In an interview to talk about an aspect of Bishan Singh Bedi’s character that his fellow cricketers, fans and the rest of the country are almost certainly unaware of, Ramachandra Guha says it was “his strength of character” and his “strong moral compass” that made him an exceptional human being.
Guha says “Bedi is that rare example of a great cricketer who is also a very fine human being” and adds: “If Tendulkar or Gavaskar or Kohli or Dhoni or Ganguly have half the strength of character that Bishan Bedi has, Indian cricket would be run in a more democratic and transparent manner, be more accountable to all its stakeholders, and not be so cravenly sycophantic of the political class.”
In a 35-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Ramachandra Guha, who is not just a friend and admirer of Bishan Singh Bedi but an historian and author who has written compellingly on cricket, spoke at length about Bedi’s commitment and even calling, things he wrote and said and courageously stood up for, which many are not aware of.
As a young cricketer Bedi “was the most courageous, most direct and most forthright in fighting for cricketers’ rights” and this is something for which Guha says “he paid a price”. After retirement, Bedi “eschewed lucrative commentary contracts to nurture and mentor young cricketers in the coaching camps he ran”. As a result, he forsook the huge sums of money others like Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri have earned from cricket commentary.
Young cricketers, particularly those from the “mofussil”, would often stay in Bedi’s home. On an occasion when the Indian cricket team and the Indian hockey team were in Bangalore at the same time and Bedi noticed that whilst the cricketers were in 5-star hotels the hockey team was put up in a modest dormitory in the Kanteerava Stadium.
Guha says: “Bedi, perhaps the only Indian cricketer who would have recognized the injustice of it all, took them out for dinner, I believe more than once.” Ten years later, when the hockey player Surjit Singh died in a road accident, Bedi quietly donated some of the proceeds from his benefit match to the hockey player’s family.
This is a side of Bedi no one knew of until Guha brought it to the world’s attention.
Let me make one more point. This time about Bishan Singh Bedi’s boldness in commenting on and criticising politicians, including the present Prime Minister.
First, however, this is what Ramachandra Guha says of cricketers today: “It is one of the sad truths about Indian cricket today that the greater the cricketer, the more opportunistic and spineless the human being. Cricketers with fame and wealth always seek to stay on the right side of the administrators of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, always curry favour with politicians, and never take a stand on matters of personal ethics or political principle.”
Bedi, in contrast, truly stands out because he spoke his mind, repeatedly, forthrightly and unconcerned about the consequence.