The Empire strikes back

Sharda Ugra,

Courtesy of, 29 Sept. 2010

The BCCI has absolutely nothing in common with the Afrikaaner volk, but what it came up with this afternoon in Mumbai was a classic laager, the traditional defensive encircling of wagons to protect its own. In this case its own property and territory, the property being Indian cricket and the territory all the ground it had lost over the last three years to the IPL and Lalit Modi.

On the surface the BCCI’s annual general meeting was meant to be a polite incantation of the names of those who will hold office for a year after another orderly election. Yet every move and announcement that emerged from the AGM carried with it the specific purpose of strengthening the BCCI’s internal order and regaining its control after what three very lucrative but extremely tumultuous years – during which the IPL had threatened to change the existing order not only of the BCCI but of cricket itself.

That’s why the most significant move is not the coronation of N. Srinivasan as president-elect but a change in the BCCI’s constitution, undoing what had been done three years ago, when the IPL was placed at the centre of India’s cricketing universe.

The IPL governing council will now be called the IPL Governing Council Committee, one of the BCCI’s 13 regular sub-committees, and will have a one-year term instead of five, thus allowing all errors and appointments rectified, if necessary, within 12 months.

And in the best traditions of the BCCI, the committee will now comprise only “honorary” officials, seven men instead of 14, each of whom must be a BCCI office-bearer. The BCCI’s constitution has now ruled that all decisions taken by the committee must be ratified by the BCCI secretary, not the previously all-powerful “Commissioner,” a title invented and clung to by Modi. This, an insider said, was just to ensure that they don’t create a monster again.

Modi’s lawyer said the decisions had been taken with “prospective” effect, so that his client, or someone like him, could not find their way into the BCCI again. The board has now become a laager that cannot be broken through.

This AGM marked the end of a six-month operation against Modi. His lawyer spelt out the precise steps: first the suspension, followed by the replacement of his vice-presidency, and now the shrinking of the governing council. In this time he went from being one of the most powerful men in world cricket to a cardboard cut-out that has now been dismantled by the very men with whom he ascended to authority.

Yet before he is turned into a victim, fall guy or a symbol of new India trumped by old India, a little history. Just as the BCCI has done with its constitution, Modi treated the BCCI’s constitution as if it were plasticine, changing the IPL’s laws, codes and regulations as the league went careening along in its wildly popular way. Eventually, though, financial irregularity is nothing but illegal number-crunching, and fudging figures is fudging figures, regardless of whether it is done by those in safari suits or linen suits. Modi is now dealing with the consequence of not merely his actions but his ambitions.

If the old hands at the BCCI fear anything, it is a “corporate takeover” of the sport. At an informal meeting in Kolkata earlier this year, former BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya spoke at length about the threats to his beloved “Board” as a result of the IPL explosion of corporate control and involvement. Modi didn’t just belong to that world, he advertised himself as its middleman; the older order took the first chance to “shut him down,” words Modi used about Shashi Tharoor, the man who instead unravelled him.

Following today’s AGM, the BCCI will now have control over not only the IPL’s finances and its thicket of business deals but also its organisation and conduct. Much like it does over its Corporate Cup. A franchise executive says the IPL of the future will be badly administered “because it’s not clear who is the IPL boss.” The franchise owners include some of Modi’s closest friends and they will now have to search for new point men.

If there was an unexpected development from the fairly predictable meeting, it was the BCCI’s backing off from its civil suit against Dalmiya, the man against whom in 2005, ICC president Sharad Pawar, BCCI president Shashank Manohar, Srinivasan and Modi came together with the sole agenda of knocking him out of office. The architect of the Dalmiya decision is said to be BCCI vice-president Arun Jaitley, who is known to have been in regular contact with Dalmiya in recent months. The decision came without seeking Pawar’s direct approval; as one senior BCCI office bearer said, “Pawar sahib is in the ICC now, he does not interfere with the BCCI.”

The message was clear. As ICC chief, it is what Pawar must be seen to be doing. In his home constituency, it could even mean giving the impression of yielding clout. In any case, Pawar’s lieutenants of 2005 are now confident enough to be generals, and Modi, the man whom he supported and expected to be his aide at the ICC, is now out in the wilderness.

The AGM also passed a fairly scathing decision against three of the most influential names in Indian cricket, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. Co-opted into the original IPL Council at generous salaries, they will be ruled by the remodelled constitution, in which cricketers will participate for little more than the prestige of being on the IPL committee. Much has been made of Gavaskar’s “ouster”, but as of today he is still head of the technical committee and, like Ravi Shastri, is a part of the BCCI’s commentary panel.

The three “young” and expectedly “forward-looking” names who are now in the BCCI mix all happen to be sons of powerful politicians of an older era – Anurag Thakur of Himachal Pradesh whose father was a state chief minister, Ranjib Biswal of Orissa, whose father was a state deputy chief minister, and Jyotiraditya Scindia of Madhya Pradesh, whose father was BCCI president in the early 1990s. While Thakur, once a controversial appointment as chairman of junior selectors, has turned the first-class ground in Dharamsala into the country’s most scenic cricket venue, the cricketing plans of both Scindia and Biswal remain unseen. Two of the three are thought of as “protégés” of an influential BCCI politician, and this mentoring will no doubt also be translated into the establishment of a future dynasty of officials, who will protect their turf like Manohar and Srinivasan now do.

The single move for which the BCCI can take a bow is Anil Kumble’s appointment as chairman of the National Cricket Academy. The incumbent Shastri’s globetrotting as a BCCI-contracted commentator meant he could not be the hands-on man that the NCA needs to turn it from its current status as hospital-cum-injury-rehabilitation unit to a centre of excellence. It makes Kumble the boss of the NCA’s director Sandeep Patil, who in 1996 briefly coached an Indian team that included Kumble.

Fourteen years is a long time for tables and seasons to turn; in Indian cricket, things change at a much faster rate. Jagmohan Dalmiya should testify to and Lalit Modi surely endorse that fact.

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