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?

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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…

The Kapil Sibal connection

Consider this sequence of events:

  • Betting and match-fixing allegations hit IPL
  • BCCI pleads helplessness as there are no laws in place covering deliberate under-performance
  • IPL Commissioner Rajiv Shukla and BCCI honcho Arun Jaitley meet Law Minister Kapil Sibal, “demand” tough new law
  • Kapil Sibal promises new law with teeth

Here is the kicker: The Sports Ministry receives this tough new law — and finds that the IPL is kept out of its ambit.

Sibal assured that corporates, bookies, criminals as well as Indian and international players would fall under its jurisdiction.

The sports ministry was taken aback when it received the bill on Monday. Contrary to what Sibal had pledged, the law ministry has kept the scandal-ridden IPL out of its purview. Even the I-League is kept out its ambit.

The ministry dismissed the proposed law as an “eyewash”. Top officials called it a “toothless bill”.

“We’ll send our strong response by Wednesday,” a senior ministry official said. “People who have formulated the rules neither have an understanding of sports nor do they have a sound knowledge of law.”

(BTW, the person the Sports Ministry says has no knowledge of law is, wait for it, our Law Minister)

So let’s try this again: A law sparked by corruption in the IPL does not apply to the IPL.

Now ask yourself this: just how brazen can this collusion between the government and the BCCI get?

Ask yourself this, too: What is Kapil Sibal’s interest in saving the BCCI’s bacon?

In a series of tweets, Supreme Court advocate Nikhil Mehra demystifies the issue:

See how it all ties together — the various interests (with their in-built conflicts?)

You also know why, just yesterday, Kapil Sibal said the government should not “interfere in sports” (read BCCI). Of course it shouldn’t — his son is the BCCI advocate, no? How would it look at the family dinner table if the father went after the son’s client?

Here is the sports ministry official again:

This clearly indicates that the BCCI is above law. It cannot just be a mistake on the part of those formulating the draft bill. Action on the law has been hastened in the wake of the recent spot-fixing cases. Keeping the IPL out of the bill shows their mala fide intent. It clearly suggests that the BCCI has managed to wield its influence here too,” he said.

PS: Just now, on TV, IPL Commissioner Rajiv Shukla is heard telling media persons that the committee will investigate, it will report, and the recommendations in that report will be “immediately implemented”.

What committee, and which report? Earlier today Amit Shirke, BCCI treasurer and a member of this same committee, told Times Now that the brief given to them had been “severely restricted” — in other words, the committee has been given very narrow parameters to inquire within.

All of this leaves me with just one question/thought: Just how brazen can the BCCI and those within the government who support it get? Just how long will this one body take this country on an endless ride? And just how long will it be before the fans say, en masse, that enough is enough?