The resignation of Ramachandra Guha from the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA), which was constituted to look after the affairs of the BCCI, has created a flutter primarily because he has dared to reiterate the conflict of interest in cricket establishment about which many know but few want to speak about.
Guha, in his letter to the chief of the CoA, Vinod Rai, has drawn attention to how the latter refused to take any action on a series of ‘conflict of interest’ issues that he had flagged in the last four months, leading to his resignation last week.
As a matter of fact, Justice RM Lodha, chairman of a committee appointed by the Supreme Court to suggest reforms to make the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) a transparent organisation — an organisation free of conflict-of-interest — had expressed his disappointment over the slow pace of the work of the CoA barely a week ago.
Ramachandra Guha, through his candid letter, has squarely placed the blame at the door of Rai whom he accused of lending a deaf ear to all the suggestions for corrective measures made by him to set the BCCI affairs right. The Supreme Court will take a call on the matter on 14 July when the issue comes up for the next hearing.
In the light of Guha’s resignation, the Supreme Court may have to review its decision to continue with a super bureaucrat close to the current political establishment, as the chief interim administrator of the BCCI, tasked with implementing large-scale reforms in the organisation.
As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court took up the BCCI matter primarily because the petitioner had drawn attention to large-scale prevalence of conflict of interest at the top echelon of the BCCI administration. The most glaring example was the case of N Srinivasan, the then BCCI chief, who also owned Chennai Super Kings (CSK), an Indian Premier League (IPL) team. What was a bigger scandal was that MS Dhoni, captain of the Indian team, was also the captain of CSK, and the bigger eyesore was that Dhoni happened to be a paid employee of Srinivasan-owned India Cements.
Srinivasan and Dhoni carried on this scurrilous relationship for years without facing any substantive questioning because BCCI operated in an autonomous zone; it was a law unto itself. The powerful politicians — cutting across party lines — who could have raised issues on the BCCI’s virtual immunity had been suitably rewarded by powerful positions at the state and the national level of the organisation. As a matter of fact, powerful politicians had largely taken over running the affairs of the BCCI.
That left the cricketing fraternity, the current and retired players, to take up cudgels for the cause of the cricket. But their hands were clearly tied; their voices were obviously muted. The current players of the Indian cricket team or those aspiring to be part of the team were at the mercy of the cricket board for their professional career. No one expected them to raise their voice against the shenanigans of the cricket bosses.
The retired players too remained an obedient lot because they financially gained by remaining on the right side of the cricket establishment. They knew that any discordant voice on their part would squeeze out the financial largesse that the cash-rich BCCI offered them.
When Mumbai Mirror did a report in 2011 that Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri had been given an annual contract of Rs 3.6 crore each by the BCCI to ostensibly serve as commentators but actually to buy their silence, the Gavaskars and Shastris of the world raised a whale of protest. They insisted that there was no conflict of interest, in their being paid by private television channels as well.
There was clearly a quid pro quo. The BCCI bosses overlooked the conflict of interest of the retired players and the players, in turn, paid the compliment to their financial masters. That explains why the Gavaskars of India have always behaved in a politically correct manner even when the affairs of the BCCI were characterised by shadowy, murky deals.
Bishen Singh Bedi’s was the lone voice as a former cricketer who raised issues critical to cricket. But his voice was drowned in the cacophony of the yesmen among the cricketers. Kirti Azad, a former cricketer-turned politician, also raised the conflict of interest issues in a big way, but his taking up the cudgels against his party leader, Arun Jaitley, who headed the Delhi unit of the BCCI for 13 years, cost him dear. Azad has now been banished from both the cricketing and political corridors of power.
The mainstream media had also been indulgent to these cricketers, whom Guha described as the superstars of the yesteryear.
No wonder, when Guha turned the mirror on these pampered lot, they rose in revolt. Guha mentioned Gavaskar by name, pointing out his conflict of interest — as to how he runs Professional Management Group that looks after the interest of several cricketers and at the same time he has to comment on their performance on the field when he dons the role of the commentator.
Guha insisted that Gavaskar must choose between his engagement with the PMG and with cricket commentary. Obviously, Gavaskar is not amused as that would deprive him of several crore rupees every year.
Stunned by the audacity of Guha for making this suggestion, Gavaskar came up before the television to say that whoever was talking of his conflict of interest was jealous of his achievements as an on-field and off-field cricketer.
Gavaskar’s statement falls into a pattern. When the conflict of interest issues were being debated in the apex court, the BCCI officials used to make the very same claim — that all those who wanted to interfere with the autonomy of the BCCI were doing so out of sheer jealousy, that they were envious of the success of the BCCI.
The Supreme Court had then snubbed the BCCI, telling it point blank that it could not escape scrutiny only because it was a financially successful venture. The Apex Court appointed a committee headed by the former Chief Justice of India, RM Lodha to suggest ways for the restructuring of the BCCI. And the Lodha Committee worked with astonishing speed to fulfil the Supreme Court’s mandate.
Unfortunately, the CoA appointed by the Supreme Court has fallen short of expectations. It has something to do with the constitution of the committee itself. The choice of Rai, as the chief administrator, was questionable, as he has already been saddled with the position of the Chairman of Bank Board Bureau, a new post created by the Union Government to streamline public sector banks.
The Modi government had winked at the conflict of interest that this appointment engendered — that Rai was also the chairman of the IDFC, the holding company of the IDFC Bank which was a competitor of the public sector banks in the private space.
This conflict of interest involving Rai took another form in the BCCI when he, as the chief of the CoA, chose Vikram Limaye, his CEO at the IDFC Ltd as a member of the CoA. That Limaye has now been selected to head the National Stock Exchange, a prestigious position, further muddles the conflict-of-interest plot.
Having been the blue-eyed ex-bureaucrat of the current government, Rai has his fingers in so many pies that many said that it was difficult for him to do justice to the BCCI job. But the more sinister charge came when accusing fingers were raised by some that BCCI under the leadership of Rai-Limaye duo had given its annual audit contract to a firm owned by an NSE Director who was a member of the committee that selected Limaye as the NSE chief.
Clearly Rai has muddled the plot to clean up the cricket establishment in India. He is now caught up in the same conflict-of-interest cobweb which he was supposed to clear. Guha’s letter to him also insinuates this charge.
Guha has set the cat among the pigeons; it is high time the Supreme Court raises the war on conflict of interest in cricket to a higher gear.