Indian Politicking League
The conflict of interest of politician-cum-cricket administrators, which was in full view during the ongoing IPL saga, is of grave concern to many cricket lovers across the country.
Politicians have been an integral part of the running of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and state associations for long. The debate whether they should be solely cricket administrators, leaving behind their political interest, is perhaps as old as cricket itself in India.
Now, take a look at the Dharamsala cricket stadium, billed by many as one of the most picturesque stadia in the world with the stunning snow-capped Himalayan peaks as the backdrop. The person responsible for this stadium to become a reality is Anurag Thakur, MP and son of Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. There are many more examples such as this.
So, are politicians a boon or bane to Indian cricket ? No one with proper knowledge of running of cricket in India will, perhaps, dare to say yes or no to this question. For, it is difficult to say so.
Let us take a look at the politicians who head cricket’s administration across the country: NCP leader Sharad Pawar had been at the helm of not only Mumbai Cricket Association but also of BCCI (besides Maharashtra wrestling, kabaddi, kho-kho and Olympics !). In two months, he will take over as the head of the International Cricket Council. His confidant, Shashank Manohar, is now the BCCI boss.
The BJP members in the BCCI are
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi (Gujarat Cricket Association), leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley (Delhi District Cricket Association) and MP Anurag Thakur (Himachal Pradesh). Congress has a heavy presence in the BCCI with Union minister C P Joshi (Rajasthan Cricket Association) and junior trade minister Jyotiraditya Scindia (Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association).
Besides, representatives of Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Karnataka, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa too are controlled by Congress members. Jammu and Kashmir is represented by National Conference president and Union minister Farooq Abdullah. The government of the day controls the votes of three institutional members: Services, Railways and Association of Indian Universities.
Conflict of interest
What bothers many cricket lovers is the conflict of interest of politician-cricket administrators, which was in full view during the ongoing IPL saga. A minister had to go and the heat is on two others because of this very factor.
Two well-known cricket writers, G Rajaraman and Pradeep Magazine, talking to Deccan Herald,† shared similar views: “You need politicians at the helm of affairs of cricket bodies but they should not interfere in matters like selection.”
Says Rajaraman: “It is because of politicians several stadia have come up. Without Anurag Thakur and his CM father, Dharamsala stadium would not have been built, or Kotla without Jaitley. Similarly, Pawar has done a lot for Mumbai stadia. You need them to tackles issues such as land acquisition, to obtain various clearances and to raise funds.
Without the help of politicians, putting various facilities in place in India is out of the question. I won’t say politicians in cricket are bad but then, they should know where to draw the line. They should steer clear of issues like selection of players, coaches etc.”
According to Magazine, while politicians have been helpful, they have also brought with them businessmen into various aspects of cricket and IPL is a prime example.
“The role of politicians gets mired in financial underhand dealings. They help their cronies to bag deals and transparency goes for a six.” As for team selection, Magazine says, be it politicians, businessmen or former cricketers, zonal bias creeps in. “You can check, there are more players from the zone from where the selection committee chairman hails.”
The flip side
On the flip side are examples of DDCA (Delhi and districts cricket association) and Vidarbha cricket association. The DDCA was in the news recently as senior players Gautam Gambhir, Ishant Sharma and Ashish Nehra joined Virender Sehwag in lashing out at the selection process and corruption in DDCA. According to Rajaraman, DDCA follows a different management structure as it is a company unlike the other state associations and its members are individuals unlike the other states which have clubs as members. Thus, it is easier to bring in your cronies.
Vidarbha association was until recently led by Pawar-backed Manohar. Under him, the Nagpur stadium prepared a green top at Nagpur in the series against Australia in 2004. The only motivation for doing so was that he was aligned with the group opposed to the then BCCI President (remember then captain Saurav Ganguly backing out at the last minute?).
Manohar, otherwise known for suave manners and courteous behaviour (now opposed to Lalit Modi), had also raised the issue of linking players’ salaries to performance.
There are other examples of how politicians influence cricketing matters. While the worse influence can be on selections, the West Bengal politicians, without excluding chief minister Budhadev Bhattacharya, then Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee and MP Brinda Karat, raised a ruckus when Ganguly was left out of the Indian team. As the outcry hit the roof, the `dada’ of cover drives, was back in the team in 2006.
Bad for the game
Rajaraman says the kind of politics that Lalu Prasad and cricketer-turned-politicians in Bihar played was bad for the game. “But still, I won’t paint them with one brush as evils and monsters. I would be concerned if coaches are teaching the budding cricketers how to play T20, particular strokes which suit this form of instant cricket, rather than teaching the nuances of all forms of the game.”
Sane advice came from none other than the country’s sports minister M S Gill. “It is time it (BCCI) answered to India,” he told Parliament on April 22. “The ministry has to lose its passivity vis-ŗ-vis cricket,” he said. “Long before I came, it (BCCI) got suddenly rich and big, and in the face of passivity of the ministry, it has taken over everything to do with cricket. You can’t be regulator, controller, owner of the team you are creating.”