Silence of the lions: NaMo hits 'mute' on BCCI

"The country's Prime Minister cannot give a reply to this. Anyway, he is silent. If nobody speaks at all, then what reply can you get from such a person?" quipped a sarcastic Narendra Modi, taking one of his trademark potshots at "Maun Mohan Singh" as he campaigned in Himachal Pradesh back in October. During the same speech, he also took a swipe Robert Vadra's dubious land deals: "Now, I am a happy person. Who have I to loot for? I don't even have a son-in-law. My dear brothers, you should also be careful of sons-in-law. The entire institution of sons-in-law will soon be blacklisted."

Six months later, Modi is the one who is conspicuously silent, refusing to comment on another famous son-in-law in legal trouble. There has been not one peep from BJP's leading prime ministerial candidate on the biggest cricketing scandal in the nation. His position as the head of the Gujarat Cricket Association and member of the BCCI board makes his maun vrat all the more inexplicable -- and potentially damaging.

Silence of the lions: NaMo hits mute on BCCI

Narendra Modi has been uncharacteristically quiet on the IPL issue. Agencies.

Earlier this week, writing in The Mint, G Sampath argued that the Congress party was botching a valuable opportunity for political mileage:

Of course, Srinivasan’s main political patron is a Congressman, Shukla, who is also the IPL chairman. But Shukla is nowhere near as high in the Congress hierarchy as Modi or Jaitely are in the BJP. While Jaitley is widely acknowledged as a strategic lynchpin of the BJP, Modi is a potential prime ministerial candidate. Shukla is not a Manmohan Singh or a P. Chidambaram or even a Jairam Ramesh. If the Congress takes a stand on the ongoing spot-fixing scam and asks Shukla to resign on moral grounds, it can score some precious brownie points by asking what two of the BJP’s senior-most leaders are doing in what is arguably the country’s most controversial sports body, and why neither of them has taken a public stand on Srinivasan’s insistence on continuing as BCCI president.

Congress honchos, however belatedly, seem to have reached the same conclusion. Over the past few days, there have been a flurry of anti-Srinivasan statements issued by its leaders, demanding his head. The Telegraph attributes this change of heart to Rahul Gandhi himself:

Rahul Gandhi took the initiative to control the damage, telling the younger ministers that such scandals cast the government of the day in negative light and any impression about a Congress role in saving the guilty should be fought with full force.

Rahul’s intervention resulted in two quick responses that succeeded in insulating the Congress from other politicians who were seen to be supporting or were silent in the ugly controversy surrounding fixing in cricket. Jyotiraditya Scindia, the president of Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association and Union power minister, was the first to ask for Srinivasan’s ouster. Sports minister Jitendra Singh took the exceptional step of asking for the resignation of the head of a non-government body. Both Scindia and Singh are very close to Rahul.

All this talk of Rahul taking on the BCCI reads suspiciously as usual PR hype. But it doesn't help Modi's situation, and underlines his continuing silence, more so when his own party member Kirti Azad offers up quotes like these: “Why are the people who sit in Parliament and State Assemblies and [who] demand resignations from corrupt members, even from the Prime Minister, silent now?”

Why indeed? Azad tried to walk back his comments with a lame excuse that just made Modi look worse: "Narendra Modi doesn't participate actively in BCCI as far as I know, don't think that taking his name is this is appropriate."

Modi, however, has been vocal about cricket when it suited his politics. In March, 2009, months before he joined the BCCI, he slammed the UPA government for failing to provide security for the IPL."It is a shame that a powerful nation like India can't secure the IPL," he declared, offering to host the tournament in his state with the requisite security arrangements.

When he joined the BCCI in September of the same year, his entry was hailed in the media as a significant move:

"Modi has just made his debut as a cricket administrator, but he will not be a mute spectator at this AGM," said a source. It is learnt that Modi has the backing of Cricket Association of Bengal chief Dalmiya and a couple of important Board members who are not exactly thick with the current regime. Modi is expected to raise critical issues with regards to the expenditure on the two editions of the Indian Premier League (IPL), an event that comes under the BCCI banner.

Yet at a time when both the BCCI and IPL are in the midst of a gargantuan crisis, Modi has chosen to remain willfully mute. The decision may prove to be a wily political tactic -- an ever-present possibility with a savvy politician like him. But for now his silence reads as political expedience, or worse hypocrisy. And that's no good for a leader who has made political hay of his opponents' damning refusal to speak.

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Updated Date: May 31, 2013 14:03:34 IST

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