By Vijay Darda | 08-02-2016
The game of cricket is the real secular religion of India. Its millions of fans follow the course of every ball, and every wicket taken and every run scored with passionate zeal. It is the devout Indian cricket fan across the globe whose commitment to the game has brought untold riches to the body that controls cricket in India-BCCI. It is the money power of the BCCI that enabled the then Indian cricket czar N Srinivasan to rewrite the rules of the International Cricket Council in 2014 and brought in the concept of Big 3 – India, Australia and England – to override the role of the other full members boards.
But it is the law of nature that no unbridled power can last forever. Scandals associated with the game have been common knowledge. But the betting and match fixing scandals involving two IPL franchises-Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals – in 2013 ushered in changes that could only have been dreamt of. The manner in which Srini tried to cling to his post and was able to rustle up support for himself cutting across party lines exposed the real nature of the BCCI as a “you scratch-my back I scratch yours” closed club. To cut a long story short and more so as much of it is fresh in public memory, we have reached a stage where the Supreme Court has set a four- week deadline expiring on March 3 to give its feedback on the recommendations of the Justice R M Lodha Committee for the reforms in BCCI.
It is not the deadline that is ominous for the opaque BCCI, but the unambiguous message by the two-judge bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice T S Thakur, and Justice Ibrahim Kaifulla that the BCCI better fall in line or else the court would issue a simple order that the Justice Lodha Committee should help the implementation of the recommendations.
Given the seriousness of the matter the board officials like secretary Anurag Thakur have been asserting that the BCCI is not looking for an escape route. This may be really the case, but the main thing is that after the apex court made its intentions clear there is really no escape route. The BCCI will have to find solutions instead of putting forward reasons due to which the Lodha recommendations cannot be implemented.
It is interesting that at this juncture the BCCI is headed by our Nagpurian lawyer friend Shashank Manohar who has a reputation for impeccable integrity and is a no nonsense man. He also doubles as the chairman of the ICC and has already suggested that the Big 3 scheme should be done away with. Besides, he has also offered that India would share another 6 per cent of its revenue with the ICC for the poorer boards. Given this approach towards reforms, it is reassuring that he heads the BCCI, but the main thing is whether he will be able to carry the rest of the associations with him.
In fact one of the recommendations of the Lodha Committee is one state, one vote, one association. Now if this is accepted then Manohar who is from Nagpur and represents Vidarbha in the board would stand to lose his membership altogether. Will he sign his own exit warrant?
There are a host of issues related to the cricketing and support staff that are stalked by the expression conflict of interest. For instance Rahul Dravid, the most gentlemanly among our cricketers faces this issue in his dual role as the mentor for the Rajasthan Royals and the India U-19 squad. For those professionals who earn their bread and butter through the game, the multiplicity of teams offers them the opportunity to enhance their earnings, but also represents these challenges. The BCCI has to show the creativity and innovative ability to navigate through these hurdles and it could be expected that the court would show the right concern for genuine issues.
But there can be no compromise when it comes to putting an end to the system of sharing the spoils among the members of the BCCI and perpetuating the rule of the babus and politicos who have controlled the game for decades. In this respect, the apex court’s observation that there is no second innings for the BCCI has to be taken in letter and spirit. The gap between two terms in office for the individuals has to be followed and the committees for ethics and election authority recommended by Justice Lodha must be put in place.
Similarly, the BCCI has to put in place professionals for running the day-to-day affairs. May be if the BCCI had been more reform minded, and paid some heed to the public criticism then perhaps the ‘autonomy’ under whose cover it has maintained its opacity for so long would not have come under the scrutiny of the apex court. But by its own stubbornness and steadfast refusal to accept that things were wrong even when the Standing Committee of the Parliament on Finance pointed out gross misuse of the exemptions of Income Tax, and there were blatant cases of money laundering that the situation has come to this pass.
The money spinner IPL has changed the equation even for uncapped players, and the high stakes have brought in other evils like betting. Although, one wonders if Justice Lodha’s recommendation of making betting legal is the right remedy.
Manohar and Co. in the BCCI now have to come up with answers to the questions that hover over the credibility and integrity of the game. The apex court would not be keen to make too many concessions, and there is a likelihood that there may be a period of uncertainty about the game. But this has to be looked upon as an opportunity to cleanse the game, and it has to be seized with both hands and with enthusiasm. The organisation must also accept that the Right to Information Act is applicable to it, at least with regard to administrative and financial matters. Those with the interest of the game at heart should not get into further legal complications and laud the Supreme Court’s effort.
Before I conclude…
The happenings in Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir with the regard to the popularly elected state governments do not augur well for our democracy. Whatever be the political compulsions, the people of the sensitive border states and their democratic aspirations have to be treated with respect. It cannot be forgotten that our strategic and long term rivals would always try to exploit the disaffection of the people. And there could be huge long term consequences.