Black comedy, as the saying goes, is a farce that is played in the dark with the lights full on.
So, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), asked by the Supreme Court to set up a panel to investigate the Indian Premier League (IPL) corruption case, named three people, all of whom could be questioned about their alleged conflict of interest in the matter.
On the face of it, these names were formidable: former chief justice of the Kolkata high court J.N. Patel, former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief K.R. Raghavan and former India captain Ravi Shastri. All aspects that needed to be addressed—cricketing, investigative and jurisprudence—appeared to have been fulfilled.
But Patel is the brother-in-law of Shivlal Yadav, currently interim president of the BCCI, Raghavan heads a club affiliated to the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, of which N. Srinivasan, the sidelined BCCI chief, is president, and Shastri is financially contracted to the board as commentator.
It can’t be anybody’s case that the integrity of the three is suspect simply because of these “nexuses”. In fact, this was interestingly highlighted in the heated debate between the rival factions during the emergent meeting of the BCCI’s Working Committee last week.
Former BCCI president Shashank Manohar, who came out of retirement to take on Srinivasan but was stymied in the voting, raised objections to the appointment of Raghavan and Shastri but vouched for Patel’s nomination, seeing no conflict of interest in his case. There are any number of people who likewise believe Raghavan and Shastri are above reproach so this argument goes around in circles.
To draw a parallel, every well-founded organization puts in place (or is compelled to by law) special committees to tackle internal controversies like sexual harassment, financial irregularities, etc., which include an eminent person from the outside world too. These committees, with rare exception, enjoy the trust of people both within and outside.
The BCCI’s problem today is that the public’s faith in it has collapsed. This is because in most such matters till very recently, it has pursued a wink-and-nudge approach of inquiry/redressal believing that it enjoyed immunity from public gaze being a private body.
But while this is legally true, where the public at large is concerned, the BCCI is only the custodian of a sport with which they share an obsessive emotional connection. Faith in the ability of the BCCI to manage its affairs, and therefore of a sport they love, has eroded to such an extent that there is widespread cynicism, even anger about the cricket establishment.
Nobody, no current or former player, no administrator, nor those with otherwise impeccable reputations but with some link to the BCCI, however tenuous, seems acceptable, especially when the issues are corruption and governance.
Frankly, it had seemed odd that the Supreme Court would have even asked the BCCI to constitute an inquiry panel. The president had been told to step aside and the affairs of the board were under scrutiny. There seemed no moral authority with which it could come up with a panel that would find favour anywhere.
And it was completely imprudent of the BCCI to have even agreed to the Supreme Court’s request. Surely the mandarins in the board are not oblivious of the raging discontent about its affairs, and utter mistrust in its office bearers. How much better if they had asked the Supreme Court to appoint a panel and conduct the investigation?
Which, inevitably, is the situation now. The panel proposed by the board was found wanting by Justices A.K. Patnaik and F.M.I. Kalifulla of the Supreme Court. They have thrown the ball back in the court of Justice Mukul Mudgal on whose report the Supreme Court had moved aside Srinivasan and also appointed Sunil Gavaskar as interim president of the BCCI in charge of the seventh edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
As things stand, Justice Mudgal has agreed to take up the investigation, but with the members on the panel to be appointed by the Supreme Court, not the BCCI. This is significant. It is significant too, however, that the court has ruled out a probe by the CBI or a special investigation team, saying it wants the sanctity of Indian cricket to be preserved.
Two things are now at the core of the corruption investigation now. One is tape-recorded conversations with Srinivasan and India skipper M.S. Dhoni by the Mudgal panel, and whether they had given a clean chit to Srinivasan’s son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan in their deposition, which they have vehemently denied. Meiyappan was indicted by the Mudgal panel for betting and “sharing information” during IPL 2013.
The second is probing the roles of 12 players whose names were submitted in a sealed envelope earlier and the contents of which have been widely speculated upon, but which are officially unknown. Is there anything substantial against them or plain hearsay?
What remains now for the Supreme Court is to complete the panel, set a time frame for the investigation to be completed and a report submitted. Hopefully this will not extend interminably.
Indian cricket has been mired in muck far too long. It needs to be cleaned up without delay.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.