Cleaning the mighty BCCI

For the game: The recommendations, if implemented in toto, will be a turning point for Indian cricket

Cleaning the mighty BCCI
The Justice R M Lodha committee report is all set to usher in the much-needed and long-pending reforms in the BCCI, ruled by the well-entrenched people who had a free run for decades. The Supreme Court is expected to now take a call on the report. Obviously, the report has not gone down with the mandarins of the BCCI who arenow bracing up to retain whatever hold they can over the board.

Long before the ravages of time and the infirmities of advancing years took their inevitable toll, someone asked Jagmohan Dalmiya why he was interested in being a cricket administrator. “What will I do, if I don’t control cricket?” was his instant counter. While the retort may have taken on some embellishment in years of retelling, it sums up the attitude of those who run cricket in India.

By the time he was asked this question, Dalmiya had already had a long innings in cricket, rising from the ranks of the Cricket Association of Bengal through every significant post in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and culminating with a spell as the president of the International Cricket Council. There was, literally, nothing higher to aspire for Dalmiya, and yet, the question of stepping back, or letting go, did not arise.

And the late Dalmiya is not alone in this. In Indian cricket, the hard part is getting into administration. Once there, the system is built in such a manner that you can feather your nest, strengthen your base and keep the seat of power warm till kingdom comes, as Niranjan Shah in Saurashtra, Farooq Abdullah in Jammu & Kashmir or Brijesh Patel in Karnataka, have proven.

It is this system that encourages the preservation of power above all else that the Supreme Court-appointed Justice R M Lodha committee has sought to dismantle in a 159-page set of recommendations that has set a tiger among the pigeons.

The recommendation that the BCCI members find hardest to swallow is the one state one vote proposal. In the existing system, several states field multiple teams in the Ranji Trophy. This is either because of traditional princely states, as in the case of Saurashtra and Baroda being separate from Gujarat or because certain centres were cricketing strongholds, as in the case of Mumbai and Maharashtra. While the Lodha committee does not seek to disallow these teams from taking part in the premier domestic competition, it recommends that each state should have only one vote.

It goes without saying that no state association or body wants to willingly give up its vote, the structure recommended by the Lodha committee makes logical sense. If Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, can be successfully represented by only one team, why should others have special dispensation? To be fair to the Lodha panel, it is not even trying to unify these teams, but rather remove a structure that exists simply because voting rights mean power and control where none is needed.

Law unto itself

For long, it has been an unwritten rule that the BCCI was answerable only to itself. Presidents and secretaries could do as they pleased, but only as long as they enjoyed the support of their members. In the BCCI, if you had the votes, it hardly mattered what the rest of the world thought. That is, of course, until this manner of functioning was pushed to such an extent that the courts were forced to step in. Once they did, the changes recommended were so fundamental that it will become impossible to recognise the BCCI if implemented.

For one, the suggestion that governs the eligibility criteria for office bearers is a game changer. The Lodha committee recommends that no person serve more than nine years, across three terms in various positions, in the board. It suggests a cooling off period after any term of three years, disqualifies ministers and bureaucrats from holding office and caps the age limit of these leading lights at 70.

If implemented, this will disqualify a significant majority of the current power structure. It is no secret that politicians make a beeline to the BCCI, not so much to serve the game but to enjoy the benefits that the raised profile brings. It could be argued that those in power already have all they need, but there is never any harm in being associated in something that is seen as the country’s national pastime. When you rub shoulders with the biggest film stars and industrialists in the Indian Premier League (IPL), or have the top cricketers in the country at your beck and call, having to run a state association is a small price to pay.

The other shake up that the Lodha committee has put forward is reducing the number of vice-presidents from five to one. This is significant in that it reduces the emphasis on the zonal structure, something the BCCI has leaned on from time immemorial. There is no logical reason why an association needs to have reserved representation from each of the zones – North, South, East, West and Central – as other organisations, especially ones with a clearly defined corporate structure, choose their candidates purely on merit rather than regional origin, and function perfectly well.

When Justice Lodha made his committee’s recommendations public, the first question was just which of these points were binding. The courts made it clear that the committees recommendations on the quantum of punishment for N Srinivasan, Gurunath Meiyappan, Raj Kundra, Sundar Raman and the two IPL teams–Chennai Super Kings & Rajasthan Royals– in the middle of the betting scandal, would be binding with no recourse to relief.

For their part, the Lodha committee ensured that Srinivasan was forced out of office, Meiyappan and Kundra banned for life and Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals suspended for a period of two years. Just how the same committee gave a clean chit to Sundar Raman, then in charge of all affairs of the IPL, is a bit of a mystery, but the other recommendations with regard to the IPL controversy have been adopted without contest by the BCCI.

When it comes to the restructuring of the Board, however, its unclear just how completely the recommendations will be implemented. On his part, Lodha suggested that his job was limited to making recommendations. “This is a committee appointed by the Supreme Court,” said Lodha, adding, “The brief was given to us and we have on completion of the brief handed the report to the Supreme Court. The rest we don't decide because our task is over.”

The fundamental fact remains that the BCCI, headed by Shashank Manohar, is insisting that it can clean up its act. Transparency is a byword, conflict of interest a much-touted phrase and responsibility a claim. The committee has laid out the template. The BCCI now has to act and implement these recommendations, in spirit if not letter, if their claims of cleaning up the game are to be taken at all seriously.

(The writer is Managing Editor, Wisden India)
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