Random pieces

Life happened. And when Life happens, the blog necessarily takes a back seat. Sorry about that; will resume semi-regular updates from Monday on. Meanwhile, collecting together a few pieces I wrote for various publications during my time away from here, and related stories from elsewhere:

#1. The Lodha Hearings:

In an article for the Wire back in June 2015, I’d pointed out that judging by the questionnaire it had prepared, the Lodha Committee seemed intent on recommending a complete structural overhaul of the BCCI. That, in the event, is what the committee did in its final report — rather than apply salve to the various pustules that have broken out on the cricketing body, Justice Lodha and his two colleagues recommended that the constitution should be rewritten from scratch.

The BCCI’s reaction is instructive — an early attempt to delay and, as it found itself progressively cornered, a final desperate gamble:

With that, the BCCI shifted the debate from whether, and how, to implement the Lodha Committee recommendations to a more fundamental question: Does the Supreme Court have any right to ask the BCCI to do anything at all?

That is a gauntlet flung before the apex court. It is also the BCCI’s Hail Mary pass in the face of a ticking clock. Justice Thakur is scheduled to retire at the end of this year. Like any CJI, he presumably would like to leave behind a legacy that lasts beyond his tenure – and few legacies can be as lasting in this cricket-mad nation as a comprehensive clean-up of the BCCI. To question his – and by extension the apex court’s – locus standi puts the BCCI on a path of confrontation that precludes compromise.

The hearings don’t follow a linear pattern — thus, the week just ended saw the apex court take on the CCI (Link via Cricinfo) over the latter’s argument that its position as a voting member of the BCCI should be retained. Interestingly, the court inter alia indirectly touched on the question of whether the BCCI, a ‘private body’ under Article 19(1) (C), could be regulated by the courts (Emphasis mine):

“If the structural changes in the BCCI, as recommended, are accepted, there will be far more openness and it will bring more transparency. On principle, you have to accept that the purpose of the whole exercise starting from the judgement delivered (in January 2015) was meant to achieve a very laudable and deserving result to make BCCI a transparent, open, credible, objective and responsive body to inspire confident and credible system and to achieve that objective we will be very careful that the recommendations are not violative of fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1) (c).”

In other words, the court here is saying that while it recognises the rights and privileges of a private society, it will in the final analysis back the changes recommended by the Lodha Committee, and do it in such a way that the BCCI’s ‘private, autonomous body’ defence does not stand.

Even more interesting, however, is this other passage from the hearings of last week. Cricinfo reports:

“Why can’t the public function of BCCI be taken up by parliament?” the two-judge bench, comprising Chief Justice TS Thakur and Justice Ibrahim Kalifulla, asked. “The question is if the activity of organising cricket matches, sending and picking up national team, can be taken up by the parliament.

“Suppose a law by which the Indian team can be selected by the Indian parliament.”

Prima facie, that is a daft suggestion — Parliament is notoriously dysfunctional, and prone to disruption when it does assemble. The thought of that body getting together before every tour, every series, to pick a national team is risible. Reading between lines, though, what the apex court is saying is really this: You say you are a private body. But you perform public functions. So what if the court recommends that these public functions be taken away from you by some form of legislation?

That the court, faced with the BCCI’s intransigence, would take such a stand was predictable. And that is why in my HuffPost piece I argued that the board was painting itself into a very tight corner. Also from that piece, which was written last weekend as a curtain raiser, a variant of what the apex court has just said (Note the emphasized bit):

However, the BCCI is on tenuous ground here. In the February 2015 judgment in BCCI versus Cricket Association of Bihar and Others, the apex court held that when private bodies exercise public functions – as the BCCI demonstrably does, by virtue of being the country’s official governing body for both national and international cricket – it is amenable to writ petitions under Article 226, and therefore can come under judicial review.

The judgment, further, detailed the functions the BCCI carries out and adjudged that these were being done with the concurrence of the state and central governments, and therefore the functioning of the board is in the public domain – which in turn means these functions can be taken over by the state at any time.

(For instance, the Board owns only one stadium. The others are on lands leased from the state. There is nothing to stop the apex court from recommending that these leases be terminated, that the grounds be taken back by the states, that the central government establish an alternate body to govern cricket – say, Cricket India – and recognize that body as the legitimate authority).

Hearings resume on April 18. And judging by what we are seeing and hearing, matters will get progressively worse for the BCCI.

#2. Drought and the IPL: There is a story they tell about the showman PT Barnum, who was once approached by a performer. I will, said the performer, give you an act that has never been seen before, and will never be seen hence. You can book the biggest stadium in the world, sell out, and clean up. Great, said Barnum, what is the act? In full view of the audience, the performer replied, I will commit suicide. Very nice, said Barnum — “but what do you intend to do for an encore?”

I was reminded of that anecdote when the Bombay High Court, playing to the popular prejudices of the peanut gallery, moved the IPL out of Maharashtra starting April 1. Great, fine, we’ve shown them that there are things more important than cricket — but what are we going to do about the actual drought?

In a piece for HuffPost earlier this week, I had pointed out the sheer futility of this move. In the first place, this is not new.

Aide memoire: On March 10, 2015, the situation was already so bad that MLAs belonging to the BJP and the Shiv Sena were attacking the government run by the BJP and the Shiv Sena over its failure to tackle the drought. And precisely one month later, the Punjab and Rajasthan franchises were playing an IPL league game in Pune – the first of 14 games hosted by Maharashtra that year.

Also in 2015, 96 farmers committed suicide in Pune, out of a record 3,228 suicidesacross all of Maharashtra.

The argument is not that cricket is more important than the crippling drought that has spread across the country — it is simply this: That we tend to set inordinate store by such symbolic acts that really do nothing to address the problem, but leave us with the feeling that something is being done. In this context, I found it illuminating that the first comment on my Twitter timeline, in response to this post, was: “Of course, but it is the right symbolism to empathize with the drought stricken”.

Exactly. We are about symbols, not solutions. Unrest in our universities? Fly the national flag on the tallest pole there is. Unrest in civil society? Chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai. A parched land, a people dying like flies? Play the IPL someplace else.

The flag is good. May Bharat Mata always triumph. And move the IPL to Timbuctoo if it will make a difference. But will it?

As for ’empathy’ for the drought-stricken — do you imagine the victims of drought are keenly following the fortunes of the IPL? That they set up a collective cheer when they heard the IPL was to be shifted out of their state? That they even give a fuck?

Rahul Dravid, bless him, put this in perspective.

“It’s a serious issue, and the fact that so many people are dying because of shortage of water is serious, but linking it to IPL will trivialise it,” Dravid told NDTV. “How can a drought be as important as cricket? If not having IPL will solve the problem, then we should stop playing cricket.”

The phrasing is in part unfortunate — where Dravid says “How can a drought be as important as cricket?” He clearly is not suggesting that cricket is more important, though that is how the sentence reads — his point is, how can you equate a problem as serious as drought, with the IPL?

This is where the irony meter breaks down: A news report this morning suggests that Bangalore is being mooted as the alternate venue for the final. Item: At last count, 136 talukas across Karnataka have been officially declared drought-hit, and the number is mounting. The state is currently experiencing the worst drought in over 40 years. So where is our ’empathy’?

One alternate venue being suggested is Kanpur, in Uttar Pradesh — where the Central government recently took the state government to task for not going flat out with drought relief measures. Another is Raipur, in Chattisgarh. A third is Vishakapattinam, in Andhra Pradesh. Ironic, since just this last week the Supreme Court was excoriating the Central and state governments for not taking the drought situation in those states, and nine others, with due seriousness.

Memo: Over 1/3rd of India is currently reeling under drought conditions. So we have moved the IPL out of Bombay and Pune — what do we propose to do for an encore?


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