From Dhoni to Bansal, it’s 'convergence of interests' all around

After a thick-skinned BCCI allowed the continuation of N Srinivasan as president inspite of damning conflict of interest issues, it is cricket star Mahendra Singh Dhoni who is the latest to be tainted by the same stigma that is all-pervasive in the country.

Zero tolerance to 'conflict of interest' is a basic principle of good governance and best management practices. This is the same principle that disallows intra-office affairs which disgraced ex-iGate CEO, Phaneesh Murthy, as much as it applies to corruption.

Everyone understands this principle but few care about it, especially in India, where 'convergence of interest' is what rules and 'conflict of interest' is taken as lightly as breaking traffic rules.

 From Dhoni to Bansal, it’s convergence of interests all around

Mahendra Singh Dhoni. AFP

In the light of the latest expose’ in The Economic Times, Dhoni has some explaining to do with regards to his interests in Rhiti Sports which was managing him and four other cricketers, two of whom (Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja) were members of his own team, Chennai Super Kings.

Look at most cases of corruption and irregularity and you will find a nexus of politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats at work, with or without the involvement of their relatives. This opportunity to lustfully feed one’s greed is what gives precedence to ‘convergence of interest’ over the ethical considerations that arise out of ‘conflict of interest’ issues. Scam after scam has demonstrated that ‘conflict of interest’ is at the heart of corruption and mis-governance in India.

Just as our system is tolerant of bad/rash/negligent driving even though serious accidents and fatalities occur from time to time, ‘conflict of interest’ is not considered a serious aberration to begin with till such time that a scam breaks out and surfaces before the public. This same cycle repeats again and again because Indians are tolerant of convergence of interests.

Look at the numerous instances in which this was at work in the BCCI and the IPL which are now under the spotlight. In the latest case of the IPL match-fixing and betting scam, it is only now that questions are being asked about how and why did the BCCI chief Sharad Pawar grant permission to Board member N Srinivasan to own a team. A January 2008 letter establishes how Pawar, on the advice of other BCCI members, allowed India Cements to participate in the bidding process for IPL teams. All was well for Pawar, Srinivasan, the entire board, the media and others till CSK team owner and son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan’s arrest for allegedly placing bets through alleged bookie Vindoo Dara Singh. No one raised a hue and cry about the exception being made to favour Srinivasan.

‘Conflict of interest’ was at the heart of the Bofors scam when investigations revealed that the Italian middleman in the scam, Ottavio Quattrocchi, was a close family friend of Sonia Gandhi with unrestricted access to the Gandhi household.

There was no sign of former Union railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal’s resignation for a week after his own nephew was arrested while accepting a bribe of Rs90 lakh to allegedly fix a lucrative posting for a senior railway official. As in the case with Srinivasan, the argument offered was that there was no evidence of corruption by Bansal himself and therefore it was not necessary for him to resign. The sudden, meteoric growth achieved by firms belonging to Bansal’s relatives after he became the railway minister, and allegations of railway catering contracts doled out to his relatives or their close friends,were not enough to sack Bansal.

The Adarsh Housing Society scam originally surfaced in 2003 as a news story of building regulation violations and allotment of flats to non-Kargil war heroes. The allotment of multiple flats to politicians, bureaucrats and their relatives had been approved by the Maharashtra government unmindful about about conflict of interest issues.

Incidentally, the biggest controversies around Pawar are those arising from a conflict of interest. Take the 2010 IPL controversy when the Pune-based construction firm City Corporation with 16.22 percent stakes from the Sharad Pawar family made an unsuccessful bid for an IPL franchisee. Although documents revealed that City Corporation's managing director Aniruddha Deshpande had made a Rs1,200 crore bid for an IPL team on behalf of the company, the Pawars and Deshpande later claimed that the bids were made in Deshpande's 'personal capacity' and were not authorized by the company.

Pawar has had to do a lot of explaining over the Lavasa Lake City controversy where this mega housing project in Pune district had questionable links with his daughter and son-in-law and people known to be a part of his inner circle. While explaining his point of view, Pawar has never cared for the principle of conflict of interest and glossed over the issue by saying that he and his family members have a legitimate right to participate in a legitimate business activity.

One of the positive fallouts of the IPL scam is the attention it has focused on issues of bad governance and conflict of interest issues in India. It has forced India to come face to face with how thick-skinned we are on matters of conflict of interest.

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Updated Date: Jun 04, 2013 15:45:04 IST