The Talented Mr Jaitley

In ‘Breaking News’ just now, Arun Jaitley tells NDTV, among a lot of other stuff that would win top honors at any stand-up competition, that “The administration of cricket in India has been good”.

Mr Jaitley, of course, has been administering cricket in the national capital since around the time Sachin Tendulkar made his debut (or so it seems). And doing such a bang up job of it that as far back as 2006, Virender Sehwag, other senior team mates, and even the Delhi coach were talking of running away.

Three years later, this happened.

Oh hell, why go on? Here is a post that chronicles just how good the administration of cricket has been on his watch.

Then there is of course his sterling fight against maladministration within the BCCI. Like the time his then boss Sharad Pawar allowed N Srinivasan to buy a franchise, and Jaitley raised the flag of protest. Oh he didn’t? My bad.

Or like the time, six months after that initial act, when the rules of the BCCI were rewritten to make Srinivasan’s purchase of a franchise legal. Jaitley — among other things, a lawyer — must have pointed out that such an act was both unconstitutional and illegal, yes? He did not? Oh, ouch, my bad again.

No, seriously, why would he raise his voice? By staying silent, he paved the way for yet another constitutional amendment (Seriously, the BCCI constitution, in the original, must now resemble a patchwork quilt, with amendments written on post its and stuck anywhere there is some space handy). This one, in September 2012, quietly did away with the rule that the seat of president of the BCCI should be given to the four zones in turn.

By rights, once South in the presence of Srinivasan had his turn (including a second term, also facilitated by another amendment at the same time), it would have been the turn of East Zone. But Jaitley needed a quid for the many quos he had conferred on Srinivasan — and this was it, an amendment that paved the way for his becoming BCCI boss in either 2013 or, if Srinivasan won a second term, at least in 2014.

In passing, here is a scary thought: A Sehwag could once — no, twice — threaten to run away from Delhi rather than suffer Jaitley’s mismanagement. If Jaitley becomes BCCI boss, just where the heck is there to run to? Pakistan?

The carrot-and-stick society

Kunal Pradhan and GS Vivek produce a longform narrative on the BCCI. Sample graf:

Srinivasan, the often underestimated vice-chairman and managing director of the Rs.4,050-crore India Cements, has harnessed support by finessing the modus operandi of largesse and patronage into an art form over his seven-year association with BCCI. His greatest achievement-presiding over a conspiracy of silence in which everyone is complicit, from state associations to players to commentators to ex-cricketers. His give-give regime has drawn power by increasing the wages of Team India players from Rs.2.5 lakh to Rs.7 lakh per Test match as BCCI president-elect in 2010. By handing out a one-time bonus payment to former domestic and international cricketers ranging from Rs.25 lakh to Rs.1.5 crore in 2012. By offering central commentary contracts worth Rs.3.6 crore per year each to top opinion-makers Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri. And by pleasing a number of fence-sitting state associations by dropping the irregularity and embezzlement charges levelled in 2006 against their potential rallying point, former president Dalmiya.

It is this tyranny of favours, not too different from the one fashioned by Dalmiya when he was at the helm in various capacities between 1990 and 2005, that forced Jaitley and Shukla to keep mum in the days leading up to the IPL final on May 26. In some way, every top member of BCCI has been touched by Srinivasan’s bounty. His former boss Pawar suggested on May 29 that Srinivasan was “not serious about dealing with wrongdoings”. But the controversial amendment in clause 6.2.4 of the BCCI Constitution in September 2008 allowing office-bearers to own teams had been initiated by a letter from then-president Pawar The amendment let Srinivasan bid for IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings (CSK). On January 5, 2008, Pawar had written to Srinivasan saying he found “no impediment in India Cements participating in the bidding”. Another change in the constitution on September 15, 2012 had paved the way for Jaitley, head of Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), to become president in 2014, by removing the rotation system that demanded the next board chief should come from the east zone. Yet another change, in Rule 15 (vi), which allowed former presidents to seek re-election, paved the way not just for Srinivasan but also for Pawar, I.S. Bindra, Dalmiya and Shashank Manohar.

One minor caveat: The “tyranny of favors” that the writers speak of is neither new, nor exclusive to Srinivasan — it is in fact standard operating procedure for the board, and has been ever since Jagmohan Dalmiya raised it to an art form. Successive presidents, Sharad Pawar included, merely continued the practice. And they have little choice — the structure of the BCCI and the constitutional need for annual elections (or a semblance thereof) means that the incumbent and his intended successor are forced to spend the year making nice with those associations whose votes are key.

Interesting piece overall. Read.

The Dummies’ guide to bookies and punters

We who love our stories clean and unambiguous have over time created an archetype: the super-fixer.

Per legend and lore, as crafted in the media and given further heft by Bollywood (think Emraan Hashmi in Jannat), this mythical figure is an end-to-end gambling solution.

He scripts every detail of cricket matches, beginning with the toss, incorporating the ebbs and flows of the game and ‘taking it right down to the wire’.

He bribes, coaxes, cajoles and threatens cricketers, agnostic of nationality, into following his script.

With his granular knowledge of what is going to happen, he then fixes the odds to favor the book and to suck the gullible punter into betting on what he has already ensured will not happen.

In doing all this, he manages to pull off two mutually contradictory requirements: On the one hand, he rubs shoulders with the top cricket stars who by definition live their lives in the harsh glare of the spotlight and on the other hand, he remains a will-o-the-wisp, invisible to authority.

That combination of fixer and bookie died a little over ten years ago. Literally. He died on the evening of January 19, 2003, when gunshots rang out in the billiards room of the exclusive India Club, in the Oud Mehta residential locality in Dubai.

When the smoke cleared Sharad Shetty, one-time Jogeshwari slumlord turned key aide to Dawood Ibrahim, was found sprawled on the snooker table, bleeding to death of numerous gunshot wounds.

The 2003 World Cup began 20 days later.

Prima facie, those gunshots signaled the transfer of the organized match-fixing racket from the hands of Ibrahim into those of his erstwhile lieutenant, Chhota Rajan. (Four members of Rajan’s gang were later arrested, tried and executed in the UAE for the crime).

Effectively, though, the death of Shetty signaled the end of the combination bookie/fixer, and launched the era of the super-punter as fulcrum in the world of illicit gambling on cricket.

Typically, he is drawn from the worlds of business, finance or Bollywood. He has access to large sums of money, and is a habitué of the party circuit, where movies and cricket collide. And he has easy, unquestioned entrée into the hotels and dressing rooms of cricketers.

His presence at dinner with a cricketer or three is unremarkable and goes unremarked. And the cricketer – young, mostly naïve, drawn from the backwaters and with his eyes blinded by glitz – revels in the friendship he has struck with this very important person who can get him into big parties, and put him next to Bollywood starlets and models who show a willingness, an eagerness even, to ignore the cricketer’s gaucherie and join him for public fun and private pleasure.

So when his new-found friend asks him in course of casual dinner-table conversation what the team composition for the big game is, what the team makes of the pitch and atmospherics, what changes if any there will be in the batting order or who will open the bowling, which batsman is fit and which one is struggling with physical and/or mental niggles – innocent questions of the kind fans pose to cricketers everywhere – the player thinks nothing of sharing these details with his obliging, influential friend.

In gambling, as in any area of business, knowledge is money – and the punter, armed with his insider knowledge, places his bets on certain outcomes he is able to predict with a fair degree of certainty.

He wins, and shares a slice of his winnings with his friend the cricketer. It is all very jolly, all done with a nudge, a wink, a chuckle. ‘Hey, because of what you told me, I bet big on XYZ happening – so here’s a Rolex for you, just a token of my gratitude and thank you so much for helping, you are a true friend.’

The cycle repeats a couple of times, until it is taken for granted by both parties. From then on, it is not even necessary for the punter to meet the cricketer in person – a late phone call before a big game, to ask pertinent questions and gain actionable information, becomes routine, as does the post-game ‘gift’ – in specie and in sensual gratification.

Almost without knowing it, the cricketer goes beyond merely answering questions, and begins to volunteer information – anything he thinks will give his friend an edge in the betting market. After all, if a nice fellow, a good friend, makes some money off of the underworld, where’s the harm?

Insiders call this process ‘grooming’.

And then comes the day the ‘routine’ phone call comes with an unexpected twist. ‘Can you bowl a shoddy over in your first spell, manage to give away say 15 runs?’ ‘Can you contrive to get out before crossing the 20s?’

By now, ‘what the hell, where’s the harm?’ works like an anesthetic on the cricketer’s conscience. Implied, too, is the threat – he has, albeit inadvertently, helped a gambler and profited therefrom; to say no now might result in his outing and resultant disgrace.

And so he bowls that short one outside off. “That was asking to be hit,” says the commentator sententiously, without realizing (or sometimes even knowing) how literally that is true. Or he backs away from his stumps to cut, misses the line, and is bowled. “Something just had to give,” says the commentator. “The pressure was getting to him; good captaincy to open up that gap square on the off to tempt him into an indiscreet shot.”

What does a bad over, an indiscreet shot, matter if there is a party, a willing starlet, an SUV or a foreign holiday waiting on the other side of it?

And who would ever suspect? The bookie, operating deep within the underworld, is a ‘person of interest’ to law enforcement agencies. His movements are watched, his phones are tapped, he has no easy access to team hotels and dressing rooms. And the cricketer is aware of the risk he runs if he takes a call from a bookie, or meets him for a drink, or cozies up at a party, or even allows one to be part of his entourage when he is ostensibly on a private jaunt (Remember Suresh Raina’s trip to Shirdi immediately after IPL 4?)

The punter, however, is not as readily identifiable as such (We know for instance of Justice Chandrachud the intrepid inquirer into match-fixing; do we know though that the jurist’s idea of time-pass, while idling on the balcony of his home, is betting on whether the next car to cross that signal will have a license plate ending in an odd or even number?).

The punter, too, is a celebrity himself of whatever wattage, and is perfectly at home in the restaurants and lobbies of the star hotels that house the cricketer on tour. (One of the most frenetic gamblers during the 70s and 80s was a music-composer duo whose initials correspond to a format for phonograph records).

And thus the risk of association is nullified. (Vindoo Dara Singh with cricketers? Ah yes, wasn’t he the bloke who won Big Boss and made a pot-load of money simply for being less obnoxious than say Sherlyn Chopra?).

With the arrival of the super-punter, the bookie realized he no longer needs to run the risk of fixing matches – all he has to do is follow the money. Cannily, he took a leaf out of the law enforcement playbook.

Today, the world of the bookie is structured like a classic pyramid. At the top sits the kingpin (not so much an individual but a controlling cartel that funds the lower tier, keeps score, and takes a rake-off). At the next level are a string of ‘Tier A’ bookies – no more than 10, 12 tops in a country as large as India – who form a loose confederation , each however building up his own select clientele.

And below them again are the ‘Tier B’ bookies – literally thousands of them affiliated to each Tier A bookie, and operating on small to medium scale in the cities and towns across the country, working with small time gamblers.

The bookies went computerized, with each Tier A bookie having a central repository of all information (including, in the case of big-time punters, details of all previous bets, winnings, and such). And they instituted an internal law – any bet of over 1 lakh, taken at whatever level, had to be immediately flagged (a tactic modified from the RBI guidelines regulating the depositing of large amounts into an individual bank account).

When a flag about a major bet goes up, the Tier A bookie is automatically alerted; in turn, he shares the information with his fellows. By assessing the bet and the identity of the punter, the bookie is able to make an educated guess about the quality of insider information underlying the bet itself.

With this knowledge – provided inadvertently by the big-time punter – the bookies then figure out how to shade the odds so as to benefit from the pre-determined event. And thus derives all the benefits of the ‘fix’, without most of the attendant risk of exposure.

So when an Abad Ponda, advocate to Gurunath Meyyappan, says his client is at best guilty of a minor peccadillo that can attract a fine of Rs 200 at the maximum, this is the big picture he is missing. Or obfuscating.

The Meyyappans and Dara Singhs of this world are super-punters; their position in the worlds of celebrity and/or team management allow them to acquire information on events, even to manipulate said events; this in turn allows them to do what in financial circles would be insider trading; and this in its turn feeds into the activities of the bookmaking syndicate.

It is not an offense with a corresponding number in the IPC attached to it — but it is criminal, all the same.

PostScript: Wheels have a habit of coming full circle. Thus, N Srinivasan along with Lalit Modi was Sharad Pawar’s hatchet-man-in-chief back in the period around 2005, when the NCP strongman was looking to topple Jagmohan Dalmiya.

Mission accomplished, a vindictive board turned on Dalmiya and vowed to put him behind bars (and even had him arrested). More, they slapped a case of misappropriation of funds, dating back to the 1996 World Cup and amounting to the tune of Rs 40.6 crore.

Shashank Manohar was president, and N Srinivasan the secretary, in 2010 when the board got wind of a coup being planned by a seemingly unlikely coming together of IS Bindra, Lalit Modi and Dalmiya himself. Bindra was quickly marginalized; it was easy enough with all the political clout the BCCI commands to pile on a string of offences ranging from foreign exchange violations to passport irregularities against Modi and ensure that he couldn’t return.

Dalmiya, the marked card in the cold deck, was meanwhile subdued by the use of the traditional stick (Rs 40.6 crore) and carrot (play ball with us and we will write it off). And so, in the 2010 AGM, the board formally decided to ‘write off’ the money Dalmiya had, according to the BCCI itself, ‘misappropriated’.

Every quid comes with a post-dated quo, and the date on this one was June 2, 2013: Dalmiya, in an extended meeting with Srinivasan ahead of the crucial AGM, agrees to be the compromise candidate to hold the fort while Srinivasan spends time on paid-leave; during this tenure he promises not to rock the boat and to keep an eye on the inquiry committee to ensure that nothing too damaging to Srinivasan or to his franchise inadvertently pops out, and to step aside gracefully when his benefactor has been “officially cleared”.

It is a wonderful world to belong to. Powerful, lucrative and, above all, safe, politically insulated as it is from all possible repercussions.

Srinivasan should go — but why?

So it is all down to numbers. Which, in other words, means open bidding for votes, promises of largesse, and which faction can make the more potent promise (or threat) to buy votes.

Just the great Indian democracy in action, and isn’t that such a heartening sight to see? Not.

Meanwhile, the news channels are all about highlighting those voices that say Srinivasan should go. And yes, he should.

Srinivasan should go because of the illicit manner in which he acquired a franchise; because of the way he manipulated the IPL to his own personal ends and institutionalized corruption on a grand scale. Remember how Mumbai Indians complained vociferously that he had ‘fixed’ the previous auction to favor his own team? Remember the complaints about him tampering with the duty roster of umpires, and even the schedule, to benefit his team? Remember the way he manipulated the salary caps so he — and MI — could retain select players while still retaining sufficient money to bid for top talent at the auction?

All of this is fixing; it is corruption on a grand scale. And once you create such an atmosphere of corruption, you open the door for lesser mortals to be tempted. After all, if the Srinivasans of this world can earn in crores, what harm in a Chandila, a Sreesanth, a Chavan earning a few lakh?

I don’t know about prosperity trickling top-down, but corruption certainly does that. And for this, Srinivasan should bear the blame, more than most.

Also, Srinivasan should go for his arrogance, for the sheer contempt he has displayed towards the public, as most recently evidenced by his blatant, repeated lies. “Gurunath Meyappan has nothing to do with CSK… Gurunath Meyappan is just an enthusiast…” Good grief!

But let us not be under the illusion that Srinivasan’s exit signals the end of corruption in Indian cricket. The malaise is way more deep-rooted than that.

Remember that it was Sharad Pawar who facilitated Srinivasan’s ownership of an IPL franchise in the first place, though it was clearly against the rules of the body of which he was then president (And to think today he has the gall to say there would have been no corruption on his watch!)

Pawar wrote to Srinivasan on January 8, 2008, permitting the latter to participate the bidding process. He said he had examined the bye-laws and there was nothing there to prevent Srini from being part of the auction. He was lying — and later, when that lie was brought home, when the relevant bye-laws were aired in the public forum, he got his tame executive committee to rewrite the rule book, and amend the relevant clause (Clause 6.2.4 of the BCCI constitution).

Originally, the clause stated that no member of the board could benefit either directly or indirectly from cricket. The amendment, authored 6 months later, exclude the IPL from the ambit of that provision. This move was so egregious as to evoke scathing comment from Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra, one of the two judges who heard the case filed by former BCCI president AC Muthaiah; Justice Mshra suggested in her opinion that Srinivasan had to chose between being a board member or owning a franchise, but he could not be both, and do both, simultaneously. That case is now before the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Remember also that when the IPL was hit by a series of scandals that cumulatively led to the ouster of Lalit Modi, Pawar was the board president; it all happened on his watch. So when he emerges as the flag-bearer of honesty and probity today, it is a truly jaw-dropping moment.

Remember, too, that the IPL has a commissioner. His name is Rajiv Shukla.

When the IPL was mired in scandal earlier, the then commissioner had to go (and Shukla was one of the first to ask for his ouster). Today, the IPL is mired in scandal again, but Shukla’s role, his responsibility, doesn’t even merit a mention. How come the buck never seems to stop at Shukla’s doorstep? What is he made of, teflon, that nothing seems to stick to him?

There is another point worth keeping in mind. Remember how in his letter, Pawar said that he had discussed Srinivasan’s participation in the auction with fellow board members? Who were those board members? None other than Shukla, Arun Jaitley and gang — all of whom, by Pawar’s own admission, agreed to bend the rules to breaking point and let Srinivasan dip his grubby fingers in the pie.

Isn’t it funny that today, it is the same troika of Pawar, Shukla and Jaitley waxing indignant at Srinivasan’s misdeeds?

All of this is why Srinivasan’s exit — and the way things are shaping now, it is merely a matter of hours, or at most days — will change nothing. The BCCI honchos and their supporters in government will claim that it is a sign of the board getting tough and not respecting personalities or positions; they will trumpet it as a sign of their earnestness to clean up the system.

But it will be no such thing — because those now gunning for Srinivasan are the very ones who enabled all of this in the first place. Cutting Srinivasan out therefore solves nothing, because the rot is within the system, and the rot runs deep.

What the board needs right now is a systemic clean-up; it needs men of probity and unquestioned integrity at the helm — men of character empowered to do whatever it takes to bring credibility back to the game, and restore faith to the fans.

Instead, what we will get is Pawar. And Shukla. And Jaitley.

Somewhere in London, meanwhile, Lalit Kumar Modi is laughing his head off.

PS: There have been many cricket-related disappointments in recent days — but there is nothing more disappointing than the complete, total silence of senior players past and present.

Particularly the stone cold silence of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar — a man with unparalleled goodwill in this country; a man who, if he took a stance on this issue, would have the unqualified support of the fans; a man whose stature is so large that even this cabal of politicians will not be able to go against him.

If a Tendulkar will not use the goodwill he earned from this game for the good of this game, then what use is it? And what is the point of asking lesser mortals to speak out?

Dear Srini… With love, Sharad

So on TV just now, I heard Sharad Pawar — who recently announced his candidacy for the post of Mumbai Cricket Association president — say that “this situation would not have happened if I had been BCCI president”.

Really?

This whole mess began when the BCCI ignored the obvious conflicts inherent in N Srinivasan owning a franchise while being an office bearer of the BCCI, right? This was done despite the provisions of the constitution, and the constitution was then post-facto amended to make things kosher.

So here you go: A letter on the BCCI letter-head, dated January 5, 2008, addressed to N Srinivasan and signed by then BCCI President Sharad Pawar, reads in full thus:

I am in receipt of your letter regarding participation of India Cements Limited in tender process for the Franchise of Indian Premier League.

I have examined the bye-laws and the relevant regulations of the BCCI and I have consulted several members of the BCCI, including office bearers of the Board, and it is our considered opinion that you being a shareholder, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of the Company will not prevent or preclude the India Cements Limited from participating in the tender.

The participation of India Cements Limited will not mean you personally have any direct or indirect commercial interest. I therefore find no impediment in India Cements participating in the bidding process.

Therefore, the India Cements Limited may participate in the Tender if they so desire.

Yours,

Sd/- Sharad Pawar

In how many ways is this egregious?

Firstly, at the time this letter was written, the board by-laws specifically prohibited any office bearer from having any direct or indirect commercial interest in the game. If Pawar “examined” the bye-laws, he could have hardly missed that. (This, and the fact that the bye-laws were subsequently amended, is the subject of an ongoing court case).

Secondly, how can anyone suggest that owning a team does not mean Srinivasan has direct or indirect commercial interest in the game?

Sorry, Mr Pawar — given your record, given that you gave the official imprimatur to Srinivasan’s very obvious, very overt, conflict of interest does not inspire much faith in your statement that had you been in charge, cricket would have been clean.

You were. Cricket wasn’t.

PS: Oh this is rich. MCA president Ravi Sawant has the weirdest defense of Srini ever mounted.

Basically, his point is this: When Srini bought a franchise it was illegal, but no one said anything. So why ask him to resign now?

Seriously.

Sawant said that the issue of conflict of interest had always been there and if the BCCI had allowed it to happen earlier, raising the issue now was not correct.

“The rules were already in place. First time when buying a franchise, all the rules were applicable,” he said. “That time, he was not the BCCI president. He has gone from treasurer to secretary to president. So someone should have voiced their concerns, because these rules were made to prevent certain things to happen. You are now saying those rules were there and there is a conflict of interest and he should resign. To my mind, we should retrospectively think about it, why didn’t we object to his buying a franchise.”

“If you are supporting the decision of him buying a team, now to make an issue out of it is not correct. All these people speaking against him now are holding positions in the board, and they have worked with him. How can you raise an issue now?”

Seriously, you guys in the BCCI: Are your mouths not wired to your brains, like is the case with the rest of us?

How ‘binding’ is ‘binding’?

So Rajiv Shukla — after ‘prolonged discussions’ with Arun Jaitley — finally grew a pair. Or so his statements indicate.

Until you parse them, that is. For instance:

Shukla says Board President N Srinivasan “should stay away” from the IPL inquiry. Which means what, precisely? It is a three-member panel, Srini is not on it, so he is not going to be sitting in the room. And that, technically, is staying away.

TV anchors are interpreting it as a call for Srini’s resignation, but if you see the words Shukla uses, it is no such thing.

Shukla did not clarify what he meant by “stay away,” but he did say they did not specifically mean that Srinivasan must stand down from his position. “He is an elected president and he says he has done nothing. That is his view,” Shukla said. “We would want that he stay away during the investigation procedure and have suggested to him that he do so. The image of the BCCI and of Indian cricket has been very badly affected by these events.”

When you read his exact words, it is a mild recommendation that Srinivasan not meddle overtly in the inquiry. And that is a big deal why?

But there is more. Here:

Shukla’s statement, which he repeated almost verbatim a couple of hours later, also said that the decisions of the three-man commission must be directly implemented, and not presented before the general body of the BCCI. It was important the investigation was “independent and that the persons responsible, no matter how they big they may be, are severely punished.”

The inquiry commission had originally meant to comprise two BCCI officials and an independent member, but Shukla said it had been altered to assert its independence by including two judges and a single member from the board, in this case its secretary Sanjay Jagdale.

The commission’s remit was widened to look into India Cements, the owners of Chennai Super Kings, apart from Gurunath Meiyappan, the Super Kings official arrested on charges of betting, and Jaipur IPL Pvt Ltd, the owners of Rajasthan Royals, three of whose players – Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan – were arrested on allegations of spot-fixing.

It all sounds good — the changed composition of the committee, doing away with BCCI treasurer Shirke and BCCI mouthpiece Ravi Shastri and bringing in two retired judges, the expansion of the brief to include not just Gurunath Meyyappan’s role, but also to look at India Cements and other franchises.

But the thing is, Shukla has no authority to say that the report is binding on the BCCI. He is IPL Commissioner and a member of the board’s working committee, that is all. He cannot unilaterally decide what is binding on the board and what is not — such decisions need to be taken by the executive committee, and signed off on by the president.

So, once the report is in, Srini can actually toss it in the trashcan if he likes, and turn around and say, sorry, who is Shukla to say the report is binding, read the BCCI constitution. And Shukla knows this full well, too.

Maybe recent events have made me cynical, but the more I think about it, the more it strikes me as grandstanding; as a case of Shukla and Jaitley, under the pump for their silence, “taking a stand” for the record, knowing that by the time the report comes out, everyone would have found some other story to run after.

I could be wronging those two gentlemen. If I am, I will apologize. But until then…