Home / Opinion / Online Views /  Is the Congress missing a trick in the IPL spot-fixing mess?

The India Premier League (IPL) has lost its credibility. Cricket is turning into a game of spot-the-fixed moment. And with Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president N. Srinivasan determined to stay put despite the muck reaching his doorstep, the board has proved itself to be a rogue entity accountable to nobody.

That Srinivisan still refuses to step down points to the moral bankruptcy of the nation’s richest sporting body. It also underscores the all-important question at the heart of the whole mess: how should cricket be run in this country?

If tomorrow I start a cricket association in my housing society, I can choose my own set of players and own set of officials. I can even call my playing outfit ‘Team India’—only nobody would take me seriously because I wouldn’t have India’s best players contracted with me. If today the BCCI is taken seriously—unlike my hypothetical cricketing association—it is for two reasons: one, it is recognized by the International Cricket Council (ICC) as India’s official cricket administrative body; and two, it enjoys the patronage of a powerful cabal of politicians and businessmen.

Even assuming Srinivasan resigns tomorrow, what then? The reins will be passed on to another power-hungry, greedy politician/businessman looking to mint money off the game—answerable to no one save his cronies heading the various state associations. In other words, the biggest stumbling block to any truly progressive change in the BCCI is its structure and legal status—it is essentially a private club you can buy your way into.

Which brings us to a rather delicious political scenario, especially from the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) point of view: two of the senior-most club members and influential officials associated closely with the Srinivasan-led BCCI are bigwigs from the UPA’s prime political adversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP’s leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, is a BCCI vice president. Narendra Modi is the chairman of the Gujarat Cricket Association and member of the BCCI’s working committee. Srinivasan enjoys the backing of both Jaitley and Modi.

The supposedly super-clean Modi has not once called for the resignation of Srinivasan. Neither has the BJP beacon of moral probity, Jaitley. In fact, Jaitley was one of the only two people (the other being Rajeev Shukla) who Srinivasan met personally on Sunday before putting his foot down on the resignation issue.

Of course, Srinivasan’s main political patron is a Congressman, Shukla, who is also the IPL chairman. But Shukla is nowhere near as high in the Congress hierarchy as Modi or Jaitely are in the BJP. While Jaitley is widely acknowledged as a strategic lynchpin of the BJP, Modi is a potential prime ministerial candidate. Shukla is not a Manmohan Singh or a P. Chidambaram or even a Jairam Ramesh. If the Congress takes a stand on the ongoing spot-fixing scam and asks Shukla to resign on moral grounds, it can score some precious brownie points by asking what two of the BJP’s senior-most leaders are doing in what is arguably the country’s most controversial sports body, and why neither of them has taken a public stand on Srinivasan’s insistence on continuing as BCCI president.

The only politician who came close to making this point is Omar Abdullah. From the Congress, only Kamal Nath took a stand that Srinivasan should go, but even he made it clear that he was speaking as a “cricket lover" and not as a government spokesman.

The Congress’ reluctance to act decisively in the whole mess—apart from vague noises about bringing in an anti-spot-fixing law —betrays a limited vision of what the nation’s electorate cares about, not to mention a poverty of ideas in its strategic think tank.

Besides being an excellent opportunity to extract political mileage, there is also a legitimate case for the UPA to intervene on an issue that can justifiably be considered a matter of public interest. The conventional thinking would be to dismiss sport as a trivial matter—the only issues worthy of the cabinet’s attention are the big ones, such as India-China relations, the Naxal menace, economic growth, etc. But all said and done, in India, cricket has an impact on the mood of the nation.

In a poor country plagued by a multitude of social and economic problems, cricket is the primary avenue of entertainment, distraction, and vicarious pleasure for millions. It’s enjoyed across the classes and is the one sport where India can aspire to be the best in the world. Because of the magnified role cricket plays in the national consciousness, the rules that apply to the cricketing body have to be different, and BCCI should not be allowed to get away on the basis of its being a private, ‘charitable society’.

What happens when there is a serious breakdown of governance in any of the states in the Indian Union? Ideally, the state government is dismissed and President’s Rule imposed. On the face of it, this might seem a facetious proposal, but the BCCI needs to be treated like a failed state government and brought under central government oversight.

So long as the BCCI claims to be a ‘national’ body, with its team of chosen players representing India’s national team, it is—morally and logically, if not legally—accountable to the people of India. If the UPA government can rouse itself to act, and ensure that the nation’s cricket administrators, instead of once again getting away with hoodwinking the public, are made answerable to the public, it would earn the gratitude (if not the votes) of millions of grateful Indians.

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