BCCI: Conflict, Corruption, Cricket and the Art of Throwing Rules to the Wind
In March 2014, Harish Salve, a former Solicitor General of India and a senior member of the Supreme Court Bar, successfully argued on behalf of the Cricket Association of Bihar (CAB) in the Indian Premier League (IPL) spot-fixing case, which was crucial in forcing the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to concede defeat. In his words, the BCCI had a major “conflict of interest”, so “no one linked with India Cements, controlled by the then President N Srinivasan, be associated with the Board’s functioning”.
Salve, son of a former BCCI president, made a compelling argument for changes to the way the cricket governing body operates by participating in the initial hearings before the benches of Justice AK Patnaik and Justice JS Khehar, followed by Justice T.S. Thakur and Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla.
Senior counsel Salve later withdrew from the BCCI case, reportedly under pressure from the top minister of the government in 2014, but he did not do so before outlining a strategy for extensive reforms in the BCCI’s operations. Salve’s early arguments served as the learned SC judges’ compass in the years that followed as the issue was bitterly battled out between the various BCCI groups vying for control of the richest cricket organisation in the world.
The court issued three distinct judgments in the course of the nearly three-year-long lawsuit. But in the final judgement it directed the registration of the BCCI’s constitution finalised by the court using its wide inherent powers and was authored by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who will likely take over as the Chief Justice of India in November 2022.
The court “accepted reforms in the administration of cricket proposed by a Committee chaired by Justice R.M. Lodha, and it also appointed a Committee of Administrators (CoA) to oversee the administration of BCCI until all the recommendations of Lodha Committee are implemented,” according to the conclusions drawn from those rulings.
The BCCI suffered numerous casualties between the removals of two of its presidents, Srinivasan and Anurag Thakur. The senior minister in the current administration, Thakur, actually endured humiliation when he was ordered to present an “unconditional apology” for perjury by physically going before the highest court.
The Committee of Administrators also did not cover themselves with glory as its Chairman (Vinod Rai) seemed to grow fond of the power that the BCCI presented him, and he took forever to do anything and got embroiled in personal battles. The matter saw a quick finish only once senior counsel PS Narasimha was appointed as an amicus who put his foot down to have the matter concluded. He has since been elevated to the Supreme Court as well.
The new BCCI constitution, which was drafted by the CoA based on the Lodha Committee’s recommendations to restructure the Board, was approved by the apex court on August 9 2018, but the court disregarded a crucial provision that could have fundamentally changed how cricket is administered in the nation.
One-state-one-vote and the cooling-off period for office-holders after one term are two Lodha proposals that were not included in the Board’s new constitution. The one-state-one-vote policy was eliminated, and as a result, all associations based in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat – Saurashtra, Vidarbha, Baroda, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Mumbai – were retained as full voting members of the BCCI. The cooling-off period was changed to two consecutive terms of three years each.
Start of another conflict
It appeared as though there would be a temporary break from the legal battles as the new BCCI constitution took effect. However, that was not the case as the new squad was led by former India captain Sourav Ganguly and Jay Shah, the son of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who won the uncontested presidency and secretary elections, respectively, in October 2019.
The fact that Ganguly and junior Shah had reached an agreement inside the Board on their decision to appeal to the SC concerning some of the disputed provisions of the constitution, notably the necessary cooling-off period, soon surfaced during the inaugural AGM of the BCCI in December 2019.
This was mostly done to protect their personal positions in the BCCI, which is flush with cash. According to the new BCCI constitution, younger Shah was only permitted to hold office until May 2020, and according to Lodha’s recommendations, Ganguly had to hand over his reins in July 2020. It is surprising to note that despite the younger Shah becoming an office-bearer in the Gujarat Cricket Association in September 2013, and there being no news in the public domain of him ever relinquishing the post till 2019, his six years had not been completed till October 2019.
All 38 members voted to petition the apex court to amend the same rules so they could have “more time”, despite being elected under the new BCCI constitution, which stipulates that an official may only serve in the Indian cricket administration (state associations and the BCCI) for a total of six years before entering a mandatory “cooling-off period”.
Even after Shah and Ganguly’s official terms as BCCI members were over, the CAG’s representative, Alka Rehani Bharadwaj, advised the Board to make sure that only members “eligible as per the constitution” attended the meetings. Despite this, Shah and Ganguly continued to disregard the threat of “contempt proceedings by the highest court”.
It is crucial to note that on July 27 2014, while Jagmohan Dalmiya served as President of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), Ganguly began his career in cricket administration as the organisation’s Joint Secretary. In 2015, he was elected CAB President and later left that position to become the BCCI President. He, therefore, finished his six years in the Indian cricket administration on July 27, 2020.
Back to square one
No one would have dared to disobey the Supreme Court’s ruling in any way based on its previous rulings. None of the previous office bearers would have dreamt of doing this, especially after seeing what transpired with Anurag Thakur when he attempted to do so.
The BCCI has undergone significant modifications since then, but the Board’s power has not diminished. Instead, it has gone up ever since the young Shah took over the world’s wealthiest sports organisation. And for this reason, even a non-politician like Ganguly has the audacity to continue serving as BCCI president for an additional two years after the date set for his stepping down. Not to mention Junior Shah, who appears to have been in charge of cricket from Delhi’s halls of power during his term.
The truth is that “no one in the Board is ready to say anything about the secretary even off the record,” despite the fact that it may seem a little strange. There have been no “known scandals” in the previous few years concerning officials in an organisation like the BCCI, which used to hog the limelight for all the wrong reasons until a few years ago.
That is only feasible due to two factors: When everything is run transparently, and the administrators have the support of the vast majority. Or when no one dares to resist the powers that be when there is such a strong prospect of being scrutinised.
One would be forced to assume that the threat of surveillance and backlash from govt controlled agencies has more of a role to play in this period of silence, given the history of how the BCCI has been run over the past three decades and how at least two major groups (Srinivasan & Sharad Pawar) are maintaining an eerie silence despite being pushed to the limit. A few months ago, a report alleged that the head of the BCCI’s anti-corruption unit, a former Director-General of the Gujarat police, had proposed purchasing spying equipment. On December 4 2021, in Kolkata, during the last annual general meeting, none other than the BCCI CEO Hemang Amin revealed this. The cricket board decided to remain silent on this delicate issue, and nobody on the board or in the cricketing community knows of this suggestion.
The next AGM’s dates are quickly approaching; thus, BCCI must begin the election process soon. It would be self-serving for the office-bearers if they didn’t start taking umbrage over the pending matter in court. Especially since the court has not granted any stay in the matter, and in the absence of a stay, there is no effective change in the rules.
The biggest concern is whether the Ganguly-Shah regime can remain in power by rejecting the SC’s earlier reforms. The Supreme Court is now hearing BCCI’s request for a modification of the required “cooling-off” period of their office-bearers after a six-year term. The hearing is being presided over by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana.
Another thing is that Ganguly and Shah would hardly complain even if the court declined to hear their request to amend the BCCI constitution, which the Supreme Court ratified in 2018 on the advice of Justice R.M. Lodha. This is because they have already managed to serve for more than two years despite being “disqualified” for a very long time.
The SC has begun hearing BCCI’s appeal, which is fantastic news. The bad news, however, is that the court named senior attorney Maninder Singh as the new amicus curiae, which is unfortunate for everyone who has closely followed the spot-fixing case. Amicus curiae, a legal phrase, refers to an objective advisor to a court of law in a particular case. Not to mention that the new amicus is the same person who fought vehemently against Justice Lodha committee reforms inside the courtroom while defending three cricket associations, Railways, Universities, and Services, during his time as Additional Solicitor General.
The Lodha committee report’s reform recommendations have been disputed by the Board. The cooling-off time for Ganguly and junior Shah is among BCCI’s top worries. The Lodha committee’s original recommendation of a three-year cooling-off period after each tenure was modified by the apex court, but the BCCI refused to accept the order.
According to Justice Lodha panel’s reasoning, an officeholder at the BCCI or state association would need to take a three-year hiatus after serving a three-year term. The BCCI vigorously disputed this, which caused the apex court to modify its first recommendation. Thus, the bench presided by Justice Chandrachud permitted an office-holder to hold office for a maximum of nine years while serving two consecutive terms (each lasting six years) at the state association, the Board, or both.
The simple goal of SC was to “ensure that the concentration of power did not remain in the hands of a few and that there was a need for cooling off to prevent a small number of people from considering the administration of cricket as their personal territory”.
“Without cricketing oligopolies, the game will be better off,” Justice Chandrachud had stated in the 2018 decision. What the Supreme Court must now consider is whether their existing effective judgement has resulted in the power being centralised with one individual temporarily or would it in future also result in concentrating the power of Indian cricket in the hands of whoever controls the Central Vista.
The overly ambitious cricket administrators in India were not helped by the apex court’s benign treatment of the first advice. Because they disregarded the BCCI’s new constitution, Ganguly and junior Shah should have faced “contempt of court” charges, according to the law of the land. According to the SC’s own standards, the majority of office holders, including the Ganguly-Shah combination, are ineligible to occupy their positions. For example, the cooling-off period for Ganguly was meant to start after July 27, 2020.
On the other hand, the Ganguly-Shah team wants the cooling-off period to start when the office-holder has held a position for six straight years at a single organisation – either a state association or the BCCI, but not both. In addition, the Board requests that the court not intervene if the cricket body ever decides to change the constitution.
Whether or if that occurs, the case’s importance is nearly indisputable, given that the former Indian captain and junior Shah’s three-year term is set to expire in September 2022. And given the current situation, one of the two will now look to claim the position of International Cricket Council (ICC) President.
According to trustworthy insiders, the Indian Cricket Board may propose either Ganguly or younger Shah to succeed Greg Barclay, a New Zealander whose term expires in November 2022.
No code, no ethics
Considering the current situation, the Board is expected to hold its AGM during the final week of September. And if that is necessary, a 21-day notice must be given at the AGM, and the notice should be sent on September 9 based on the most recent count from September 30.
It is important to note that the AGM was postponed for a couple of years due to factors relating to Covid. However, there is no need for any delay, now that the central government has won the battle against Covid.
Before elections, the Apex Council is required by law to approve the annual accounts for the BCCI and four weeks prior to that, or by August 31 2022, an electoral officer must be chosen for the elections.
However, the actual cause for concern is that everyone who had previously fought for or opposed changes has now switched sides, confusing all cricket fans. For instance, the BCCI is now represented by the Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta and eminent attorney Harish Salve. Many cricket administrators within the BCCI or state associations now think that “the involvement of the Home minister” is to blame for this complete turnaround.
Salve, in particular, ought to have understood that “by advocating for those who want the BCCI reforms to be watered down, is he not jeopardising his own moral position in the legal field?”
The entire case of BCCI reforms was founded on his arguments in 2014. Strictly speaking, according to the Bar Council of India’s Rules of Professional Standards, Serial No. 23, “an advocate who has advised a party in connection with the institution of a suit, appeal, or other matter or has drawn pleadings, or acted for a party, shall not act, appear, or plead for the opposite party in the same matter”. In the instance of the SG, the government has given its approval before he appears in the case.
It will now be intriguing to observe what the Justice Ramana-led bench decides in the following hearings. In order to prevent monopoly in the management of cricket in India, the 2018 judgement is based on sound grounds, to put it simply. All that can be hoped for is that cricket prevails in court, whether it can be reversed or changed. As of today, the matter has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
Chander Shekhar Luthra is a cricketer turned senior sports journalist based in Delhi. He is an ex Ranji player and he has more than 27 years of experience in covering various sporting events. Apart from covering ICC Cricket World Cups along with many other series across the world, he is known for his insightful coverage of the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympic Games and the 2014 Asian Games at Incheon, South Korea.
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