The Bangalore Turf Club recently conducted elections to fill up the vacancies of 27 members caused by the death of the existing members. There were 64 candidates. The membership is not conferred on aspirants by virtue of the qualifications that they possess. The general body votes and under such a system, merit does not become a consideration but the families which control votes determine the winners.
It is shameful that among the 27 candidates elected, only a handful of them are racegoers. And we are talking about elections to the turf club which conducts the serious business of horse racing. The members simply voted to elect their own kith and kin, many of them contesting the elections just because their parents asked them to do so. These members are absent for the rest of the year and come only when the next elections are held. They only serve the purpose of creating vote banks which ensures that those who don`t belong to the families rarely get elected unless they spend disproportionate amounts of money and buy their way through.
One of the government nominees with a high rank in the government put it aptly when he said: ``It is an incestuous club. Almost all the members of the club stay within a radius of a few kilometers from the club. I don`t know what is so great about becoming a member. I for one would never want to become a member. It looks like a seedy place. You cannot even take your male friends to spend an evening. It is a terrible place.``
Yes, he is right. But why is then there is much demand for membership in the club? Most of the contestants are already members of some of the big social clubs of Bangalore like Bangalore Club, Bangalore Golf Club, Century Club etc. There is an exaggerated notion of being a member so much so that the hype makes much contest. In the case of those existing members, they want somebody in the family to become the member whether that person is interested in racing or not; whether he knows the horse`s elbow from its arse!
The club membership is useful only for those attending races regularly because it helps them to get king-size facilities besides the power to create a storm in a way as to get the professionals whom they dislike punished for the flimsiest of the reasons. Of course, you only pay an annual subscription of Rs 250 and enjoy facilities to the tune of Rs 20,000 if one were to quote the Racing Commission report of 1987.
The tragedy of electing members who are ignorant of horse racing is that they are not interested in the way the races are conducted. They are not bothered about the improvement of racing. They would be happy with the parties that are part and parcel of the election scenario. The members however big they may be, they have no commitment to the sport.
PROFESSIONALS HAVE NO PLACE
The best of the professionals may want to become a member but he is sure to be defeated. Cricket associations are run by cricketers and all State cricketers are automatically conferred membership of the club. But in BTC, even if you are an achiever of the magnitude of Sachin Tendulkar in horse racing, you stand no ghost of a chance. In the golf clubs, those wanting to become members have to compulsorily play golf and pass a mandatory test about their knowledge of the sport. Ask the majority of the members who were elected basic questions on horse racing, you will only get a blank stare!
It beats me that even the sane past office-bearers of the past have fallen into this rut and make their children members. Many of them don`t take part in any proceedings of the club once they cease to be office-bearers of the club. But still, they would bring their children to become members. Even if the club is suffering due to maladministration and its reputation going down each day, they are least bothered to set it right. But they want to prolong the existing system. The lack of interest has resulted in a few people developing vested interest and making a business of being office-bearers for gain but members care less except mud-slinging through Whatsapp exchanges.
This year, there were two professionals with significant achievements to back their claims in the contest but both were defeated. But BTC the priority is not horses or those who tend to them though the reason for the existence is the sport of horse racing! These people don`t deserve to have a race club,`` one long time racegoer said looking at the election results. This year, the members also decided not to vote a single woman as a member. Their grouse: these women don`t actively participate in racing as if the men elected are seen every day of racing. If there is a rule that members must show at least 10 per cent attendance at the races during the year, the majority will lose their membership. A few families, the planters from Chickmagalur and Coorg dominate the membership.
SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT EXTEND THE LARGESSE?
The High Court of Karnataka, in a recent judgment bringing the club under the Right To Information Act had said the turf club is the beneficiary of State largesse by way of various confessions including the lease rent at a throwaway price. Should the government extend such largesse to a club that is a family-oriented club, least interested in the promotion of the sport? And to top it all, it is a School for Scandal in every aspect.
MEMBERSHIP MUST BE BROAD BASED
In 1977, the government under D Devaraj Urs had insisted on expanding the membership, with a condition that relatives/business partners of existing Club Members cannot contest for a limited period of two years. This was done to broad base membership, as the Club then consisted of only K N Guruswamy and V T Velu, their families and their cronies. It is time the government stepped in and ensured that the membership is broad-based. Former Chief Minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah tried and failed in 2017 because the government did not directly ask for membership of the club but suspended the license citing other reasons. The government should have openly told the club to expand the membership and laid out conditions that would have passed muster even in the courts of law. It was a half-hearted attempt by the government.
The need for the hour is to extend membership and to take it beyond the families of a few and also free it from the clutches of the plantation lobby.
SHIP OF FOOLS
A friend of mine sent me this after reading my article Election of Shame at Bangalore Turf Club. This wonderfully sums up what BTC is today.
The Philosopher Plato`s Republic describes ``The Ship of Fools`` in which the only requirement for captaining and crewing was to have no knowledge of the seas whatsoever.
One disaster follows another.