The Frenchman is a star for Manchester United and Alexis Sanchez’s signing should not see him lose his place

Anthony Martial’s debut in the Premier League was every up-and-coming footballer’s dream — an appearance against his new club’s old enemy, and a goal barely minutes after coming on following some breathtaking pieces of dribbling. That performance immediately sparked comparisons with his compatriot and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry and it is a weight that the youngster is still carrying with him.

When Louis van Gaal splashed £36m, with a provision for another £22m, on an unknown 18-year-old Frenchman from Monaco in the summer of 2015, football fans and pundits in England thought that the Dutch manager had lost his vision and was throwing money at quick-fixes for his ageing squad. The Dutchman was gone at the end of that season, but Martial emerged as the club’s top goalscorer and a hope for the future.

The arrival of Jose Mourinho as the club’s new manager, however, halted his progress. The Portuguese manager brought in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, handed him Martial’s #9 shirt and left the Frenchman on the bench for most parts of the season. First team opportunities came few and far between and Mourinho refused to hand him an extended run of games. “We have so many good players in similar positions — Martial, (Juan) Mata, (Henrik) Mkhitaryan, (Wayne) Rooney. I cannot give him four, five, six, seven matches in a row when I have other people on the sidelines waiting for a chance. I try to give him chances. In fact, I gave him good chances because I played him against Tottenham and Arsenal, in some big matches,” the manager said at that time.

He even claimed that the France international was struggling to adapt to the pace of United’s game.

Martial’s agent sparked transfer speculations, with Sevilla and West Ham United among the parties interested, following the barrage of criticism from his manager. Mourinho hit back soon after by telling the player to listen to him and not his agent. While many thought that this was the master man-manager’s attempt to get the best out of the prodigious youngster, others felt that the player was genuinely disgusted by the dearth of opportunities and was looking to quit the club.

Martial did turn out to be crucial following Ibrahimovic’s season-ending injury and played a part in United’s first ever Uefa Europa League win. However, that didn’t stop the tabloids from listing his potential destinations in the summer. Inter Milan even wanted him to be part of any deal to take Ivan Perisic in the opposite direction. Mourinho, however, stood firm and refused to grant the Frenchman a transfer. That, coupled with a run of several games during the summer tour, helped settle the player back at the club and he has already reaped the rewards.

He has already surpassed his goals tally from last season having played 10 fewer games. Having been signed as a striker, Martial has been played wide on the left by both van Gaal and Mourinho. This season, the Portuguese boss has alternated between the Frenchman and Marcus Rashford on the left, with both giving a good account of themselves whenever they got a chance. Martial’s confidence has been boosted by a regular run of games and he’s started to play with a smile on his face. But the arrival of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal is bound to make him nervy.

In his very first interview at his new club, the Chilean said about his preferred playing position: “I really like to play down the left, through the middle… but to tell you the truth, as long as I’m playing football, I’ll fit in anywhere.”

Mourinho has bemoaned the lack of competition among his attackers. After the club’s win against Burnley earlier this month, the manager said: “In this moment there is no competition for places. We have four attacking players for three positions: three are starting, one is on the bench. Zlatan (Ibrahimovic) for the whole season was not available. You look to central defenders, we played (Phil) Jones and (Chris) Smalling. (Marcos) Rojo was on the bench, Victor (Lindelof) was in the stands. Eric Bailly was injured. Look to midfield, there was (Marouane) Fellaini, (Ander) Herrera, (Scott) McTominay on the bench, (Michael) Carrick in the stands. We need that extra, internal competition but (also) more solutions for us.”

Sanchez’s arrival means that the “competition” Mourinho deemed was missing is there in the squad and it will be a good test of the players’ calibre seeing how they rise to that challenge. On form, however, Mourinho has no reason to drop Martial, even if it is to accommodate his new signing — the Chilean needs to settle either on the right wing or play behind the striker.

Inconsistency may blight Martial’s performances once in a while, but, at 22 he still has a lot to improve and give to the club. If the manager drops the youngster at this time, however, he will just kill the player’s confidence and that might coincide with the end of the player’s time at the Theatre of Dreams.

The views expressed in this blog are mine unless otherwise mentioned.


Heir to the #7 Throne

Alexis Sanchez is the player to restore United fans’ faith in the legacy of the club’s fabled shirt

Alexis Sanchez finally signed a four-and-half-year deal at Manchester United after one of the most protracted transfer sagas that lasted two transfer windows and almost saw him move to the Red Devils’ bitter crosstown rivals, Manchester City.

The Chilean international links up with Jose Mourinho’s side after a goal-laden three-and-a-half years at Arsenal. United immediately handed him the club’s fabled #7 shirt as they look to finally end a curse that has seen four players — Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia, Angel di Maria and Mephis Depay — buckle under its weight.

While some “pundits” have cringed at the amount of money being spent on the player, the value he potentially holds cannot be underestimated. Neymar’s transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain last summer for £198m has broken all previous records and set a new benchmark for player sales figures.

To that effect, United signed Chile’s all-time record goalscorer for free. Sanchez’s transfer was straight swap with Henrikh Mkhitaryan moving in the opposite direction. United didn’t spend a penny on the player, apart from paying £15m in agent fees and a £7.5m signing-on bonus. Sanchez stands to gain another £7.5m, which will be spread over his deal with the club. United, as a result, paid £30m for a player in his peak, tested in the top level and with essential Premier League experience. Any “pundit” worth his salt would call that good value.

Speaking about his new signing, Mourinho said: “Alexis (Sanchez) is one of the best attacking players in the world and he will complete our very young and talented group of attacking players.”

“He will bring his ambition, drive and personality — qualities that make a Manchester United player and a player that makes the team stronger and the supporters proud of their club dimension and prestige.”

It is this drive and cutting edge that United have been lacking as a team since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013. They have been blown out of the water by Manchester City’s explosive football and were crying out for a marquee signing who would take the game by the scruff of the neck and drive his teammates forward. In Sanchez, Mourinho has got that player.

United have struggled to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, either as a player or as a charismatic presence to carry the legendary #7 shirt, since his then-record £80m transfer to Real Madrid in 2009. The shirt, worn by revered figures such as George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Ronaldo himself, carries a lot of weight and only those with tremendous drive and ambition can live up to its demands.

Ferguson had extensively scouted Sanchez, who would have been a like-for-like replacement for Ronaldo, during his time at Udinese before the player signed for Barcelona in 2011.

The Chilean began life at Udinese as a right-winger, much like Ronaldo in his peak at United, before moving to the left and centre at Barcelona and Arsenal. United’s blockbuster summer signing Romelu Lukaku has failed to light up the Premier League against the big teams, despite plethora of goals against smaller teams. He has been isolated up front as a single striker with neither Marcus Rashford nor Anthony Martial capable of supporting him as a second striker that can draw away opposition defenders to free up space for him. In Sanchez, United have got that player now.

It could even be argued that come matches against the big sides, Mourinho might just favour the hard running style of his new signing to the Belgian striker.

In his Daily Mail column, former Arsenal great Martin Keown wrote: “Romelu Lukaku has looked isolated up front in recent weeks. To thrive, he needs players in and around him. While Sanchez could start wide on the left, that is not where he wants to play. He will be drawn into a central position and get close to Lukaku.”

United’s play has been very inconsistent this season — blowing away teams in one match and recoiling under pressure the next. This inconsistency has also impacted Lukaku’s scoring, which can be described as erratic at best. But Sanchez can grow frustrated from the lack of supply and tends to track back for the ball.

“When he is on it, Sanchez is the nearest thing to a modern-day Ian Rush. He homes in on defenders like an Exocet missile. Mourinho has to make him play high up the pitch. Sometimes, when he is frustrated, Sanchez will drop back deeper to get touches of the ball. He is at his most dangerous when playing on the shoulder of the last defender and that is where he must be,” Keown wrote.

Mourinho knows he has a robust and relentless attacking talent on his hands and if he allows him to flourish, instead of holding him back, Sanchez can rip apart any opposition in the Premier League. While the title seems lost at this time, United are still very much in the running in the Uefa Champions League and a free-flowing Sanchez can lift the club to new levels. And that can only mean good things for an army of supporters who have long been crying out for an heir to take the place of their their prodigal son.

The views expressed in this blog are mine unless otherwise mentioned.


Neymar’s transfer exposes dark underbelly of beautiful game’s finances

The summer’s most protracted transfer saga came to an end last week with Neymar swapping the claret and blue of Barcelona for the red and blue of Paris Saint-Germain.

What made the circus surrounding the biggest transfer in football history so distasteful and ominous was the obscene amount of money that changed hands. For starters, this was not only the first £100m transfer in football history, it also smashed the previous world record — £89m paid by Manchester United to Juventus for Paul Pogba last summer — by a whopping £109m. Apart from the £198m release clause paid to Barcelona, the player himself will earn more than £500,000 a week as well as a signing-on bonus of £40m. 

All this from a club that has already fallen foul of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play regulations once.

Uefa came up with the fair play rules to prevent clubs benefiting from “sugar-daddies” with deep pockets, a concept that first reached English shores with Roman Abramovic’s buyout of Chelsea. Since then, the likes of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have benefited hugely from the oil money of the Middle East, with wealthy owners investing significant personal wealth into the clubs and acquiring top players at extravagant prices.

When France legend Zinedine Zidane moved from Juventus for Real Madrid for a then world record fee of £45m, it shook the foundations of football. Since then, the world record has been broken several times, Real Madrid responsible for three of them. But none witnessed the seismic shift that is being seen as a fallout of the Neymar saga.

The amount of money floating around in football now is obscene, to say the least. The Premier League stands to receive £10.4bn — £5.3bn for the broadcast of live matches by Sky and BT and ancillary deals, plus another £5.1bn from the sale of overseas rights for a three-year period — which will be divided among the 20 top flight clubs in England.

While this deal came as a boon for the smaller clubs, which were no longer compelled to sell their best players, it also armed the bigger ones with additional cash flow. Football clubs, these days, have dedicated commercial departments that oversee the marketing of the club brand, ensuring that the revenue keeps flowing even if the performance on the pitch fails to match up. This allowed the bigger clubs to throw wads of cash in front of their smaller rivals, inflating the entire transfer market as a result.

TV money aside, sponsorships also play a big role in football these days. Club owners will allow any and every company on Earth to use their club’s image to promote a brand — as long as they are compensated handsomely for it. Manchester United’s 40 plus global and regional partners, including official paint and tyres partner, are a case in point.

Gareth Bale’s £85m transfer to Real Madrid in 2013 was just one example of a European heavyweight flexing its financial muscle. The Spanish giants signed a player who had played just a couple of seasons in the Champions League and while exciting, was nowhere the exceptional talent to command a world record fee. Four years earlier, Real signed Cristiano Ronaldo for £80m from Manchester United. The Portuguese, however, was a Ballon d’Or winner by that time and was already being seen as the best player of his generation.

A sign of how insane sums change hands during transfers is seen through Monaco’s valuation of Kylian Mbappe. The 18-year-old burst onto the scene last season and European heavyweights Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United have been on his trail. Monaco have put a £160m valuation on the player, who has played just 40 league games for the Principality club, translating to around £4m per match.

Clubs like Real Madrid not only changed the transfer landscape, but also began a system where newspapers with connections to the club were used to unsettle a player to force the selling club’s hand. Paris Saint-Germain followed a similar approach with the Neymar deal.

But even then, Barcelona believed it had a firm grip on the player considering his release clause. Many clubs now insert insanely high buyout clauses in contracts to thwart potential suitors. But that didn’t deter Paris Saint-Germain and it shook the football world when it coughed up the sum, including tax, to La Liga.

La Liga president Javier Tebas, in an interview, raised the question of the club’s capacity to afford the fee. “In terms of PSG (Paris Saint-Germain), it is a clear case of financial doping, with the club and the state. PSG’s accounts show that they have a larger commercial income than Real Madrid and Manchester United, which is to say that the value of their brand is greater than those clubs. Well, that is impossible,” he told Spanish newspaper AS.

In another interview to Catalan radio station RAC 1, Tebas said: “What we want to understand is the origin of this €222m, if it is illegal. If Manchester United were to come, there would be no problems, we would have nothing to say because it is not a doped club. PSG is a state-run club and we have to end this situation as soon as possible.”

Allegations over the source of the club’s finances have arisen before as well. The club is owned by a sovereign wealth fund which invests Qatar’s vast oil and gas wealth in overseas companies. On paper, it is owned by Qatar Sports Investments, a business venture of Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who is a minister in the Qatar government, and club president.

In 2013, the club signed a £167m contract with the Qatar Tourism Authority, later found to be in breach of the Financial Fair Play rules. The sponsorship deal was deemed to have an unfair value by Uefa’s independent investigation panel. The Qatar Tourism Authority is also a branch of the Qatari state and the deal between the two was deemed by Uefa to be a “related party transaction”.

There were even suggestions that Neymar would pay his own release clause by signing a £270m contract for five years to become an ambassador for the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar. This goes to show how Paris Saint-Germain, as a football club, and the Qatari state are intertwined with each other. There have already been allegations of Qatar bribing Fifa officials for the rights to host football’s most iconic championship.

Clubs have long been leeching the fans who have maintained loyalty through thick and thin, turning the beautiful game into a business. Exorbitant season ticket prices, especially in England, new jerseys every year, replicas of which are sold at princely sums, take a lot out of the fans’ pockets. These marquee signings, many would claim, are nothing but a means to compel them to spend money on tickets.

Liverpool fans love to harp on legendary manager Bill Shankly’s famous saying: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” For football club owners, it is about squeezing the maximum amount out of the fans’ pockets.

Football garnered the support that it has through its simplistic roots — just a few boys or girls and a ball are all that is required to have a good time. Business has ruined that beautiful game.

The views expressed in this blog are mine unless otherwise mentioned.


Politics over beef  — the Hindutva project to undermine Indian democracy

The ascent of Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP to power in India has rekindled a brand of politics that many thought had been consigned to history  —  that of the cow. It has created a discourse that is not only questions many of the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution, but also raises doubts over the future of the country as a secular and democratic republic.

A “rule of mob”, supported by the ruling dispensation in many cases, has descended upon the country. The Sangh parivar’s target is clear — it wants a country of upper castes, for the upper castes and by the upper castes. They have also chalked out a strategy to achieve that goal — periodic outbreaks of violence against Muslims and Dalits.

Politics over beef is not new to India. Wendy Doniger, noted author and a scholar of Sanskrit for over 50 years, traced the origin of politics over the cow to the 19th century as an implicit objective to oppress the Muslims.

Mahatma Gandhi attempted to make vegetarianism, particularly the taboo against eating beef, a central tenet of Hinduism, tying it to his idea of nonviolence.

In the modern age, the pioneer of the cow protection movement was M.S. Golwalkar, the second sarsanghchalak of the RSS. A thorough reading of the autobiography of Verghese Kurien — the Milkman of India — provides an insight into Golwalkar’s thoughts.

Golwalkar was the brains behind the 1960s’ cow protection movement that forced the government of the day to set up a committee to consider the demand of a nationwide ban on cow slaughter. The committee lasted 12 years.

Kurien opposed this ban for economic reasons. “It was important for us in the dairy business to keep weeding out the unhealthy cows so that available resources could be utilised for healthy and productive cattle. I was prepared to go as far as to allow that no useful cow should be killed,” Kurien wrote in his autobiography.

He then cited a conversation with Golwalkar where the then RSS chief outlined his vision, and it had nothing to do with gau bhakti (cow reverence). It was a political move then; today it is a social move to finally create the India of Golwalkar’s vision.

In India, traditionally, the slaughter of cattle has always been associated with either the Muslims and Christians or the Hindu lower castes — the Dalits. Beef forms an important part of the diet for Muslims. The Dalits, on the other hand, were scavengers and their eating habits still reflects their ancient status at the bottom of the food chain, forced to eat even rats. Beef presented an alternative source of nutrition to them and has since been included in their diet — it was more of an economical habit than a cultural one.

Amid the hoopla, the consumption of beef by Hindus is forgotten. Doniger wrote that even “after the fourth century BC, when the practice of vegetarianism spread throughout India among Buddhists, Jains and Hindus, many Hindus continued to eat beef”. She paraphrased ancient ritual texts, known as the Brahmanas and others, that taught religious duty (dharma), from the third century BC. These texts said a bull or cow should be killed to be eaten when a guest arrived.

Doniger credited the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata, to explain the transition of Hindus to non-eating of cows: “Once, when there was a great famine, King Prithu took up his bow and arrow and pursued the Earth to force her to yield nourishment for his people. The Earth assumed the form of a cow and begged him to spare her life; she then allowed him to milk her for all that the people needed.”

The cattle slaughter legislation was the BJP’s attempt to live up to its 2014 election manifesto, where it promised to protect “the cow and its progeny” in a nod to its Hindu nationalist roots. This was an attempt to appeal to India’s Hindu population, which holds cattle — particularly cows — to be sacred. State Assemblies have also begun to follow suit and pass laws that would make cow slaughter a punishable offence.

Alongside their dietary choices, most of India’s leather business is also handled by Muslims or the so-called lower castes. A blanket ban on the slaughter of cattle specifically aims to cut off their source of livelihood. For a nation that so reveres its gau mata (mother cow), India remains one of the largest exporters of beef in the world. Its buffalo meat export has grown from Rs 3,533 crore in 2007 to Rs 26,685 crore in 2016.

“The new rules of buffalo trade on which we were not consulted has come as a surprise and shock for the industry. It is not possible for individual farmers to sell their spent animals for slaughter (directly to us) without going to the nearest animal market,” Fauzan Alavi, spokesperson for the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association, the trade lobby of buffalo meat exporters, said.

Incidentally, demands to stop cattle slaughter have not just been limited to the BJP or Sangh leadership. Rajasthan High Court recently recommended to the Centre that it should declare the cow as the national animal. Even a body of Muslim intellectuals said it would extend support to any proposal to ban cow slaughter and declaring it as the national animal.

Despite the political grandstanding over the cow’s sanctity, an ugly truth prevails: the animal is frequently mistreated, housed miserably, fed rubbish or left to fend for itself. Cow protection is just a smokescreen that the fringe needs to achieve their long-term goal of turning India into a Hindu Pakistan.

The mistreatment of cows has been widespread in India, said Naresh Kadyan, India representative of the International Organisation for Animal Protection. The politicisation of cattle welfare has distracted from the problem of how India’s cows — some 283 million, according to a 2003 census — are treated.

While cows used to be prized for their economic value, they are now “unproductive, as they have been replaced by machines,” Kadyan said, adding that cows had “become a tool of publicity and politics to divide society”.

In states such as Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh — where the consumption of beef is less common than in the south or north-east — cows are treated well until they are unable to provide milk. “When they become unproductive, they are then kept in animal shelters that are like full-time jails,” he said. “There’s no scientific care for the rest of their lives. They have no exercise, no freedom of movement, and no land to graze on,” Kadiyan said.

A 2010 investigation by the India chapter of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) found rampant abuse of cows in the dairy industry. They were frequently injected with oxytocin, although the hormone causes stomach cramps and pain, to boost milk yields.

“Most (cows) are chained by their necks in narrow stalls, where they are unable to stretch or move normally,” according to Peta. “Lack of proper food causes them to suffer from digestive problems, and lack of exercise causes lameness.”

Unproductive cows may also be turned out of their farms, resulting in the sight that is so familiar in Indian cities: the solitary cow, wandering the streets and picking plastic out of refuse bins. The Peta report also said that at least half of the cows sold to slaughterhouses die before they even get to the abattoir because they are forced to walk there.

Firebrand Hindutva leader Yogi Adityanath, who became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has promised to improve the conditions of cows in the state. In May, his government announced a Cattle Healing Mobile Van Service — an ambulance for cows, which may be summoned by anyone who spots a cow in distress. He has also proposed to establish “cow sanctuaries”.

Some of these shelters are to be housed on the premises of penitentiaries because jails have land and manpower to tend to cattle.

However, not everyone agrees with this move. “These shelters will function without any sort of scientific approach,” Kadiyan said. “These are just so-called animal rights activists using the cow as a political tool — to misguide others to achieve their own political targets or for personal gain or profit.”

Kadiyan calls them animal rights activists. In reality, they are foot soldiers of an administration that is intent on imposing its brand and idea of Hinduism on all Indians. It doesn’t matter if they are not followers of Hinduism — they have two options: follow or perish.

The views expressed in this blog are mine unless otherwise mentioned.


Decoding the inner workings of India’s lynch mob syndrome

A common thread unites Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan, Junaid Khan — they were lynched by Hindu mobs in the name of cow protection.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP took power in 2014, mob lynchings have become the new normal. The BJP’s rise and the regular pro-Hindutva sermons issued by party leaders have instilled a sense of invincibility in these gau rakshaks (cow protectors).

Chief among them is Mohan Bhagwat, sarsanghchalak of the RSS, the BJP’s ideological mentor, who has repeatedly urged the Centre to ban slaughter of cows. Party MPs, including Yogi Adityanath, who became chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in March, has issued open threats against beef trade. Adityanath’s appointment as the state’s chief minister was followed by an unprecedented crackdown on slaughterhouses.

In the backdrop of this violence lies the BJP’s ideological goal — to create an India of the upper caste by suppressing the Muslims and confining the lower castes to their “rightful” place at the bottom of the food chain. Its idea of India stems from the Manusmriti or the Laws of Manu and Bunch of Thoughts by M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS’s second sarsanghchalak.

Mukul Kesavan wrote in The Telegraph that “the anti-cow-slaughter campaign has become for the BJP and its vision of Bharat what the anti-blasphemy law used to be for Zia-ul-Haq and his vision of Pakistan: an occasion for the public enactment of the supremacy of a religious majority and, correspondingly, the subordination of religious minorities.”

Kesavan described a visit to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington where he realised that “lynchings were public performances, designed to strike terror into minds of black people, specially blacks who had forgotten their place vis-à-vis their white betters.”

He also drew a parallel between the lynchings of the Ku Klux Klan and the violence of Hindu mobs. The Ku Klux Klan, he wrote, “used violence to intimidate free blacks, to ritually enact their ‘inferiority’. White vigilantes attacked black men and killed them in the name of protecting white womanhood. Between 1890 and the middle of the 20th century nearly 3,500 black men were lynched in the name of white supremacy.”

They also took pictures of their handiwork, which were often published as postcards. It was a “form of white terrorism in America, specifically designed to intimidate black Americans,” Kesavan wrote.

Most lynchings in India take place in the Hindi belt of the north, where the BJP has traditionally wielded more power. The lynch mobs see clear complicity of the people at the helm in the violence where the prime minister, as the chief minister of Gujarat, had himself advocated extrajudicial encounters. The mobs feel empowered. They also know that they enjoy impunity and patronage from the power.

Another aspect of emboldening the lynch mobs is their glorification by the ruling dispensation. The body of Ravi Sisodia, an accused in the murder of Akhlaq, was draped in the Tricolour and hailed as a martyr after he had died in jail.

Modi’s silence on this rabid expression of violence also provides tacit approval of their actions. Forest fires in Portugal elicit a quicker response from their leader than the gruesome murder of a 15-year-old boy.

This has created an “us versus them” mentality among the fringe elements where even police are mute spectators, while the courts are too busy debating whether a peahen reproduces by merely drinking the peacock’s tears.

The lynchings take place not just in the name of cows. It has ranged from fake WhatsApp messages alleging that a rape accused was an illegal Bangaldeshi immigrant through allegations of child trafficking to civic officials allegedly lynching a political activist after he tried to stop them from photographing women defecating in the open.

These were not the only instances. At the height of last year’s students’ movement in Jawaharlal Nehru University, there were repeated, some successful, attempts at attacking students, teachers, and activists on the court preemies. Some lawyers even managed to beat up students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar when he was lodged in jail at the time.

Decoding lynchings from the point of view of neuroscience, Sumaiya Shaikh, a medical scientist with a PhD in neuroscience, wrote in The Wire that a mob lynching differed from physical harm or a killing. According to her, several components come together — the attackers, spectators and the outnumbered victim(s) for this public spectacle that dates back to the medieval ages. “It needs the public humiliation of the victim and, unlike a lawful process of punishment, a lynching is a demonstration that the sentiments of the attackers are beyond the law or the government,” she wrote.

The perpetrator category of ‘participants’, Shaikh wrote, “isn’t an individual but a group that unites to act as a single entity. Within this group, there is trust, recognition, validation, power and anonymity for its members. Every action and thought of a group of this sort, like the workings of an insect swarm, consists solely of achieving their shared objective.”

But not all lynchings are spontaneous outbursts of mob sentiment. Two cow vigilantes had tailed the van of Asgar Ali alias Alimuddin on a bike from Chitarpur in Ramgarh, a known beef hub, to Bazartand in the heart of the district town on June 29 morning, providing regular updates during the 15km stretch to their friends in the marketplace waiting to kill, a chilling example of premeditated mob murder in India.

Apoorvanand agreed that “the spate of violent attacks are in no way spontaneous expressions of mob anger. They are the product of systematic incitement to violence by Hindu nationalists.”

The “atmosphere of sustained hatred against Muslims makes attacks on them seem spontaneous and the product of mob anger. But few question why the mob is angry in the first place,” he wrote.

In April 2017, when a man succumbed to his injuries suffered in a mob attack in Rajasthan, the state’s home minister told reporters that cow protectors were trying to stop people from trafficking cows. The chilling logic — those who are lynched are on the wrong side of the law and those who lynch are protecting it — gives further credence to the work of these lynch mobs.

The absence of laws against lynchings also allows these mob vigilantes get away with little or no punishment whatsoever. The founding fathers of the Constitution of India, perhaps, expected that India had moved on from the medieval practices and didn’t see the need to include any clause against mob violence. They didn’t realise, however, that the party which would hold the country’ts reins from 2014 would steer it back to the dark ages of mob justice.

A draft law to address the menace was unveiled on July 7 by the National Campaign Against Mob Lynching as a response to a spate of lynching incidents that have rattled the nation over the past few months. The draft Maanav Suraksha Kanoon (Masuka) defines lynching as “any act or series of acts of violence, whether spontaneous or planned, committed to inflict extra judicial punishment, or as an act of protest and caused by the desire of a mob to enforce upon a person or group of persons any perceived legal, societal & cultural norms/ prejudices.”

Masuka is expected to fill a glaring hole in India’s constitution. Whether the ruling dispensation makes any efforts to get it passed without delay is, however, still up in smoke.

The views expressed in this blog are mine unless otherwise mentioned.


Nearly a week after strike, security agencies seem to be going nowhere with probe

Monday’s attack on Amarnath pilgrims in the Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir was one of the most ghatly terrorist attacks on Indian soil in recent years. Seven persons died and 19 more suffered severe injuries in the attack, allegedly by militants of the Lashkar-e-Taiba group.

Despite the nature of the attack and the cowardly manner in which it was conducted, it also leaves some questions unanswered.

According to the rules, all vehicles that ferry pilgrims to the Amarnath shrine have to register with the Amarnath Shrine Board. The bus had a Gujarat number plate — GJ 09Z 9976 — and ferried around 60 passengers to the shrine. The route to Amarnath is dotted by security forces that undertake regular checking of the vehicles that pass through. The passengers on this vehicle had already completed their pilgrimage two days prior to the attack and had taken a detour for sighseeing. It had left the heavily fortified Baltal base camp and moved on the national highway, another heavily-guarded location, apparently without being checked a single time.

The ownership of the bus also raises questions. Originally owned by Sanjay Patel of Umiya Travels, it was sold to Jawahar Desai of the Valsad–based Om Travels. Patel said Jawahar and his son Harsh, who is among the injured, organised the trip. He also said that while the vehicle had physically changed hands, the final payment was still to be settled. As a result, he was the one who had to procure the tour permit.

The Regional Transport Office in Himmatnagar had cleared the bus for travel as it bore a Sabarkantha registration.

Security protocol bars vehicles from plying after 5pm, or sundown, for the pilgrimage. It also bars vehicles from plying on the highway after 7pm as security forces are withdrawn after that. However, gunmen first attacked the bus around 8.17pm. It has since emerged that the a flat tyre held up the journey for a long time. The driver, Salim Sheikh Gafoor, fixed it and started towards Jammu at 4.40pm, having stayed in the area for nearly two hours, according to a Jammu and Kashmir police report.

This report raises another question. If the bus had not been registered with the Amarnath Shrine Board and was travelling on its own, why was there a police patrol vehicle travelling ahead of it in the first place? Protocol dictates that only those vehicles with registrations would be provided security. The presence of a police van, which was also targeted in the attack, has raised doubts as to whether it was guarding the bus or just happened to travel ahead of it.

Moreover, intelligence reports had already warned of a strike on pilgrims during this year’s yatra.

Officials of the Intelligence Bureau, Central Reserve Police Force and the Jammu and Kashmir police had met in Chandigarh on June 25 at a state multi-agency co-ordination meeting where the agencies had been warned of a terrorist strike.

“Intelligence input reveals that terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 yatris and about 100 police officers. The attack may be in the form of standoff fire on (a) yatra convoy which they believe will result in flaring of communal tension throughout the nation,” the alert said.

“The nature of the input needs corroboration at this stage but the possibility of a sensational attack can’t be ruled out. All the officials deployed on the ground need to be directed to remain alert and maintain utmost vigil. All out efforts need to be undertaken to nab the terrorists planning such attempts of violence,” it said.

Two days before the pilgrimage started, Kashmir inspector general of police Muneer Khan wrote a letter where he specifically mentioned terrorists opening fire at pilgrim vehicles.
Despite this warning being made available beforehand, the police allegedly failed to secure the route.

Additionally, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was being blamed as the perpetrators of the attack, has sought to distance itself from it and put the blame squarely on Indian intelligence agencies.

It has been almost a week since the attack took place and bar the arrest of the driver of a PDP MLA, the security agencies have not been able to throw light on one of the most gruesome terror attacks on civilians in recent history.

The views expressed in this blog are mine unless otherwise mentioned.


India’s Fifa World Rankings gloss over dismal state of affairs

India climbed to 96th in the latest Fifa World Rankings, the country’s highest position for nearly two decades. It is a fantastic achievement for a team that has been in perennial slumber and slumped to a lowly 174th in 2015.

But Fifa World Rankings aside, Indian football is in a churn and the roadmap that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) prepares at this juncture will determine the future. The AIFF, although an autonomous sports body, is mainly run as a government organisation with bureaucratic red-tapism plaguing its functioning. Its president, Praful Patel, is a politician and former minister and is never known to have had any love for the game.

In 2010, the AIFF signed a deal with Nita Ambani-led IMG-R group. According to the terms of the deal, IMG-R was granted all commercial rights to football in India, including sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting, merchandising, film, video and data, intellectual property, franchising and new league rights. In short, it handed over its autonomy to a corporate entity for Rs 700 crore.

IMG-R formed a subsidiary, Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), to run an Indian Premier League-style masala tournament. It invited bids from corporate houses for teams and started the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014 with eight franchises. The three tournaments it has since organised can best be described as a retirement benefit for world football’s elite, once top dogs for their respective clubs who now treat the ISL as a post-retirement benefit scheme to keep the money flowing. All the so-called marquee players that these clubs signed, including Nicolas Anelka (35 years old), Robert Pires (41 years old) and Diego Forlan (37 years old) were either all retired or at a stage where they could hardly influence the game anymore.

The first season was relatively successful with fans thronging the grounds to experience the new phenomenon. Since then, both the quality of football and attendances have dwindled.

A major clause in the deal between the FSDL and the franchises was that they would invest money in grassroots development. Three years on and India is still to see the benefits of that “investment”. Spanish giants Atletico Madrid recently announced that it would sever ties with Atletico de Kolkata, the two-times ISL champions co-owned by the club, citing a lack of development. “For us, India is a very important country and Calcutta a very dear city. But we either need to develop or leave,” Atletico Madrid said in a statement to the Spanish press.

In three years, the Kolkata club has neither managed to set up a permanent academy campus nor begun work on one. The club recruits young players at the start of the season through an open trial for the nursery league in Bengal and releases them once the season ends — that remains its only contribution to grassroots development. Apart from Kerala Blasters, North East United FC and Pune City FC, none of the other franchises have made any attempt to develop grassroots infrastructure.

But the AIFF also has to shoulder part of the blame. Any corporate house that invests money into a sport will see it as an expansion of their business footprint, and would expect it to make financial sense to continue investing. However, Rajeev Piramal, co-owner of the now-defunct I-League club Pune FC, said the AIFF-IMG-R deal was structured in such a way that it took out the “sustainable” aspect of the picture.

The deal works in a manner that is confusing, to say the least. IMG-R will pay a certain amount to the AIFF, which will then have to manage all its activities with it. If it manages to bring in any sponsorship, the commercial partners will take away the revenue. In case of a broadcast deal at either the regional or the national level, IMG-R would pocket the profits, while the clubs would be left with the peanuts that the AIFF provides them.

The question of sustainability is important in the context of the parallel running of the I-League and the ISL, a short-term solution the AIFF came up with as a compromise between the franchises and the legacy clubs.

A report on Why Indian players think ISL is miles ahead of I-League suggested that the footballers don’t agree with the common suggestion that they chose the lucrative deals with ISL franchises over contracts with legacy clubs not because of the money, but the facilities and opportunities on offer. It quoted several players who claimed that the facilities were beyond the I-League clubs. But there is a flaw in this argument.

Till this season, the ISL only ran for three months and most of the franchises would rent out a training facility for that period. Now that the league would be expanded to six months, it would be interesting to see how these franchises come up with facilities that satisfy the Indian players.

There is also the matter of securing a licence from the AFC now that Asian football’s governing body has given its nod to ISL clubs to take part in the AFC Cup. All the I-League clubs hold an AFC licence, while Bengaluru FC, which was in the I-League last season and had to fulfil its licensing commitments, is the sole ISL franchise to hold it. Among the mandatory requirements for an AFC licence are permanent training facilities, , which none of the ISL franchises have at this moment, and a youth academy. With FSDL taking away all revenue and the franchises not being in a position to make profits for at least the next few years, how much the owners invest in these facilities is open for debate.

The same report quoted former India international Nirmal Chhetri, who alleged instances of non-payment by I-League clubs.

“I-League clubs may have history and legacy but they can’t not pay players and treat them like this,” he said. “It takes time to file cases and get money from these clubs. Footballers don’t speak up for fear of their future. For the first time in my career I am home without a contract and hope to get drafted in the ISL,” he added.

Chhetri may be forgiven for basking in the glory of his new ISL contract, but a look to China would probably give him sleepless nights. It has recently emerged that 13 out of the 16 clubs that play in the Chinese Super League could be forced to forfeit the competition following allegations of not paying the players for at least four months. These were the same clubs that smashed wage ceilings to bring in the likes of Carlos Tevez, Oscar, and Ezequiel Lavezzi on huge packages from top European clubs. Now, they are staring at bankruptcy despite the backing of some of China’s biggest industrial houses. This goes to show that without a sustainable business model, no club or franchise anywhere in the world can survive.

Another important point that the report missed was the lack of players. India is not blessed with too many quality players, and with three leagues (ISL, I-League, and I-League 2) running simultaneously, albeit for a year, a shortage of players will be created. The ISL franchises have already signed their players from the draft, while those who remained unsold signing for I-League clubs for much lower wages. However, with most clubs going after quality, some average players will be left without contracts. Nirmal Chhetri would do well to answer how these players would fend for themselves.

A fallout of the razzmatazz surrounding the ISL would leave the I-League clubs in a dire situation. The buzz and glamour of the ISL will impact clubs that have been the guardians of the game in the country for decades. Subrata Dutta, senior vice-president of the AIFF, recently said: “If by then, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have lost sheen because it would be obvious to all that the I-League would, in terms of marketing and maybe broadcast quality, not be in the same category as the ISL, what will happen to the domestic football structure.”

The sponsorship scenario in Indian football is dire. Asking I-League clubs like Aizawl FC, Shillong Lajong FC, and Churchill Brothers to shell out Rs 15 crore franchise fee every year, when there is no guarantee of return from revenues earned, was a fundamental flaw. The AIFF know quite well that these clubs run on shoestring budgets, yet it bent to FSDL’s whims over such the payment.

Dutta said he wished the ISL had shown flexibility in accommodating these community clubs into its fold.

The one silver lining is that the AFC’s acceptance of the ISL model came with a rider of expanding it to include I-League clubs into the fold. An AFC statement on the matter made it clear that this is just a temporary short-term ‘bridging solution’.

However, that would mean introducing a pyramidal system that would include relegation and promotion. When FSDL signed up the franchises, it had given them exclusivity over a particular city for five years, a major reason why it was hellbent in opposing the inclusion of Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal into the ISL. But, the contract contains a relegation clause only after at least 10 years. The question is once the pyramidal system is introduced, how many franchises would still be interested in case they went down? The demise of several teams, the latest being Chivas USA, in the franchise system of Major League Soccer does not make for a bright outlook.

The franchise system that is prevalent in the United States, in basketball, American football, baseball, and football also allows owners to uproot and relocate their teams. According to AIFF, the ISL will create a new generation of football fans in India, but allowing team owners to relocate at will would nip that prospect in the bud.

The two-league dilemma aside, the national team is also at a crossroads. While a Quint column has pointed out exactly how India has climbed to 96th in the Fifa World Rankings, it still took some doing.

And credit must go to the players and the team management for doing the unthinkable. What they did with the kind of infrastructure made available is commendable and it is the players who now need to come out and ask for better facilities, for both club and country.

How much that will affect the bureaucratic AIFF still remains a major question. For a country that aspires to crack the top 50, it still doesn’t have a permanent manager for the Under-23 side with senior team coach Stephen Constantine taking additional charge of the team. Understanding this folly would at least give the AIFF a sense of direction.

India is also hosting the Fifa Under-17 World Cup this year and has a team that is capable of springing a few surprises. But even that team was mired in controversy after the sacking of coach Nicolai Adam for alleged mistreatment of the young players.

Indian officials have always been notorious for favouritism — either towards players or foreigners they bring in to steady a ship. The appointment of former journeyman Australian footballer Scott O’Donnell as the AIFF academy instructor is an instance that beggars belief. He is known for his proximity to former India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia and it has been alleged that Bhutia pulled the strings with the AIFF to get him on board.

The appointment of Adam, a UEFA Pro Licence holder and vastly experienced in developing young players, was hailed as a massive coup for India. But immediately after his arrival, he drew the AIFF hierarchy’s wrath for expressing dissatisfaction at the manner of training. In a 2016 interview to, he had said: “When I came here, the training wasn’t intense. A year ago there was no intensity. Now we’re improving from a physical point of view.”

It was this intensity that the players, always used to having their way with coaches, refused to accept. There were also rumours of a fallout with the AIFF’s technical committee that resulted in his sacking.

Indian football has always boasted of a massive fan base and support whose passion for the game can provide competition to top football-playing nations across the world, but the lack of mainstream promotion had turned them on to European leagues and away from the sport at home. Any decision by the AIFF from this point onwards has the potential to spark the sport back into life or confine it to the sidelines for another few decades. The sooner the babus that run the show from Football House in New Delhi realise this, the better it would be for the game.

The views expressed in this blog are mine unless otherwise mentioned.