Gideon Haigh in The Weekend Australian, 2 January 2016, where the title is “Three Judges opening the tin on Indian cricket’s giant can of worms”
When he retired as India’s Chief Justice in September 2014, Rajendra Mal Lodha, a frugal, pious Jain from Jodhpur who regards judicial office as a “divine duty”, had in mind a quiet life, during which he might write a book. A different literary work is about to make him among the most important men in cricket. On Monday morning, Delhi time, Lodha and two other retired judges, Ashok Bhan and Raju Varadarajulu Raveendran, will present to the Supreme Court the final fruits of a year’s examination of the workings of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the de facto seat of power in world cricket.
Judges have been crawling all over the BCCI since the first allegations of corruption within the Indian Premier League franchises, the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, two and a half years ago.The Lodha Committee is the final stage of the process, designed to impose sanctions and recommend redresses, reliant on a ruling by brother judges that while the BCCI is a “private body” it performs “public functions.”
It has already suspended CSK and the Royals, in the process putting the skids beneath the owner of the former, Narayanaswami Srinivasan. These days the Chennai industrialist who never met a conflicting interest he didn’t like while lording it over the BCCI and the International Cricket Council plays a lot of golf.
For the last six months, Lodha and his colleagues have been peering at the governance of the BCCI, not stopping at the day-to-day functions of Cricket Centre at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, but drilling down to the level of the state associations represented on it, replete with parish pump politicians, crony capitalists and not-so-petty bureaucrats.
Their tin opener for this giant can of worms has been a simple questionnaire: six sections containing 82 questions, seemingly bland, yet demanding in the way simplicity can be. Like this: “Is the BCCI for profit or not-for profit? If the latter, how is this reconciled with its commercial engagements?” And this: “What is the financial oversight exercised by the BCCI over the income and expenditure of constituent bodies?” And: “Who conducts an oversight of the various elections?” And: “What records and papers of the state associations are available for inspection by BCCI and by the public?”
From all indications, there has been a lot of embarrassed rustling of papers, shuffling of feet, and “I’ll-get-back-to-yous”.
They could have asked more detailed questions. Like why did two teams turn up to represent Jammu & Kashmir in the Ranji Trophy against Himachal Pradesh in October, sent as they were by opposing factions of the JKCA? Or why is the Gujarat CA doubling the size of Ahmedabad’s Motera Stadium when it’s never been full, and what might this have to do with the association being led by the president of the BJP and his son? Or why did the Karnataka CA replace an effective administration run by Test great Anil Kumble in favour of one led by Brijesh Patel, who runs a company that is a big supplier of the association, owns his own private cricket academy, is CEO of Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, and has a son in the state team?
But, well, asking such questions would have stretched deliberations out to kingdom come. Lodha and his colleagues have basically deemed the Augean stables not worth cleaning; what’s required, they believe, are completely new stables. Nobody knows in detail what reforms Lodha’s report will recommend, but there are indications they are very serious indeed, including a rationalisation of the BCCI’s membership and its revenue sharing. There is even talk of independent directors and a breaking of the nexus between Indian cricket and Indian politics — which would affect a good many of the most powerful figures in both.
The BCCI’s new president Shashank Manohar met Lodha in November the day before he was elected ahead of Srinivasan, succeeding in the process to chairmanship of the ICC. A private, conscientious man who abjures a mobile phone and computer, Manohar shares some qualities with the judge, and has made the Vidarbha he runs a model of its kind.
Since assuming office, Manohar has behaved like someone preparing for change, making available an unprecedented amount of information about the BCCI’s workings, eliminating some of the more egregious conflicts of interest in its senior ranks, appointing an ombudsman to adjudicate others. He has pledged to “try and implement as many things as possible from the [Lodha] report”. But he is one man, a consensus candidate, absent a true power base. The BCCI’s ambitious young secretary Anurag Thakur, meanwhile, is the scion of a BJP dynasty from Himachal Pradesh.
Why does this matter so much, even in this country, where cricket issues run such a minuscule gamut. Look, a six!
Ten years ago certainly, and maybe even five, the currents of governance reform at the BCCI would have seemed of esoteric interest. That’s changed: generally, because of the money the BCCI makes; specifically, because of the money the BCCI takes. It’s two years since the BCCI, abetted by Cricket Australia and the England Cricket Board, voted itself a massive new rake-off from the ICC. That money was earned by cricket. To cricket it should rightly have returned. Contemplate it in the simple terms of the Lodha Committee: who is obtaining the benefit of cricket’s relatively recent but rapidly expanding wealth?
The stakes are extremely high, and not only for cricket. In the last two months, one rotten Indian borough has stood out: the Delhi and District Cricket Association, whose president from 1999 to 2013 was the BJP powerbroker Arun Jaitley. For much of this period, the DDCA was a byword for corruption and nepotism, colloquially known as the ‘Delhi Daddies and Crooks Association’, deflecting multiple efforts at reform.
Jaitley moved onward and upward: as Narendra Modi’s finance minister, he is regarded by some as India’s second most powerful man. The DDCA has since more or less collapsed, mysteriously denuded of funds. India’s recent Delhi Test was overseen by a retired judge, Lodha’s former colleague Mukul Mudgal. It earned a profit for the first time since the early 1980s. Just fancy that!
Now Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, a popular anti-corruption movement that swept local government polls a year ago, has funnelled many of these allegations into a frenzied campaign, with Jaitley as its primary target. The volatile Kejriwal is independent of the Lodha committee, and chiefly motivated by his enmity for the BJP. But he is tapping a rich vein of discontent.
A system that has enriched so many will not pass without a struggle: for many, the current system works just fine. But aware of it or not, cricket around the world has a great deal invested in the outcome.