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?

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.”


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.

The Cat in the Hats — the sequel

The selection of the national team for the World Cup. Another back from behind win by India in the one day series, just when South Africa was salivating over the prospect of taking over as number two in the rankings (and while on that, would you say Zaheer Khan to Graeme Smith, at the start of the South African innings, ranks among the best spells you ever saw that did not get a wicket?). And in other news, a Prime Minister besieged by allegations of corruption finds the perfect solution: a Cabinet reshuffle that takes the corrupt ministers out of the departments they are practicing (practice might actually be the wrong word to describe their depredations — they are perfect in what they do, no?) their corruption in, and moves them into other departments to practice their corruption in. Lewis Carroll foretold this Cabinet reshuffle, and parodied it before the fact in the famous Mad Hatter’s Tea Party scene.

In passing, and thanks to a conversation with friends like @sumants and @kskarun on Twitter while the reshuffle exercise was on, I was prompted to dig out my well-thumbed copy of the Jonathan Lynn/Antony Jay classic, Yes Prime Minister, to find a passage I could only vaguely remember at the time. Here it is (from the Man Overboard episode):

Hacker: ‘What I want is to show the public that there are no divisions in the Cabinet.’

Bernard: ‘But there are divisions.’

Hacker: ‘I don’t want to multiply them.’

Bernard: ‘Prime Minister, if you multiply divisions you get back to where you started….’

Tip to political analysts: When trying to make sense of what is happening in your area of specialization, you will find the two Lynn-Jay books, Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, a far more valuable resource than all the scholarly tomes on politics. For instance, on the whole Niira Radia-privacy-wire-tapping issue:

Sir Humphrey: “Surveillance is an indispensable weapon in the battle against organized crime.”
Jim Hacker: “You’re not describing politicians as organized crime?”
Sir Humphrey: “No…well, disorganized crime too of course.”

Could anything sum it up better?

Okay, enough non-sequiturs. In what has been a busy few days, a story that merits attention slipped under the collective radar. Remember when a Parliamentary Committee decided to question the BCCI honchos about foreign exchange violations and other skulduggery? Questions were asked about the source of funding of some IPL teams, and also about various foreign exchange transactions relating to the IPL edition held in South Africa.

The BCCI’s defense was the classic SODDIT (Some Other Dude Did It). And the sod they said did it was, but of course, Lalit Modi. (This move prompted Revenue Secretary Sunil Mitra to inform the Yashwant Sinha-led committee that for all legal and tax purposes, the IPL was a subset of the BCCI and that therefore the BCCI was responsible for any and all decisions taken by the IPL).

Turns out, even such distinctions are unnecessary. While we were distracted with the national team selection and the SA ODI, CNN-IBN broke a story that received surprisingly little attention in the media. This one.

Never mind that the source of our very own mini-wikileaks is fairly obvious, what the released documents (Here’s the cache) indicate is fairly obvious: N Srinivasan’s (Earlier post: The Cat in the Hats) fingerprints are all over the thing.

#BCCI President Shashank Manohar was formally authorized to take, on behalf of the BCCI, the final decision on the venue.

#The payment process for the SA edition of the IPL was detailed by N Srinivasan, who signed the agreement with CSA.

#N Srinivasan approved, and signed off on, all payments, transfers of funds, etc.

An under-reported story is the extent to which N Srinivasan’s insidious control over the Board extends. (For example: An India Cements employee is chairman of the national selectors — in fact, the first chairman after a rule change that ensured that the selection committee would not be changed after each board election — and also brand ambassador of the franchise that is owned by India Cements. A sports management agency owned by the CSK skipper represents, among others, India Cements. And so on. Tug on any thread you see before you, and it unravels endlessly.)

In continuation of that theme, consider this clip:

Every case for approval was made by Prasanna Kanan who was the CFO of IPL and otherwise an India Cements employee seconded to BCCI. He reported all expenses to N Srinivasan who approved them. No money was paid except after go ahead by N Srinivasan who controlled the entire expenses.

That is to say, the Chief Financial Officer in “Modi’s IPL” was an India Cements employee “seconded to” the BCCI. Reminds me of when I was transferred from to the newspaper India Abroad. The same organization owns both entities, so my shift was in the nature of an inter-company transfer. In the same spirit, would you say the same entity/person owns both India Cements and the BCCI?

The last time I wrote about the president-elect of the BCCI, a friend asked in email why I was banging on about this bloke. There is a reason: The story of Indian cricket follows an endless, destructive cycle. Some matches, some triumphs, some disasters, then a monetary scandal; some noise about said scandal, some ‘inquiries’ calculated to buy time till we forget; some more matches, some ‘give them bread and circus’ distractions; another monetary scandal… rinse, repeat, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Back in the day, there was a big brouhaha about the corruption of the Jagmohan Dalmiya regime; hosannas were sung when Dalmiya was replaced by Team Sharad Pawar (what irony!), which sought an electoral victory on the plank of introducing transparency (more irony — Pawar and his hand-picked successors have if anything been more devious, their corruption more subterranean, than anything Dalmiya ever did). The Modi regime at the IPL was deemed corrupt; it has since been replaced by the N Srinivasan regime (Chirayu Amin is nominally in-charge of the IPL, but discount that — as must be painfully evident now, all decisions whether they relate to the BCCI or the IPL emanate from the office of India Cements the Board Secretary). Come to think of it, the shuffling of the board bears parallels to the various Cabinet reshuffle exercises at the center, no? Same problem — endemic corruption. Same solution — move the corrupt around the party table, Mad Hatter style.

A sub-set to this problem is the very real danger that corruption does not begin and end with the Board honchos — increasingly, wittingly or otherwise, players get drawn into this web, as pointed out in passing in these two posts: Apres the Auction and its sequel, and Putting the Free in Markets.

If it is not important to “bang on about this”, as my friend characterized the posts in this series, then what is?

Cricket clips

1. It’s all in the mind’s eye, says Aakash Chopra in the latest installment of his series on cricket from the pov of a player.

2. Peter Roebuck suggests that cricket, like every other sport, needs its majors to sustain audience interest — and if the Champions’ Trophy hasn’t filled that need, it is largely due to the disrespect shown by Australia and England. Tripling the points to be made by winning games at the CT and World Cup level is one interesting suggestion. I’d add one other: limit the field to the six top teams; eight clearly doesn’t fit Roebuck’s prescription of thrilling encounters and no dud games.

3. So the BCCI has realized that it cannot arbitrarily terminate existing contracts, and wisely come to a face-saving accommodation with the IMG [On his Twitter stream, Lalit Modi says the agreement is for the next eight years]. Per the revision, the IMG will be paid Rs 27 crore for its annual services for conducting the IPL, as against the IMG’ demand for Rs 33 crore. Lalit Modi on Twitter says the agreement with IMG is for the next eight years. The six crore downward revision satisfies the associations, which hope to get a slice of the money thus saved — what it leaves unresolved is the larger power struggle pitting Lalit Modi against N Srinivasan. Wait for the next manifestation, like boils on an ailing body. [Earlier IMG-related posts here, here, and here.]

4. An outstanding second part to the Younis Khan interview by Osman Samiuddin. On ODI reform:

We have already changed cricket so much, with Twenty20, super sixes in ODI tournaments, Powerplays in ODIs. If we make so many changes then will it stay the same game? It’s very easy now in a sense. You can decide and pick whether you want to play ODI, Test or Twenty20 cricket. You can get satisfaction from each format, so why the need to change so much?

Some changes, like umpiring referrals, they make sense. That works across the board, and is a good thing. But if you break up an ODI match into four innings, into little pieces, then you are changing the whole thing, it isn’t cricket anymore. It’s like playing American football or something, where you are taking time-outs and some such.

I think we need to promote Test cricket in its own sense, ODI in its own sense and Twenty20 in its own sense. You cannot try and make Tests like Twenty20s or ODIs like Tests. They are separate formats. Promote them equally and separately and appreciate them.

And on the downside of T20s:

In this sense, when I see youngsters today, whoever is preparing, they don’t ever say, “I am about to go and run five laps of the ground, or go for half an hour to the gym.” They say, “We only have to play a three-hour Twenty20 match; we only have to hit shots in that.” Every youngster is thinking this right now: it’s only a three-hour match, so you don’t need to train so much. You just need to hit the ball hard, win a match and take winnings. This is like life – everyone is going for the shortcut. But the shortcut will not always work in life; sometimes you need to work hard for things.

5. Incoming WICB chief Ernest Hilaire says the trick to arresting the meltdown of West Indies cricket lies in learning to work with the players’ association. Nice — but the proof of the pudding, etc. Every new boss WICB has had in recent times has kicked off with the suggestion that the board and the WIPA need to learn to co-exist; thus far, none of them has managed to walk that talk, so for now everything is in wait and watch mode. The first real indication of whether Hilaire can reverse the trend will come when the Windies team to tour Australia is announced; it will be full strength, promises the incoming chief, and that should delight Ricky Ponting, who has been expressing concern at the prospect of facing a scratch XI Down Under.