Psychologists probably have a term for it, this constant harking back to a pristine past, where everything was pure, and corruption was only a word that existed in dictionaries. Perhaps it is the False Memory Syndrome, where we reinvent the past and shape it in the contours of current aspirations. The belief that N Srinivasan, president, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the first ogre of that august body, the first one to walk roughshod over its own rules and that everyone who preceded him was an angel might have been risible if it weren’t so misleading.
Srinivasan is merely the latest in a long line of self-serving, strong-willed individuals who, without articulating it, might admit that the game is probably greater than its greatest player, but the board official is greater than the game.
There is something almost Nietzschean in the Eternal Recurrence that is the story of the board. A scandal is followed by a closing of ranks, is followed by either the secretary or the president imposing his authority over the mess, and falling back on that old chestnut — when all else fails, blame the media. The scrutiny has intensified, however, with the cameras and microphones catching every contradiction and experts analysing every move in great detail.
Here is KN Prabhu, the doyen of Indian cricket writers, writing about a board scandal half a century ago, when a former president, Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram (Vizzy) and the incumbent Maharaja of Baroda were at loggerheads: “Despite deep divisions among key officials, there were no open signs of acrimony. The Board acted like ‘one happy family’ for the members were all ‘jolly good fellows’. Only the press, as usual, took the blame, though it was briefed on all the happenings by the Maharaja of Baroda himself.”
To detail the shenanigans of men such as Vizzy, their manipulations, self-promotion and ego trips in the days when Indian cricket was ruled by Maharajas would need a book or two to itself, but what of later incumbents many of them professionals and businessmen?
Ghulam Ahmed, former off spinner and board vice-president, put it succinctly, “There are no values in the board.”
Lack of transparency and accountability have been the cornerstones of the BCCI — Srinivasan is merely carrying forward the legacy. Pankaj Gupta, the BCCI secretary who managed India’s first team to Australia in 1947-48, when asked for the tour accounts, told the board sweetly that he had been working on them on the deck of the ship carrying the team back when a gust of wind blew all the accounts into the sea. Incredible though the explanation was, what was even more so was that it was accepted.
Jagmohan Dalmiya did not say that the accounts of the 1996 World Cup fell out of an open aircraft window when he was carrying them to a board meeting, but he might as well have. The discrepancies in the accounts have never been satisfactorily explained although Dalmiya’s suspension by the BCCI based on it was overturned by the Calcutta High Court on a technicality.
Did Srinivasan change the team after the selection committee chairman Mohinder Amarnath had signed it off? At least he did not take the selector hostage in a toilet for over an hour with the promise of a post in the board till the official voted for the captain, as a senior board official did in 1946 to ensure that MAK Pataudi won the race for the post against Vijay Merchant.
Two events (among many) from the disastrous 1974 tour of England on the board’s love for cricket and cricketers: India, winners on the previous tour of 1971, and possessing a team of spinners among the greatest in the game were hamstrung by a rule change. Now only five fielders were allowed on the leg side. “I knew of this only when I landed in England,” recalled then skipper Ajit Wadekar. India’s representative, the man who could have protested but allowed the rule to go through was the then board secretary, MV Chandgadkar. After the series in which India lost all three Tests, the experimental rule was scrapped. It had served its purpose.
On that tour, it was decided to raise the players’ weekly allowance from £25 to £40. The decision was taken when the players were already on tour. Board secretary Purushottam Rungta arrived in England with the additional money, but decided to pay for only 10 days instead of the whole tour. Players were asked to sign blank receipts. Some did, Bishan Singh Bedi didn’t. His reward for standing up? He was dropped from the next Test in Bangalore on flimsy charges.
The only case of a presidential ego actually helping Indian cricket was when NKP Salve denied tickets for friends to watch the 1983 World Cup final and promised to take the World Cup out of England where it had been played for the first three editions. Thus India (and Pakistan) hosted the 1987 World Cup, and thus, was established the policy of hosting the tournament in rotation.
After Salve’s turn, the tradition of the senior vice-president taking over the top job was done away with, and the zonal rotation was brought in which was how S Sriraman (south) and then BN Dutta (east) became presidents.
But there were always shortcuts. When it was north’s turn, Madhavrao Scindia (central zone) decided he could not wait for the cycle to come to him; he would go out and meet it halfway. He was, after all, the senior-most, and was reluctant to accept a junior, IS Bindra as the new president. Scindia got himself nominated from Haryana and beat Bindra at the BCCI meeting in Kolkata. Later Bindra did become president after he too turned the cycle to his advantage by being nominated from west zone. Raj Singh Dungarpur (west) was nominated by Rajasthan (central), and so it went on.
Now such manoueuvres have gone international, with the BCCI — ego again — telling Cricket South Africa whom it should, or should not elect as its CEO. The audacity of the Indian board almost blackmailing its South African counterpart into keeping Haroon Lorgat out was quite stunning. South Africa went ahead anyway, ignoring the bullying tactics of the BCCI, but it may yet pay the price for going against the wishes of Srinivasan and his cohorts. No cricket board can afford to displease India, who is the Pied Piper of the world game calling the tune.
MA Chidambaram, former president, once said of Anthony de Mello, the founder secretary of the BCCI, “He had a tendency to step on corns, though it did not bother him.” He might have been speaking of Srinivasan.
The BCCI elections are in September.
Was there a whiff of rebellion on the day of the cancelled working committee meeting? A former secretary was quite voluble on TV about propriety, conflict of interest and the need to clean up the BCCI. Yet, within hours, he was singing a different tune.
This double talk is not unique either. Officials say one thing to the media ensuring their 15 minutes of fame, and then quite another at the meeting where the bravado and defiance are replaced by pragmatism and the need to secure a future for near and dear ones.
There is a story — probably apocryphal, but who knows? — about two board officials discussing an election. “I was offered Rs 10 lakh by one party but only Rs 5 lakh by the other,” one of them said. So whom did he vote for? “I voted for the guy who offered Rs 5 lakh, because he is obviously less corrupt.”
The choice has traditionally been between degrees of corruption (remember, not all corruption is about money), degrees of arrogance, degrees of power-mongering. The more things have changed, well, you know the rest…