God-sent opportunity to overhaul Indian cricket board
The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court, which started as a case of corruption in the 2013 Indian Premier League (IPL), has finally consumed the Indian cricket board and possibly its highly ambitious strongman Narayanswamy Srinivasan. In the last three decades or so, cricket matters came before India's apex court more than once, and each time the legal luminaries saved the board and its chiefs, areeing to do what was asked of them.
Happily, this time the Supreme Court took the matter more seriously and decided to cleanse the system. By disciplining the board, the court has sent out a message to all sports organisations that they are only the custodians of the faith of the fans and they should not behave like monarchs.
The court has also once and for all brought the board under judicial scrutiny, saying that it performs a public function and it cannot claim to be an autonomous institution. The next step, perhaps, is to bring it under the Right to Information (RTI) to make its functioning more transparent.
The only fear is of unimaginable consequences which can crop up with a spate of PILs, asking for a lot of uncomfortable information that might embarrass the officials of not only the board but also its affiliated state associations.
So be it. The public would be better off it gets to know how a state association constructed a stadium in a non-descript town when it could well have come up in better-connected places. Or, how come a key board official is running his office from a suite in a five-star hotel, or how associations hired chairs for international matches for amounts at half of which they could well have bought and owned these.
All tenders and contracts will now come under public scrutiny, bringing far more transparency in all dealings.
Cricket administration in India in need of overhaul
The court has appointed a high-powered committee of three of its own retired judges, headed by a former Chief Justice, with wide-ranging powers and freedom to redraft the BCCI constitution, deleting the clauses that were brought in to help individuals perpetuate their hegemony.
When Sharad Pawar became the board president, his team prepared a vision paper in which one of the draft clauses sought a uniform constitution for both the BCCI and its affiliates. But it was shot down, critics claiming that it was a cumbersome process as some state units came under the Registrar of Cooperative Societies and some others under the Company Law Board.
The panel can now take up the issue and draft a model constitution binding on all state units. After all, what is so special about the cricket board that it has states with three associations when all other national sports federations have a single vote from a state each?
Tinkering with the statute may not be easy and may even lead to litigations, but the apex court panel with unbridled powers can overcome all messy issues and give the board a new constitution and a clean slate.
Power suffers from hubris
The board has asked for it as the saner voices were in the past silenced by the brute "Hail My Leader" majority in the monolith. The secretary and the treasurer quit their posts but failed to make Srinivasan see the writing on the wall.
At the board's working committee meeting in Chennai in May, former board chief Indedrjit Singh Bindra told Srinivasan bluntly that he should go to save the board. When in power, people suffer from hubris and and are blind to reason.
Whatever the big guns of the board may have said inside its four walls or for public consumption, they just could not stop Srinivasan from riding roughshod over the 30-member House. Some of them even acquiesced with him.
That's what Jagmohan Dalmiya, who is most likely to take over the reins of the board, did when he was presiding over it till Sharad Pawar, a powerful UPA minister, came along to end his reign with the same government votes.
Now Arun Jaitley, another influential minister in the NDA government, and the all-powerful president of the Bharatiya Janata Party Amit Shah are doing the political and cricket calculations to keep the board under their thumb. Jaitley could favour the more pliable Congressman Rajiv Shukla, but knows he need not court a disaster cricket-wise, and might plump for Dalmiya.
Road ahead for Srinivasan
Even Srinivasan might prefer Dalmiya, provided Jaitley assures him that the Kolkata baron would vacate the chair if and when the ACC boss overcomes his personal problems and return to the fold. That can only be next year.
The two other operative parts of the 130-page apex court judgment are on the board elections and the eligibility criteria for the candidates to contest.
It said the board should hold the twice-postponed elections within six weeks from the date of the order, but in accordance with the prevalent rules and regulations subject to the condition that "no one who has any commercial interest in the BCCI events (including Mr. N. Srinivasan) shall be eligible for contesting the elections for any post whatsoever."
By specifically naming Srinivasan in the order, the court made it amply clear that he is barred from contesting the election. Going a step further, the judges made it clear that the disqualification clause will be applicable to all those holding commercial interest in the board-conducted events or till the time the apex court appointed three-judge panel decides on the quantum of punishment to those liable.
The rider, "whichever is later" attached to it makes it impossible for Srinivasan to contest the election since the panel has been given six months to decide the issue and the election has to be held within six weeks.
Srinivasan's lawyers perhaps are thinking of seeking clarification on the words "whichever is later" as normally it is "whichever is earlier", but nothing may emerge from it since it has been specifically done to prevent any board member taking advantage till the panel decides on the quantum of punishment to the guilty.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed here are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)