenge medieval-style patronage at public expense

You’ve heard it in stories. You’ve seen it in plays and movies. The all powerful king is sitting on his throne. A poet, artist or athlete arrives in his court, and impresses the king with his accomplishments. The king then hands out a reward—gold coins, land and sometimes even his daughter—to the man. You might even remember scenes where the king takes off a pearl necklace from around his neck and throws it around that of the grateful subject.

Times have changed. India is a democratic republic. Unlike kings and emperors its political leaders do not rule over us. They are the representatives we appoint to govern our affairs according to laws made with our consent. India’s treasury is not their personal purse to do with as they please. They are the custodians of the taxes we pay to be used for purposes we have pre-approved. Sadly, this is only the theory. In reality the relationship between the government and citizen is more like the one between king and subject rather than between republic and free citizen.

It is precisely this mindset of giving inams that causes our state governments to shower cash prizes and land allocations on the members of world champion cricket team. Let there be no mistake — it is important for governments to publicly recognise and honour excellence in any field. But it must be done so in an appropriate manner. There is no reason why the Indian taxpayer should spend even a paisa rewarding the Indian cricket team for winning the world cup. The tax rupee has many more pressing uses.

Now it can be reasonably argued that the money thus given away does not pinch the exchequer. What’s a few crores in budgets that run into thousands of crores? This view misses the point. These are not the private funds of the politician giving away the money to bask in the afterglow of India’s World Cup victory, but public funds over which the politician is merely a custodian. The legalistic response that these funds come out of the discretionary budget of the chief minister doesn’t wash, because even discretionary spending must be in the public interest to be justified.

It is not that the Republic lacks ways to honour and reward accomplished citizens. There are the Arjuna awards for sportspeople. Why have them if crores are arbitrarily handed to cricketers? Why hand out crores when there are Arjunas?

There are other ways the state can honour sportspeople. There are tens of stadiums in the country named after Jawaharlal Nehru, a great man certainly, but one whose sporting achievements were modest. Why not rename these stadiums after sportspeople who have done the nation proud? It won’t cost more than a coat of paint to paint a new signboard. Bangalore’s Anil Kumble Circle is in the right direction, but why not name new urban landmarks after them (yes, this can be done only after creating new urban infrastructure)?

There is another reason why inams are unacceptable. They perpetuate the medieval mindset of a government that rules and patronises its subjects, rather than a government that governs and respects its citizens. It is the same mindset that robs people of their dignity by patronising them. It is the mindset that robs people of power by doling out entitlements. The entitlement economy aims to make India a nation where goods are free but people are not. As Ramesh Srivats says “Get a free laptop. But not the freedom to say what you want. A free TV, but not the freedom to see what you want.” It bans websites that you should not visit. It bans books that you should not read. It gives you the right to education but insists that you cannot send your children to a nearby school because it doesn’t have a playground.

Javed Akhtar’s unfortunate comment shows just how entitlements cause divisiveness and lead society down the path of competitive intolerance.

Far more than any external threat or domestic challenge, it is this mindset that holds India back. If the person handing out the pearls believes he is the ruler, it is implicit that the person taking inam is subordinate and subject, not a free citizen.

21 thoughts on “Against cash rewards for our world champions”

  1. The ruler steps out from the castle to mingle with the commoners (link)
    Cheering cricket fans crowding Bahadurshah Zafar Marg couldn’t believe their eyes when they spotted Ms. Gandhi, beaming and waving at them excitedly from her Tata Safari. Traffic came to a standstill and people surged up to her to shake hands, as she shouted out: “Congratulations to everybody. We have won!” And, surprisingly, the usually oppressive security that rings her was absent.

  2. There are many ways to felicitate the outstanding achievements of the sportpersons.
    A) private companies, individuals and sports bodies declare and give various rewards
    B) There is job quota’s in various govt services(availed by many cricketers also)
    C) Awards already established by various states and central govts(khel ratnas, Arjun Awards and many more)
    D) various concessions and opportunities that players enjoy being a sports person
    sportspersons are entitled to above because they professionally entertain people and in return people shower praises, money and respect to their achievements….As in a democracy the power to punish or reward should flow from the people…..there should be known and pre-established principles and declarations as to what rewards will be given for what achievements.
    certainly many ppl would not mind if the same amount was declared before the worldcup started and if it was available to anyone who entertained public through achievements and brought glory for the nation and himself….and I believe the various established prizes in the states serve this very purpose….but handing out the rewards arbitrarily gives one feeling that political leaders of the day believe they r the kings having birthright to spend the largesse at will at random oblivious to the people’s opinion at large.

  3. As per my opinion it is ok with paying players because they have really done a good job and additionally this must not be limited to cricket but for all games to reward them for their achievements. Western players earn a lot in games, this is nothing compared to them. The real issue is Why government is not taxing BCCI and even ICC? ICC has nothing to do with India and govt. waiving off tax? How disgusting….these white clothed thieves are there to benefit those who are here to make profit and earn money and why they are allowed not to pay… BCCI is private body and still it is not paying anything…That must not be compromised…you can tax them and use that money for other games and proper sports infrastructure…That’s the real point

  4. Broadly yes, I could agree with your views against cash rewards for excellence in a particular field. My concurrence comes from the fact that, unless and until there is a consistent hypothesis governing financial rewards for the entire sporting community, it leaves a bad taste. Currently, there is abject disparity in evaluating different sporting fields and its consequent merits, especially in India. For example, Kabbadi players, though world champions they are, have never been awarded any merit, in cash or kind. So the same it is with any other sporting faculty except Cricket. That is discriminating. Either have a unilateral approach with a reward sum fixed or don’t have one at all.

    But then, I suppose our social strata is embroiled in that mindset of expecting a ‘reward’ for anything out of usual, regardless of which field it is in. Politicians lament when they are denied tickets, executives lament when they are overlooked in promotion, academics lament when they are not elevated in hierarchy; so this tendency is inbred in us so to speak.

    It would take some serious unprejudiced awareness to unshackle this tendency. A worthy point however, for future considerations, perhaps!

  5. My sentiments exactly, but the bigger question is how do we stop this practice? I dont think it would be easy for to convince the Political class to see reason, but I was wondering if we could go in for a PIL on this issue. In the near term, this seems the most plausible solution, assuming the SC accepts a PIL on this issue & rules in its favour two big ifs. Is there any other way?

  6. These were precisely my thoughts when I first heard Ravi Shastri breathlessly announced a 1 cr gift from BCCI for the players. It totally took away from the great positive atmosphere of victory. And then my heart sank, and was increasingly filled with disgust as I learned of politicians tripping over themselves, competiting with each other to dole out taxpayer largesse to already excessively over-compensated players. To play for one’s nation is a privilege and its own reward. To win an international tournament while doing so is a reward that no amount of money can even begin to match. The cash awards were not only in very bad taste, they remidned us that we are ‘ruled’ by a category of deeply feudal and benighted minds.

    1. Bu there’s a difference between BCCI making awards and politicians and CMs spending taxpayer’s money.

    2. On the dot! The greatest reward is to play and win for the country. The total population of the 8 countries that play the game of cricket is 1.55 billion of which 1.21 billion (80%) come from India. What is surprising is that cricketers have been idolized, worshipped and over-compensated even though we failed to win a WC for 28 years. Duing this time a country with a population of 22 million won the WC 4 times over. The rewards could have been well uitilized to build and dedicate parks in the memory of “The 2011 Cup”.

  7. I agree with your point about the government giving away crores to players. Its not required and is dragging us back by a few thousand years. But BCCI is a private organization. The money it is giving out is certainly not the tax payers money. Its not fair on our part to deny the players that money. After all they have made an entire nation proud.

  8. Well articulated

    Wonder what would have been the state of largess if they had lost. Celebrating victory as a political gimmick at the expense of tax payers needs to be condemned.

    Unfortunately for India sports means Cricket relegating all other sports to naught. India and its political class will have to think through this strong argument.

  9. absolutely! Since the politicians believe they are in no way accountable to the people,the only way to stop this practice is for the players themselves to say “No, thank you.”

  10. I have one question for Javed Akhtar.

    If there is indeed a bias in the way Guj Govt has responded to prize announcements for their players, how did the players overcome the bias in the first place to rise through the Gujrat cricket circles and finally reach the national circuit?

  11. I partially agree with your views. I agree that this is taxpayer’s money and is being distributed as one persons discretion and definitely not all sports are treated or recognized equally in India. But the contribution the Indian team made on April 2nd was much more than just winning the world cup. They brought together the entire nation and Indians all over the world in a way no one else has been able to. They made a national contribution and I feel that this definitely deserves recognition. You can argue that there are a lot of recognitions in sports that have been set up, like the eklavya award etc. but this deserved something special, something more.
    I do feel that the government should have some financial planning and rigor and perhaps dedicate a committee to sports awards so we can manage sports awards in a fair manner.
    But what I do not agree with 100% is people making this an issue of using the money to fight poverty or farmer suicide. Lets not make everything about poverty in India. We have to recognize success and achievements and there are times when it is ok to have the focus on only that. And the WC win was one of those times!

  12. I was elated when we lifted CWC2011. But the subsequent garish display of wealth showered by netas has certainly left a bad after-taste.
    1. Its as if only cricket matters and no other sport does.
    2. If it had to be spent on cricket, why couldnt it be spent on cricket infrastructure rather than showering the players. (AFAIK, only Jharkhand has gifted Dhoni a plot of land to build a cricket academy – a repeat gift of the T20 win)
    3. Naming new infrastructure/roads after cricketers/sportspersons is more appropriate than after obscure politicians. Sydney certainly took an innovative approach by naming the city’s ferries after runners/swimmers because they were fast.

  13. Your point is correct. Our political system needs fundamental changes for the mindsets to change. The current system allows some to rule the masses.

  14. If only there is atleast some incentive in terms of bonus to the hawaldar standing outside the stadium for the protection of the netas, maybe there would be less corruption too. Another hectare of land to captain of india gets more mileage for the politicos to say building a school/addressing traffic needs of denizens…

  15. Brilliant!! While every channel was busy basking the glory of the World Cup, little do i recall, this side of the issue has been taken up.

  16. Milton Firedman very aptly said the following:

    “There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government.”

  17. Nitin

    Well written and makes a good argument. However, you do not seem to suggest that we should take some measure to stop this. Unless, I did not read between the lines.

    It may be possible to file a PIL seeking restriction on any State and the Indian Central governments to give away such awards. That is one way.


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