The writer and other journalists are sitting along with African students in the pavilion of Moin-ul-Haque during the 1996 World Cup match. (File Photo, credit: Sanjay Solanki)

One photo is enough to explode the myth about the so-called Jungle Raj

A photo taken on February 27, 1996 at the height of the so-called Jungle Raj debunks all the lies deliberately spread for the political reasons in the poll-bound Bihar. It was taken by a photo-journalist, Sanjay Solanki, during the World Cup Cricket match between Kenya and Zimbabwe at Patna’s Moin-ul-Haque Stadium. 

Helicopter in a New Role

Incidentally, this One-Day International was extended to the second day because the first day (February 26) was washed out due to rain after a few overs were bowled. The then chief minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav, who was sitting in the pavilion, was requested to summon a helicopter. The idea was that the chopper would lower down just a few feet above the pitch so that the air gushing out of the rotor may help it dry up.

The helicopter did come but the idea could not work as the rain had extensively dampened the pitch. So the match was put off for the next day and a fresh one was held. Anyway the use of helicopter in a different role entertained the spectators, who were otherwise bored by the unseasonal rain. Zimbabwe won by five wickets.

African Students in Patna 

As the match was held between two African countries, several youths from that continent came to watch it. Almost all of them were students–believe it or not–studying in Patna, the capital of Bihar during the so-called Jungle Raj days.

I was among a couple of reporters of the Times of India, who covered it. As the match reporting was to be done by Ruchir Kumar (now with Hindustan Times) I was to file stories on the interesting aspects of the show because this was the first such mega-event to be held in Patna, though another ODI was held during the so-called Jungle Raj about two and a half years before, that was on November 15, 1993 between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

Curiously, no Men’s One-Day International match–what to speak of the World Cup–has taken place in Patna since then. This is so notwithstanding the fact that cricket has become much popular since then and India has hosted another World Cup, that is in 2011. Now, smaller cities than Patna are becoming cricketing venues. 

Women’s ODI between South Africa and India

Those who are screaming from the house top that the women were not safe during 15 years between 1990 and 2005 should be reminded that in the same Moin-ul-Haque Stadium Women ODI was played between South Africa and India on December 22, 1997 when Rabri Devi was the chief minister. This was a Women’s World Cup match.

Needless to mention, a large number of women came to watch this match. No untoward incident took place in all these three cricket matches. Though Patna used to host sporting events in the past most of the cricketing events in Bihar were earlier organised in Kennan Stadium, Jamshedpur which became a part of Jharkhand after the bifurcation of the state on November 15, 2000. 

Historic Photo 

When these African students watching the World Cup match learnt that I am a journalist they asked me to have a few words and get photographed. One of them told me that he is an MBA student studying in L N Mishra Institute of Economic Development and Social Change situated just beside Patna High Court. About a quarter century later hardly any student from Bihar–what to speak of Africa–is keen to take admission here.

In that pre-mobile phone age it was not so easy to get photographed. Suddenly Sanjay appeared. He took a few snaps. Though I was not very much interested in getting a copy of the photo, on March 18 Sanjay, who was associated with another Hindi daily, came to my office to give this photo to me. I never realised that it would prove so historic. 

Pakistani Umpire

Another interesting aspect of the 1996 World Cup in Patna was that the umpiring was done by a Pakistani umpire, Khizer Hayat. His interview with the ‘Hindustan’ journalist, Sami Ahmad became very popular as he said that before going for umpiring he offers two Rikat Nafil Namaz (special prayer) so that he does not make any error in judgement.

Two months before the 1996 World Cup Patna hosted a famous NRI conference. Though no such investment came to Bihar, its capital underwent a facelift after a beautification drive done directly under the supervision of CM Lalu Prasad. Floodlights were installed around Gandhi Maidan, outside Moin-ul-Haque Stadium and on the main thorough fares. After the World Cup Patna came in the grip of cricket-mania.

While returning to home on the official car of the Times of India after the night duty–obviously after 1:30 AM–we would often see kids playing cricket under the floodlight installed in an open space across the Patna Market–a classic case of night cricket. No doubt the Lalu-Rabri regime had, like other governments, its successes and failures. But to allege that people did not dare to come out after the sunset during the so-called Jungle Raj is simply absurd and unacceptable.

If things were so bad why so many international students used to study in Patna and other places, why so many prominent industrialists attended the May 1995 Confederation of Indian Industries meet in Patna and why 2000 Sydney Olympic bronze medallist, Karnam Malleswari agreed to accept the Bihar government’s felicitation at the Moin-ul-Haque Stadium. If the politicians think that it is their birthright to hurl outlandish and baseless allegations on the rivals it is the duty of the journalists to put the facts straight.

(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna

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