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?

The fault, dear Brutus…

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.”


‘What will I tell my son?’

Of the responses in the wake of my post of this morning, one — from Professor Upadrasta Ramamurty of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore — is particularly poignant. Here it is, with Ram’s permission, in full:

Dear Prem

Just read your piece on smoke signals. Well written – as always.

Exactly my thoughts/feelings. I have been in love with this sport and everyone knows this. (In fact the other day my director talked to me about ‘being relaxed at the crease to score runs!’)

So, the way the game is heading saddens me. But I guess I can live with that. We tend to become cynical as we grow old and the developments in cricket for the past two decades only reinforce those cynical attitudes.

But what I am concerned about is my boy – all of thirteen years old – and just about falling in love with this game. He goes to coaching here in Malleswaram and day-dreams of becoming a player one day. (In fact, he slyly asked whether we would allow him to go to the after-match parties when he becomes an IPL player!)

My heart gets wrenched when I want to tell him that there is no difference between WWE and IPL.

With people like RSD, AK and VVS gone/going, whom do I ask him to idolize? How do I tell him that this is not the game worth falling in love?

Not just him…but a million other kids, who wear whites and lug the heavy kits every morning to the grounds, with a hope to play big one day!
How do you answer Ram? What could you possibly say to his son?

Paradise Lost

And so I find myself in an emotional cauldron; in a sport I love, in a tournament whose cricket I genuinely believe in, but in an atmosphere, even if created by a few, tinged with moral decay and danger. I feel sadness and fear. I am angry very often, but from time to time expectation wells up within: that my sport might emerge stronger, that out of pain a better sport will evolve.

I am partly in denial; I want my sport to embody everything I have experienced within it: beauty, bravery and flair, everything that brings a smile. I want to be happy, I want to shout out that good vastly overwhelms bad. But another part of me is hoping that whatever has to tumble out does, that cricket finds its deepest caverns so those conspiring there can be exposed; that cricket feels so much pain that it will do what it takes to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Neither emotion is viable, for I know cricket will continue to exist, like everything else, with the nicest and the bravest alongside the cowardly and the machiavellian.

In his latest think piece for Cricinfo, Harsha speaks of sadness, of fear and of anger — and all of these emotions are reflected in the minds of fans. SMSes from friends, Twitter posts I noticed in passing, blogs written by cricket fans, emails — they all speak of the same feelings.

To that list I have one entry to add: bereavement. The abiding sense of loss that is a direct consequence of being deprived of something dear to me.

Losing mom, then losing the last vestiges of faith in a game that has captivated me (and, for a time, even paid for my daily bread and butter) since childhood, all in the same week, is I guess just an exemplar of misfortunes not coming singly — but never mind that.

What I wonder now, amidst these ruins, is this: how do I watch a cricket match again?

Earlier, when a batsman of the highest caliber had a brain-fade and got out to a silly shot, I’d marvel at the impact of pressure on even the strongest and most skilled.

Earlier, when a bowler known to get bounce and turn bowled flat and short, I’d wonder why his muscle memory was breaking down, whether he had developed some form of twinge in shoulder or arm and was attempting to soldier on regardless.

Earlier, when towels were brandished on the field of play I wondered whether, unseen and unnoticed by us in front of our TV screens, dew had begun to play a part in proceedings, and if so how it would impact on the remaining course of play.

Earlier, when an umpire flubbed a simple LBW appeal I’d think, the guy is human, look at the demands on him — he has to be looking down, monitoring the landing of the bowler’s front foot and less than a second later, he had to have shifted his gaze to the other end and computed a dozen different parameters relating to where the ball landed and the line it held or did not and movement or lack thereof and bounce or lack thereof and batsman’s intent to play or not and… it is a miracle they get any call right, I’d think.

Now? What do I do now, when every action on the field of play makes me wonder?

Is that player adjusting his wrist band because it was getting sweat-soaked, or because oh god no…

That batsman who played a shot that would have provoked censure in schoolboy cricket — ‘What was he thinking?’ has now become ‘Who paid him how much to do that?’

That player who was promoted out of turn while far better batsmen waited in the hut? ‘Captain’s gamble’ has now become ‘bookie’s fix’.

That fast full ball down the leg side? I used to think that was the bowler second-guessing the batsman’s intent to charge him and adjusting accordingly. Now I think, uh oh, is that a means of ensuring that the target for runs delivered in that over is met?

That umpiring mistake? In my mind, ‘human error’ has been replaced by ‘human greed’.

Harsha speaks in his piece of the hope that this present mess will end in the eventual cleansing of cricket (a hope, incidentally, that has been expressed by him, and so many well-meaning commentators like him, any number of times these past 13 years — despite repeated manifestations of evidence to the contrary).

I agree with his premise that such a tragedy is opportunity in disguise; that it can, properly utilized, result in leaving the game healthier, cleaner than before.

Skim through this, however — what conclusion can you draw other than that the sport and its administrators have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity?

There are very, very few illusions that survive our childhood. In fact, there is just one — that sport is clean and pure and wholesome and good. Thanks to the greed of the few and the willful blindness of those who run this game, even that last illusion now lies shattered.

In a little under 48 hours I have to be at this holy place in Kerala, to consign the last vestiges of my mother to the elements. Seems to me that at the same time, I will also be ridding myself of the last remaining vestiges of my innocence; mourning the end of one of the very, very few things that were capable of giving me unalloyed joy.

Given time, I could forgive the administrators of this sport for all their sins of omission and commission. But this?

How do you forgive someone for taking from you the one thing that was clean, and good, and wholesome?

PS: Just how scary is it when Lalit Modi makes sense?

Isn’t Srinivasan’s conflict of interest (he is the BCCI president and owns Chennai Super Kings) hurting the IPL?

Of course! I’ve been saying that for years — and for years no one has listened. Now the penny is beginning to drop. I was wrongly accused of having an interest in franchises and wrongly castigated as a consequence. The board president’s ownership of Chennai is indisputable but for him, it doesn’t seem to matter. Of course it is hurting the IPL. It strikes at the very credibility of the tournament and the results are there for all to see. Strangely, everyone has just shrugged shoulders and let him get on with it.

Has Srinivasan succeeded in diluting the powers of the IPL commissioner?

It seems no one else has any direct power these days and it is as if no one can speak unless given permission. When this latest spot-fixing scandal was reported, the IPL commissioner did not say anything. The paying public, the people who fill the stadiums, deserve answers but the man who runs the specific tournament in question was nowhere to be seen. Now that might not be entirely down to him, I don’t know, but the lack of communication was terrifying. The problem was massive to start with but so much extra damage is done if the people directly responsible for the tournament don’t react.

May the best fixer win?

Fixing is so rife in the domestic T20 league that players on opposing sides in one match were on different bookies’ payrolls, a high-level police source said on Wednesday. This led to a situation that would have been funny if it hadn’t been so scandalous: batsmen on each side had cut deals with bookies to lose the game.

The side batting first notched up a meagre total that it fully expected would ensure defeat. But the team batting second outdid their rivals by making even fewer runs, and duly lost. Result: embarrassment in one dressing room, and one set of flabbergasted bookies.

“The losses for the bookies in league with the team batting first were huge, running into crores,” said the source.

That is the promising beginning of a story in the Hindustan Times. (And I notice that it has already cued considerable speculation about which game it could be).

And ‘beginning’ is all there is, really — the story is a little more than a tease, sourced to the usual anonymous tipster; after such a promising set-up, there is no big reveal, merely innuendo on the ‘mind-boggling’ revelations to follow.

Instinct is to dismiss such unsigned sensationalism outright. Except? This: It is no real secret that fixing — spot, session, whatever — is fairly rife in the league (though the idea that two entire teams could be in on a fix at the same time is, what is the word the no-name cop used, mind-boggling). It is also a given that the days and weeks ahead are apt to produce some fairly big revelations, if only because the investigation is now snow-balling, and is multi-pronged with the IT and ED departments joining in.

Elsewhere, I read yet another interview with N Srinivasan, where he laments that it is not fair to expect the BCCI to do the policing. We don’t have the powers to tap phones like the cops do, he laments.

Very amusing, that line of defense. Of course the BCCI can’t tap phones — but surely it can enforce its own rules about phones in dugouts? It can enforce its own rules about the dugout being banned to all but players and support staff?

That is what the ACSU does — but when the ICC offered the ACSU’s services, the BCCI pushed back saying no, thanks, we will do our own policing.

Of course, the BCCI did no such thing — on the contrary, it permitted all sorts of folks easy access to players, both during the game and later, at the apres parties that officially no one knows anything about. And then it laments that it does not have the tools to police the game.

In passing, does it strike you as strange that a certain Rajiv Shukla, Commissioner, IPL, has not been heard from?

PS: Gurunath Meyyappan missing, N Srinivasan not speaking, says the ticker on TimesNow just now. But of course — if you were Srinivasan, just what could you possibly say? Your best bet would be to lie very low, and hope the man who picked you out for power, and who you succeeded, together with other powerful pols like Shukla, can make all this go away.

Out, damned spot(s)?

“We have to examine and see objectively what else we can do, what further steps we can take, and how we can demonstrate that this sort of action doesn’t pay at all. There’s a lot of work for us to do.”

Thus speaks N Srinivasan. Also:

“We have an anti-corruption code, an anti-doping code. We have advised state units to take steps. But you see the people involved, they are Ranji players and one is a Test player, that is what is shocking,” Srinivasan said.

Well thanks, dude. With all that I have going on in life just now, I badly needed a laugh. And the spectacle of Board President N Srinivasan being ‘shocked’ at the fact that there is some corruption in the IPL was like an intravenous shot of nitrous oxide.

Let’s see:

#The president is the poster child for conflicts of interest — I am surprised they don’t use him as a teaching aide in law school. (Two posts: The Cat in the Hat, and The Sequel). And if ‘justice’ in this country moved at anything more than the pace of an arthritic snail, this case would have settled all doubts).

#The president has had a hand in fixing everything about the IPL — from the scheduling so his own team is favored, to which umpires stand in what games, to even the auction of players so, again, his team gets the best deal (kind of akin to a card player getting to decide what cards he wants in his hand — only, that would be illegal whereas in the IPL, it is business as usual). Oh, and I am not saying any of that — Mumbai Indians made the allegation, officially, and Vijay Mallya (not exactly a model of probity himself, but still) added his voice to the charge.

Last I checked, all of that is ‘fixing’ on a very grand scale.

Was there any follow up? Was an ‘immediate action’ taken?

No? So then, why are we so surprised that three young boys, seeing the easy money their elders and betters were making on a routine basis, decided that there was nothing wrong if they stuck their grubby fingers in the till, too?

Please read this excellent post by Siddarth Vaidyanathan (@sidvee). It says what I wanted to, asks the questions I wanted to, only better.

PS: In that N Srinivasan press conference story linked to earlier, a line had me spluttering into my coffee.

He also said it was “truly sad” that this incident had occurred given that the BCCI had banned five domestic players last year for being caught in a sting operation.

Did you go WTF when you read that? No? Here, read the operative part again, with emphasis added:

“the BCCI had banned five domestic players last year for being caught in a sting operation”

The line is outside of quotation marks, so the Cricinfo reporter could have been paraphrasing. Somehow, I suspect though that those were the exact words the  board president used — and that phrasing is a classic Freudian slip: the BCCI punished players for being caught.