Cricket lovers in the country had welcomed the election of Sourav Ganguly as President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) last month. Though eyebrows were raised over the relative inexperience of many of the office-bearers in many of the state associations as well as in the BCCI, and there were many whose surname appeared to be the only qualification for the posts to which they were elected, it was felt that the taking over by elected office-bearers marked the end of a long period of impasse in the history of the organisation. The near three years when the affairs of the BCCI were in the hands of Supreme Court appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) was not a period that would be looked back with fond memories either by the officials or by the players. It was widely felt that the CoA tried to take over the running of the BCCI without possessing either the mandate or the expertise for this job and ended up without anyone shedding tears over their departure.
The main function entrusted to the CoA by the apex court was to supervise the transition of the BCCI from an organisation which was run like a private cabal into a modern sports body. The reforms suggested by the the Justice Lodha Committee were intended to make functioning of the BCCI more transparent and democratic in character, with players having a greater say in its conduct. It was the resistance of the erstwhile honchos of this organisation to accept any suggestion of change, both to their stranglehold over this body and the manner of its functioning, that caused the delay, which led to the CoA entrenching themselves in the seats of power. The huge amount of money (nearly Rs 10 crores) that was paid as “honorarium” for members of this committee is the price that the BCCI had to pay for the intransigence of its members in refusing to comply with the orders of the Supreme Court promptly.
The bigwigs of the BCCI had objected to many of the reforms suggested by Lodha Committee but the ones they had resisted most pertained to limitation in tenure of office-bearers through a mandatory cooling off period and an age limit for those seeking to occupy the posts in national body as well as in the state associations. It was the refusal of many state associations to amend their constitution to incorporate these clauses that led to the standoff that saw the CoA running the BCCI for much longer than it was expected to. It took nearly three years for the recalcitrant bodies to fall in line and abide by the directions of the apex court and elections were conducted only after that.
Hence when these elected office-bearers under Ganguly took office, there was widespread relief all around as it was felt that the BCCI and its officialdom would finally start focussing on the game and its development. The first statements of Ganguly, wherein he said that his priorities were resolving conflict of interest issue and restoring normalcy, were welcomed for this reason. He also visited the National Cricket Academy, which could do with some more attention and finances, and unveiled plans for converting this into a state-of-the-art facility. His approach towards the question on retirement of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and conduct of matches in Delhi during winter revealed his pragmatic, yet no nonsense, attitude. It looked as if Ganguly was well and truly on the road to recreate the same magic which had made him a popular and successful skipper of the national side.
However, the agenda for the first Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the BCCI under the new leadership has once again diverted attention away from the game to the politicking of the individuals who control this body. Three amendments are proposed to be moved in this AGM. The first one seeks to take the office of president and secretary of the BCCI out of the ambit of existing provisions relating to cooling off period. The second seeks to remove the clause relating to age limit while the last proposes to do away with seeking the approval of Supreme Court for making amendments to the Constitution. Thus, what the BCCI seeks is to not only remove the clauses relating to cooling off period and age limit for principal office-bearers but also do away with the superintendence that the apex court wished to exercise over the conduct of the affairs of this body.
It would be interesting to examine what would be the consequence of these amendments, as there is little doubt that they would be passed if presented before the AGM. In the first place they would undo the most important of the changes that were brought about at the behest of the highest court of the land. The fact that is being done within the shortest period possible after the new set of office-bearers took office reveals not merely their unholy hurry to get things back to their preferred status quo but a mindset that would not brook any interference to their single-minded resolve to achieve their objectives. Finally, the blatant manner in which they have chosen to remove the clause “amendments would not be carried out without leave of the Honourable Supreme Court” from existing rules governing the organisation only serves to announce their collective psyche of being above all laws of the land.
It is impossible to envisage any person or organisation, including the government, attempting to initiate action of this kind, which goes against the spirit and substance of the directions of the Supreme Court. The mutual respect that the three pillars of governance - the executive, legislative and judiciary - have for each other, while maintaining their respective independence, forms the core of democratic functioning. Actions of the kind attempted by the BCCI strikes at the very core of this principle.
The present office-bearers of the BCCI should not forget that cricket is one of the few games where the laws that govern it make specific reference to the “spirit of the game”. This indicates that conduct of game should be governed by not only the extant rules and regulations but also involve practice of honesty and integrity. The present move goes against the basic principles of the spirit of the game that they are responsible for administering throughout the country.
This column has always maintained that the BCCI is a top class sports body which has performed yeomen service of uplifting the standard of the game besides taking it to all corners of the country and successfully creating infrastructure for nurturing talented players. The systems created by the BCCI are excellent as could be seen from the fact that it could be run in an “auto pilot” mode during the three years that the CoA tried to take over its reins. It should not be forgotten that this organisation attracted notoriety only on account of the shenanigans engaged in by the major-domos controlling it to cling on to their offices for eternity. The efforts made by the Supreme Court were intended to cleanse the body of this malaise. But, if the proposed amendments are any indication, it would appear that this odium is likely to stick to this august body for a longer time. It would be a great shame for Indian cricket were this to happen.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)