SC-inspired 'mass culling' leaves BCCI in ruins
While it would be unfair to suggest that the highest court of the land had a tantrum when faced with the tedious task of dealing with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), it is not inaccurate to suggest that they have thrown out virtually every able-bodied official in positions of administration of the game.
When he pronounced his order, the then Chief Justice of India Justice T S Thakur not only explicitly stood down BCCI president and secretary Anurag Thakur and Ajay Shirke, respectively, the two most important office-bearers, but he rendered an entire swathe, perhaps two whole generations, of administrators ineligible to hold office.
Regulatory bodies are often forced to step in and make tough decisions when the course of natural justice is being perverted, such as the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), in case of trading manipulation. But, in such cases, culpability is specifically pinned on the individual or individuals who have committed breaches. One rogue trader and his negligent supervisor would not provoke Sebi to sacking every employee of such a firm.
Yet, a combination of two important recommendations of the Justice Lodha committee - no person shall hold office for more than nine years and a cooling off period of three years between two successive terms - renders practically anyone who has worked in cricket ineligible to continue doing so. While the aim of these recommendations was noble, attempting to ensure that no individual would hold on to power in perpetuity, something that happens only too often in Indian sports administration, works counter to how most institutions function.
Forget the BCCI, in any organisation where office-bearers are elected, individuals learn the ropes in small positions, being committee members first, then move up the ranks, taking up the treasurer’s role, and having proven themselves, aspire to the top posts. But such a process is impossible in the current structure mandated by the courts as any reasonable official starting at the beginning would have completed his nine-year limit before he reached a stage where he could be a genuine contender for the presidency.
What is this likely to accomplish? In a country where rules are viewed as generic guidelines, to be followed at one’s own convenience, where finding loopholes in income tax laws to minimise payment is a national pastime, where a wide range of nebulous practices are condoned under the garb of jugaad, the reaction from BCCI officials, some already former office-bearers and others who are likely to follow suit, is most probably predictable. While power is still concentrated in the hands of a few, they will no longer be able to openly flaunt it, and instead, will try to install dummy candidates who fulfill the norms set by the courts. You can legislate many things, but honesty is not one of them.
The courts, when they passed their order and began to implement it with vigour after prolonged resistance and even defiance from BCCI officials, presumably had plans in place to deal with the consequences that followed.
But, if this was the case, it is hardly obvious at the moment. For example, the vacated positions of president and secretary were to be filled by vice-presidents, almost all of all of whom are automatically ineligible to hold office under these norms. So, who then will step up to the roles of the five vice-presidents? Travel down the chain and you will find an endless supply of ineligible officer-bearers.
In the time of the Cold War, the United States began the practice of naming a Designated Survivor, an eligible member of the Cabinet who could take over the reins in the event that the president and the top leadership were all killed in one go, such as an attack during the State of the Union Address or the Presidential Inauguration.
This designated survivor, who had to be at a different location when such gatherings took place, or successor, would then take office, enabling continuity and ensuring there was someone able to take the decisions that matter. The BCCI constitution, however, has no such provision, and now that a mass culling has happened, the way forward is less than clear.
The courts will appoint a panel to oversee the administration of the BCCI, but what of the management and administration of the game? Rahul Johri, a professionally appointed Chief Executive Officer, also a Lodha-recommended action, is figuratively at the helm. Ratnakar Shetty, the chemistry professor from Wilson College in Mumbai has held almost all significant positions in the BCCI, but is now an employee, and therefore outside of arc of Justice Thakur’s clean sweep. M V Sridhar, the dour yet dependable former Hyderabad batsman and medical doctor, is similarly immune, as General Manager - Cricket Operations. But how will these people run the game if the structures below them that they have come to depend on are demolished?
At a time when India is the No. 1 Test team in the world by the International Cricket Council ratings, the last thing needed is a prolonged period of instability off the field. The BCCI derives its clout from the performances of the team and the loyalty of a large fan base, but the game can neither be run by the courts nor run itself in the long-term.
(The writer is a senior cricket journalist)