Law Minister Kapil Sibal made an interesting statement the other day:
Kapil Sibal said the government should keep away from sports “as far as possible” as it could damage it.
“Sports can’t be run by governments…governments getting involved in sports activities would ultimately damage sports,” he said.
He said more:
“I am not saying that in every situation, but as far as possible government should keep away. But when it becomes absolutely necessary, then there is no way out, then of course at that time government can take a position,” he said.
Wait — the police discover evidence of large-scale betting, which is illegal. The police discover evidence of large-scale money transfers and the active involvement of the underworld. And the law minister, no less, thinks it is not ‘absolutely necessary’ to ‘take a position’? Wow!
When the implications of this statement sink in to the minister’s fatuous head, the inevitable disclaimers and clarifications will emerge (“When I said sports, I was referring only to cricket — of course the government should get involved in all other sports so we can thoroughly damage them all”) – but for now, the statement stands, and it is one loaded with implications.
For starters, it questions the need for a sports ministry, currently headed by Minister of State Jitendra Singh. It also questions the need for the allocation of Rs 1219 crore for sports and youth affairs in the current budget (a hike, incidentally, of Rs 214 crore from the previous year).
Could we shut down a ministry that clearly has no business existing, and save that money, please?
Oh never mind – that is a cheap debating win. The real implication of Sibal’s statement is far more fraught: what he is saying is that the government has no intention of doing anything at all in relation to the large-scale corruption in the IPL, to the gross mismanagement of cricket by the BCCI.
That, the minister is saying, is the BCCI’s business, not anyone else’s.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be: the BCCI runs a parallel government, and its leaders have sufficient bipartisan clout to ensure that there is no interference. After all, look at the lineup of the BCCI’s top officials: Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley, Farooq Abdullah, Rajiv Shukla, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Ranjib Biswal, Anurag Thakur… politicians of varying stripes united by their “love for cricket” and also by their shared determination to protect their cozy fief from external scrutiny.
And looming large in the shadows is patron saint (I use the word ‘saint’ loosely. Very loosely) Sharad Pawar, who plays the part of ex-officio godfather — or, to borrow from N Srinivasan’s new-minted lexicon, “enthusiast”.
With that kind of collective clout opposing it, what is the government to do? Exactly what Kapil Sibal did: try to find a pretty way to dress up its impotence, to disguise the fact that it can do nothing against a body that purports to run cricket at its behest.
Those dreams you had, that this latest round of corruption and malfeasance would be the final straw that breaks the back of government patience and forces it to act to rein in a body run amok? Wake up and smell the coffee – it ain’t going to happen.
But wait – did Pawar not say that if N Srinivasan had an ounce of honesty, he should resign? Did the BJP – of which Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley are leading lights – not fulminate and demand Srinivasan’s immediate dismissal? Did Central minister Lalit Maken not demand that the BCCI come under the purview of RTI, while dismissing that body’s claim that it is a private entity?
Clearly, there was a groundswell of political support cutting across party lines, for a purge. So why did it all go pffft? Why did Kapil Sibal – the government’s go-to man when it needs someone to come up with a ‘face-saving’ statement – effectively signal the government’s hands-off policy?
The simple answer: Dominoes.
Back in the day when Pawar took over the reins and we celebrated the decline and fall of Jagmohan Dalmiya, cricket was quietly partitioned off behind the scenes. And it was inclusive – everyone (of any consequence, that is) got a slice. (In passing, does anyone remember that not so long ago Virendra Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and other senior players threatened to quit Delhi, alleging large-scale corruption in the selection process? Who is the head of the DDCA, again?)
The result is a Mexican stand-off of sorts: no one can speak out about anyone else, because if they do and their target begins to feel the heat, he just might decide to open his mouth and spill all sorts of beans about the ones talking out of turn.
Hence the sudden silence, after the initial bluster. The BCCI honchos know that they are all stacked up like dominoes – the fall of one will lead inevitably to the fall of the rest.
The sequence of events is instructive: N Srinivasan went totally silent on the day of Gurunath Meyyappan’s arrest and for a couple of days thereafter, thus buying the time he needed to tug on various sensitive strings.
Once he was sure things were in control, he came out into the open and hosted a press conference that was nothing more, nothing less than an extended fuck-you to fans and the media alike. And the government of the day has, through the ever-ready mouth of Kapil Sibal, now signaled that there will be no repercussions.
So how does this play out now? The BCCI committee will meet, and the inquiry will go right down to the wire (after all, Ravi Shastri is one of the three members – and while on that, did you fall off your chair laughing at the thought of a bought-and-paid-for BCCI mouthpiece being named to an “independent” inquiry committee looking into the misdeeds of his paymaster’s son-in-law?)
It will then recommend “strict action” against a few players – after all, from the days of the French Revolution we have known that nothing stills discontent so much as a few human sacrifices offered up on the guillotine of expediency.
It will find that there is no real evidence against Meyyappan, but will recommend – it has to signal impartiality, no? – that this “enthusiast” be prohibited from all direct involvement in the game.
And then it will be back to business as usual, for the BCCI knows, none better, that given time and distractions, we fans will forget.
The fault, dear Brutus, lies in ourselves, that we are underlings
There is a lesson there for us fans: Nothing will ever change, unless and until we really want it to.
PS: Does it strike you as strange that the IPL is beset with allegations of corruption and sponsors are actively considering pulling out — and there has not been a single, solitary statement, not so much as a peep, out of IPL Commissioner Rajiv Shukla?
It reminds me of this fictional exchange:
“I will have you know, sir, that my integrity has never been questioned.”
“Questioned? I have never even heard it mentioned.”
PPS: Cricinfo has ten questions for N Srinivasan.
I have just one: If Gurunath Meyyappan is not officially involved with the IPL, if he is just “an enthusiast”, then what exactly is the “independent committee” inquiring into?
PPPS: Woah! Didn’t realize there were this many Shakespeare fans out there. Some outrage in my mailbox about me misquoting WS. Okay, I was simplifying. The full Cassius quote is “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings”.
I knocked out the stars because it didn’t fit. It could have been “lies not in Srinivasan but in ourselves”, though.
Update @ 5.45 pm: Srinivasan has been arguing that the BCCI is united; that no member of the board has asked him to step down; that it is merely a few ‘fugitives’ and the media that is doing all the demanding (by the way, what does he mean by ‘merely the media’? Since when did the media become ‘mere’?).
Anyway. Here you go: IS Bindra says he should step down. As does Jyotiraditya Scindia — who among other things is a member of the disciplinary committee.
“Let me say this that I, for not even a moment, am assuming or saying that anyone is guilty. But considering the environment that is around cricket today, considering the fact that we do need to cleanse the sport in every single meaning of the word, I do believe that it would be in the fitness of things, if Mr. Srinivasan did step aside until this matter reached a conclusive end in terms of an inquiry,” Scindia told the television channel Times Now.
“If he and his family members, or rather his son-in-law, is absolved then surely he can come back. But considering the environment that cricket is in today, I do think that if you combine the fact of a conflict of interest and his own family member being involved in an ongoing investigation, it is in the fitness of things and more from a spirit point of view and propriety point of view, I do believe that he should step aside.”