WTFJH: October 26

#1. When the most powerful man in the country takes time out from the onerous task of building a New India to reach out to a lay party worker, it sends a message — the prime minister, like democracy itself, is of and for the people. Here, watch this chicken soup for the political soul moment:

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WTFJH: The BHU edition

Back in 1998, in course of covering the national elections of that year, I ended up in Baramati. The object was to find out why Sharad Pawar has such a hold on that constituency that he does not even campaign, and yet in every single election anyone who opposes him loses his deposit.

Pawar is known to reach Baramati late night on the penultimate day of campaigning. On the last day, he drives to a few select areas where he holds public meetings; just before campaigning officially ends, he holds a large meeting in Baramati town.

I spent three days traveling around Baramati, talking to people, trying to find out the reasons behind his political success. And very early in the morning of the last day, I went to Pawar’s home hoping to get time to ask him a couple of questions. Talk of early birds and worms — he had just finished breakfast and was about to drive to his first meeting; he told me to get in the car, and to travel with him through the day, and ask whatever I liked.

The entire transcript would fill a decent-sized book — Pawar was in a loquacious mood that day. The interview that was finally published is sizeable enough and covers a wide area of politics.

Among the many themes he spoke to that day one, in particular, has resonated a lot in recent times as serial unrests roiled educational institutions ranging from the FTII to JNU, Delhi University, AMU, Hyderabad, and most recently Benaras Hindu University. Here is that portion, in full:

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From the dept of ‘Hamam mein sab…’

The story, in brief: In 2014 the Delhi High Court ruled that both the BJP and the Congress were in violation of the FCRA when the parties accepted contributions from Vedanta, the London-based MNC.

The government appealed; the case is now in the Supreme Court. And meanwhile, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley slipped a clause into the latest Finance Bill by which he — with retrospective effect — changed the definition of ‘foreign companies’, so that Vedanta is now an ‘Indian company’. In other words, he changed legal definitions in order to make kosher what the court said is a criminal act.

The full details here, as reported in The Wire.

Keep this story and the implications in mind when you next wonder why the BJP, having made the many scams of the Congress its main election issue, is now dragging its collective feet on every single one of them.

Sins of omission

Bihar does not have a recognized cricket association. Or rather, it has two — the Cricket Association of Bihar whose head, last heard from, was Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Association of Biharl Cricket, floated by cricketer-turned-politician Kirti Azad. The BCCI dissolved the CAB back in 2008 for ‘financial irregularities’ (which is a bit rich, because if held to that standard the BCCI would need to dissolve all its state associations, and then its own self); since then, the issue has been dragging its feet through various courts.

The shenanigans of the rival associations had led to an exasperated Supreme Court declaring — hoping? wishing? — in November 2012 that cricket should not become a ball in the game of political football. To which pious thought we all say Amen.

But that said — how ironic is it that it is this dysfunctional body that today flies the flag for probity, and successfully challenges in court the constitutional irregularities committed by the BCCI in the constitution of its “inquiry committee” to probe gambling and spot-fixing in the IPL.

Read that again, slowly: Bihar, led by Lalu Yadav, is now the outpost of probity for the BCCI.

Look now at who the BCA has to tilt against: A BCCI hierarchy that contains among others, Rajiv Shukla, among the best connected of Congress politicians; a raft of other well-connected politicians including Jyotiraditya Scindia and Narendra Modi, to name just two.

And Arun Jaitley — the BCCI’s president-in-waiting but more to the point, arguably one of the sharpest legal minds in the country and the national law-minister-in-waiting.

Does it not seem slightly unreal that none of these luminaries saw that the appointment of the inquiry committee, which they all endorsed either actively, or passively by silent acceptance, is “illegal”?

When you collude in illegality, what does that make you?

One tangential point — and this has been made by IS Bindra, who to his credit has despite being part of the system been routinely, vociferously, calling out the serial wrongdoings of the current regime:

Jagmohan Dalmiya, the “interim president”, is as unconstitutional an appointment as was the inquiry committee.

Here is a question I’d love to hear Jaitley speak to: Per the BCCI constitution, is it not the vice-president who assumes the duties of the president when the latter is for whatever reason unable to perform his duties? If yes, why was there a need to bring in someone from outside the chain of command to fill the vacuum created when N Srinivasan had to step down?

PostScript: My column on Yahoo today, about how the BCCI has historically rigged inquiry committees to get itself out of trouble.

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 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?