In an interview he gave to ESPN Cricinfo in July, Vinod Rai, the chairman of the committee of administrators—the CoA—appointed by the Supreme Court to implement sweeping reforms in the administration of Indian cricket, said “disruptive elements” were stalling the group’s work, including the implementation of a new constitution for the Board of Control for Cricket in India. The court, he said, had not succeeded in persuading the BCCI’s members to pass the reformed constitution. “Then the court asked us to do it,” he continued. “We have tried our best to persuade them, build the consensus. Now that they have not agreed, I have sought the direction of the court.”
Rai’s account was disingenuous—a self-serving misinterpretation of both the CoA’s mandate, and the events that have transpired since the group’s formation in January. The court created the CoA after the BCCI failed to implement the recommendations of the Lodha Committee—formed in January 2015 to address corruption and mismanagement in the sporting body. The CoA’s job was made amply clear: to take charge of the BCCI with immediate effect, and to pave the way for fresh elections to reconstitute its leadership, in compliance with the Lodha recommendations. The CoA was also to apply the Lodha recommendations for the reform of state cricketing associations, which are affiliates of and have certain decision-making powers in the BCCI. In sum, its brief was enforcement, not persuasion.
That the CoA has largely failed in its task was laid bare in the resignation letter that the historian Ramachandra Guha, one of the group’s original members, sent to Rai on 2 June. The Lodha recommendations, he wrote, were being “flagrantly violated by people clearly disqualified to serve as office bearers of state and even BCCI-run cricket bodies. The disqualified men were openly attending BCCI meetings, claiming to represent their state association.”
Guha’s letter could have served as a wake-up call—but it did not. Three weeks after he quit the CoA, the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association nominated N Srinivasan, formerly the BCCI president and chairman of the International Cricket Council, as its representative for an upcoming special general-body meeting of the BCCI board. Srinivasan was ineligible for this role on two counts spelt out by the court: he was over the age of 70, and had previously held office in the BCCI for more than nine years.
Rai refrained from taking any action in the matter. “We have not been mandated by the Supreme Court to sit on judgment of a person’s eligibility, non-eligibility etc,” he said. His response underlined Guha’s point that the CoA’s timidity had made it an accomplice in the BCCI’s obstructionism.
In one of its earliest directives, issued on 24 February, the CoA asked the BCCI’s affiliated state associations to submit reports on their compliance with the Lodha recommendations. A day after the 1 March deadline for this had passed, the CoA received letters from various state associations arguing that it had no right to seek such reports. (The larger and more contentious question hanging over all of this is whether the Supreme Court should be dictating how the organisation is to be run at all.) Rather than draw a line in the sand and order the BCCI’s chief executive officer to disband the recalcitrant state units and call for fresh elections to reconstitute them, Rai, on 23 March, issued a conciliatory statement, saying that the CoA would “strive to consult with and persuade” state associations to comply with the Lodha recommendations.
After responding with a whimper at the first instance of revolt, the CoA roared on 27 March, issuing a directive that no office bearer of the BCCI, or of its state affiliates, could take any decisions without the committee’s approval. The BCCI shot back a day later, as senior board officials informed its CEO that the CoA’s directions “cannot override the extant rules and regulations of the BCCI.” The argument was fallacious—the Lodha recommendations and the Supreme Court’s orders clearly superseded the board’s existing rules, and mandated the creation of a new constitution.
The CoA waited a good seven days before sending out another directive to reaffirm that it was in charge, and that BCCI officials could only function subject to its “supervision and control.”
Yet, just a day after this directive, in response to the BCCI’s declaration of intent to send Srinivasan to Dubai as its representative for board meetings of the ICC, it “decided to seek appropriate directions from the Hon’ble Supreme Court on matters relating to … eligibility for being appointed to represent the BCCI at the International Cricket Council.” The court barred Srinivasan from attending the meetings—a decision that could, and should, have been taken by the CoA itself.
The BCCI was outvoted at the ICC meetings on matters relating to a revised constitution for the international body and a new template for sharing revenue among its members. In response, it proceeded to engage in some dangerous brinkmanship, while the CoA watched passively. It was widely reported that the BCCI threatened to pull the Indian national team out of a major upcoming tournament, the Champions Trophy—something that, had it come to pass, could have left Indian cricket with a stain on its reputation. Rai’s initial response was to suggest that if the BCCI took any decision “against the interests of Indian cricket,” the CoA would seek the Supreme Court’s intervention.
In a clear and pointed reference to this incident and to Srinivasan’s continuing influence over the BCCI, Guha wrote in his resignation letter that people who had been disqualified by the Supreme Court had “played a leading role in the concerted (if fortunately in the end aborted) attempt to get the Indian team to boycott the Champions Trophy. All these illegalities were widely reported in the press; yet the CoA did not bring them to the notice of the Court, and did not issue clear directions asking the offenders to desist either.”
Guha’s letter added that had the CoA been firm in its dealings with the BCCI, it could have created “a ripple effect downwards, putting pressure on state associations to clean up their act as well.” The absence of any such ripple effect was bad enough, but the CoA compounded it further with its inordinate delay in engaging with the state associations. By Rai’s own admission—in an interview on 11 May, to mark 100 days since he took up his office—the CoA’s direct dialogue with associations only began on 6 May. Rai said, in that interview, “One of the state associations was slightly combative, saying: why did the CoA not brief them earlier?” It was a valid question, especially since various deadlines for implementing the Lodha recommendations for state associations had come and gone during the course of the CoA’s silence.
The state associations continued their defiance even after the CoA finally began engaging with them. On 8 July, the BCCI called for a special general-body meeting on 11 July. This was to be an important gathering—a special committee of the BCCI had, after much agonising, shortlisted three objections to the Lodha recommendations, and the meeting was to ratify these so they could be placed before the Supreme Court on deadline. Numerous state associations, including that of Tamil Nadu, objected to the calling of the meeting, claiming that it violated procedure, and forced a postponement.
What was significant about the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association’s written objection was that it was signed by RI Palani, a joint secretary of the body. Palani is an employee of India Cements—a company headed by Srinivasan—and one of several associates of Srinivasan purged from the BCCI’s management in 2014 in accordance with Supreme Court orders. The others caught up in that purge included Kasi Viswanathan, the recently retired head of the India Cements costs department, and PS Raman, Srinivasan’s personal lawyer and a legal consultant for both the TNCA and the BCCI.
Despite this, when the TNCA held its latest election, in June 2016, Palani was voted its joint secretary, Viswanathan its secretary, and PS Raman was re-elected as one of its four vice presidents. Srinivasan was re-elected as its president, for the fifteenth time in succession. It was a sign of these men’s sustained grip over the TNCA that all of them were elected unopposed.
Earlier this year, after Srinivasan and Viswanathan crossed the court-mandated cutoff age of 70 for cricket administrators, the TNCA put out a vague announcement that the pair had quit their respective posts. Neither has formally resigned from the association, however. Palani stepped into the position of operational head of the TNCA, from where he was able to pontificate on “democratic principles” and lecture the BCCI on “illegality” when it tried to convene the special general-body meeting. Meanwhile, the TNCA is yet to hold its 2017 elections, despite officially lacking both a president and a secretary. On the office-bearers section of the TNCA website—whose home page serves, in essence, as a shrine to Srinivasan—the India Cements head continues to be identified as president, and Viswanathan as “honorary secretary.”
The TNCA is not the only state association in such murk. In March, the BCCI sent out invites for its annual awards function—with a caveat, in keeping with court orders, that disqualified office bearers could not attend. The Karnataka State Cricket Association declared that it found such constraints “humiliating to the entire cricket fraternity,” and that it would not even “remotely think” of attending. The Kerala Cricket Association, meanwhile, has been in the news for awarding a Rs 250-crore contract for constructing a stadium to a company with zero credentials, and spending Rs 12 crore to maintain a related project office that exists only on paper. In Delhi, the former Test star Bishen Singh Bedi is engaged in a war of words with Justice Vikramajit Sen, a high-court-appointed administrator of the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association, over the latter’s alleged dereliction of duty.
To add a lashing of insult to these injuries, at the end of June, the BCCI appointed Niranjan Shah, another of its disqualified members, to its latest committee tasked with examining the Lodha recommendations. The best the CoA could do by way of response was to go back to the Supreme Court with yet another status report that essentially asked the court to implement the committee’s mandate. Among its requests to the court was this bizarre item: “Issue appropriate directions prohibiting persons who are disqualified from being office bearers of BCCI from being part of any committees of BCCI.” Bizarre, because the disqualifications have the force of a court order already, and all it should take to enforce them is a blanket directive from the CoA and a security guard posted at the entrance of meeting venues with a list of those who can, and cannot, attend.
The Supreme Court, when it next hears the case against the BCCI, would be well within reason to tell the CoA that the court’s job is to examine the case and mandate action; and that the CoA’s job, for which it has been given the staff, the facilities, and the backing of the highest court in the land, is to implement the court’s orders, and to do so within deadline.
Prem Panicker is the managing editor of Yahoo India.