The Real Player in the Corridors of Power

While the players and teams jostle for fame and glory in the IPL, on the sidelines another power struggle has been raging on in the courtroom. When observed closely, it would seem that the BCCI appears to be stuck in a proxy war as one man goes head-to-head with everything that represents truth, integrity and credibility about the sport. Fairy tale story of the Sleeping Beauty tells of a curse that befalls a beautiful princess at the christening upon her birth after a thirteenth witch in the guise of a fairy was not invited to the function. Cursed to die by the thirteenth witch, the decree is reduced to a long hibernating sleep by one of the other twelve benevolent fairies present at the christening. The only way to revive the young princess back to life and the break the curse of the dreaded sleep when time would stop still would have to be the pure heart of a man who would fall in love with her even as she lay asleep. The analogy of the tale of Sleeping Beauty is not that farfetched when one considers the scenario that Indian cricket finds itself in presently. If Indian cricket can be ascribed as being the Sleeping Beauty metaphorically speaking, it is not that deviant to imagine who would play the role of the thirteenth witch.

Indian cricket experienced something akin to a watershed moment when the Supreme Court had to shoot down the repeated plea by the BCCI counsel, AC Sundaram, to reinstate N. Srinivasan as the BCCI President by revealing that the incumbent president was the thirteenth name on the list of people under investigation in the sealed envelope prepared by the Justice Mugdal committee. Reiterating the fact that the thirteenth man on the list had twelve serious allegations leveled against him that required further investigations by the probe panel, Justice A. K. Patnaik, admonished the BCCI counsel on behalf of N. Srinivasan for showing callousness to the gravity of allegations and instead demanding reinstatement to the top post in the BCCI office without completion of the probe panel and due process.

Although the original intention of the committee was to protect the identity of the names on the list until the truth of the allegations was proved, the hand of the Supreme Court appeared to have been forced after the pressure put by the repeated requests on behalf of N. Srinivasan who is desperate to return to the post he was forced to step aside from following the appointment of the IPL probe committee set up by the Supreme Court with Justice Mukul Mugdal joined by Additional Solicitor General L Nageshwar Rao, and Nilay Dutta. The stance taken by the Supreme Court was with a view that while Srinivasan may consider himself clean of all allegations, he was in the know how about events but he refused to act on any of the allegations, lending further credence to the notion that perhaps of the many prominent players allegedly on the list, Srinivasan has turned out indeed to be the biggest player of them as it were and poised, rather appropriately some may say, on the dreaded thirteenth number on the list.

In the precise revelation that the sealed envelope supposedly comprising only of players under suspicion included the name of N. Srinivasan as the thirteenth player on the list, the scenario turned into something of a tragicomedy that perhaps best describes the situation that Indian cricket finds itself today. The off field drama has dominated the headlines so much that one had to raise the obvious question of whether the intent to carry on with the IPL despite the heavy cloud of suspicion and past malpractices was so much about the keeping the show going as much as whether it was being used as a diversionary tactic to deflect attention and intense scrutiny that has followed Indian cricket ever since the spot fixing scandal broke out during the IPL 6 season.

Furthermore, there seems to be something of a double standard in applying one rule to all involved. While the three players – S. Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan have been sidelined, the BCCI seems in no such hurry to ensure that the officials/ franchisees/teams involved be sidelined pending clearance from investigative agencies. If anything, the BCCI is believed to have fought to keep the two teams, the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals, in contention and it would not be unfair to state that perhaps the BCCI by way of proxy was more interested in saving one team in particular over the other for obvious reasons. The BCCI appears more than content merely by the fact that the IPL show has been allowed to go after evading the rather possible suspension of the two teams, the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals, after the court appointed Justice Mukul Mudgal committee was put into place to look independently into allegations of fixing and corruption associated with the son-in-law of the BCCI President, Gurunath Meiyappan, and the Jaipur IPL Cricket Private Ltd. that owns the Rajasthan Royals. Despite the Supreme Court’s best attempts to give BCCI the autonomy and opportunity to clean up its own system and set its house in order, the BCCI has shockingly and repeatedly suffered self-inflicted ignominy, showing an obvious cluelessness on the part of the members of the boards handcuffed by the overwhelming powers of one rather influential man. With the original IPL probe panel supposedly set up by the BCCI but plausibly with the instructions from N. Srinivasan alone already dismissed as invalid, the BCCI had the opportunity to learn quickly and seize the opportunity to show that it was shrewd not only with its own commercial interests but also, that it actually had the power to set the equilibrium once more as far as the integrity and credibility factor of the sport were concerned. It was not until the next court appointment was upon them that the BCCI board members called on an emergent meeting with a view to prevent the interference from an outside agency to probe into the allegations revolving around corruption and fixing by officials and players in the IPL match fixing scandal. However, once the names of those that were chosen on the BCCI new probe panel came to light, it soon became apparent that the Supreme Court would dismiss the appointment of such a biased panel and it did. The choice of the panel members as put forth by the BCCI, plausibly on behalf of Srinivasan, included former judge JN Patel, former director of the CBI, RK Raghavan and former Indian cricketer Ravi Shastri.

It was not rocket science to decipher that amongst the three, the most obvious objection would come from the fact that not so long ago it was revealed that the cricketer turned commentator, Ravi Shastri, was on the BCCI payroll. For a BCCI employee then, no matter of what repute, to investigate into a matter involving the boss would seem selfdefeating in itself at the very outset. Additionally Raghavan himself owned a cricket club that operated under the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association over which N. Srinivasan holds administrative power. That said, it seemed that the BCCI had scored another self goal and the Supreme Court was left with no choice but to disallow another sham of an investigation and probe panel and instead decide to take matters into its own hands. Rather than have a new team look into the already opened cases and leave scope for further leaks and misinterpretation of investigation agency reports, the Supreme Court thought it only prudent to request Justice Mugdal to carry on the work that began in October, 2013 and finished on deadline in February, 2014.

That the BCCI would now stoop to the level of undermining the Justice Mugdal Commission on the grounds that its reports were erroneous – case was made for this by the BCCI counsel - is a new low for even the BCCI. One would be forgiven for assuming that this was the Indian cricket board’s attempt at self-preservation. However, the truth has been rather blatantly obvious for some time now and it had to do with the thirteenth name on the list. Ever since the IPL spot fixing scandal broke out with Gurunath Meiyappan’s hands getting increasingly dirty, all the attempts of the board have been directed either towards toeing the line assumed by Srinivasan out of fear or compulsion or towards protecting Srinivasan’s status quo as the most selfrighteous influential figure not only in Indian cricket but also, in world cricket for their own vested interests. The very fact that Srinivasan landed himself in Dubai for the ICC meet even as the Supreme Court was emphatic in stating that there was no scope for a fair probe, trial and resolution while Srinivasan continued to occupy the top spot showed that the lust of power knew no boundaries. In the latest evidence of the body being run at the behest of Srinivasan, it would appear the BCCI was acting out of vengeance and carried out its threat of suspending the functioning of the Rajasthan Cricket Association after Lalit Modi, who was banned for life from administrative duties following the IPL 3 season and the fall out with the BCCI, was declared elected president by an overwhelming majority in the elections whose results were withheld for the longest time at the BCCI’s insistence. Indian cricket is witnessing the disaster of the fallout of uncomfortable bedfellows which has turned into a messy divorce with the custody battle for power share in Indian cricket which has been most lamentable. In recent years, Modi and Srinivasan have been established as arch enemies and chief adversaries with their personal battles and conflicts coming in the way of the progress of Indian cricket towards greater accountability and integrity while establishing itself as a financial superpower in world cricket. While the BCCI may have well acted within its rules, it is not hard to see why it has come down as hard as it has given the current climate where power appears to lie primarily in the hands of one man who is in denial about his own responsibility as the president of the most powerful cricket body in the world. That power appears to have turned into intoxication. Yet ironically if Modi was accused of running the IPL singlehandedly and making the IPL Governing Council and its members virtually obsolete, the situation is not much different in that Srinivasan appears to be ruling autocratically with the BCCI’s working committee being made redundant as far as critical decision making is concerned. In an ironical twist, it would appear that the man under investigation will also head investigations at the world body level. According to the latest developments proposed within the ICC, the trio or the ‘big three’ of India, England and Australia will oversee the functioning of the independent investigative agency, the ICC Anti- Corruption Unit (the ACSU) with the agency reporting directly to the ICC chairman, the new post that Srinivasan is expected to chair in June. With the ICC also essentially turning a blind eye to developments back home, Srinivasan’s entrenchment in Dubai for the ICC meets is self-explanatory. How a man who has been forced to step aside from the top job in his own home board until his name is cleared by the top court in the country can be considerable tenable to hold a post at the ICC table is most baffling. Indian cricket is in a long slumber and the wake up calls have all been silenced with the snooze button. With the BCCI showing reluctance, unwillingness and sheer helplessness in being able to root out the problem that has directly reached right to the top of the administrative tree, much like Sleeping Beauty, only a true prince with his heart in the right place can save Indian cricket before it meets its inevitable fate if the status quo is maintained. While a prince could fall in love with a princess in deep sleep in the fairy tale, one wonders if there is anyone brave enough to do it in real life in these prevailing times?

For someone who claims to be as distanced as Srinivasan does about the whole fixing saga involving his son-in-law and the team that he is directly invested in, one would have thought that it would have been far more self-effacing had Srinivasan himself stepped aside, allowed for a fair probe and then reinstated himself as a man without no taint. However, his subversive, self serving attitude and approach became only too evident in his attempt to brush off his sonin- law as a mere ‘cricket enthusiast’, his brash sticking to his chair even as the world implored of him to bring integrity to the sport and his incessant interference in appointing a self-defeating probe panel to serve his own self-preservation interests. Ironically Srinivasan’s desperation to cling onto power has only in turn exposed him to the vulnerability of his own interests in Indian cricket. This blind lust for power alone, giving inadvertent authority to spread nepotism, cronyism and malice within the sport administration, could be the unraveling of the man on the unlucky number thirteen.

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