Justice Mukul Mudgal is fast emerging as the go-to man of Indian cricket. His love for the sport was never in doubt and neither was his zeal to purge its vices. Now, the judge has been given one more charge. On 22 April, the Supreme Court decided to officially hand over the investigation of betting and match-fixing charges in the Indian Premier League (IPL) to the Justice Mudgal Committee. The panel had clearly done a great job with its initial findings for the apex court to be able to entrust it with greater responsibility.
These are strange times for cricket. Even as the sport continues minting money and, in Lalit Modi’s words, is proving to be “recession-proof”, it is also facing its worst crisis. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which virtually feeds the sport worldwide, stands accused of doing nothing, while the men in charge of some IPL teams are accused of betting and fixing matches.
Then there is that sealed envelope with 13 names, which, if revealed, could threaten the very relevance of the sport. Further, in the tapes handed over to the court are recordings of conversations with the three most important men in Indian cricket — the deposed BCCI president N Srinivasan, the current Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni and Sundar Raman, CEO of the IPL. The drama has now reached a crucial stage and handing over the probe to the Committee could push it towards the final act of the saga that has dominated Indian sports news screen for a long, long time.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the BCCI’s credibility touched an all-time low. The Supreme Court rejected the Board’s suggestions on a three-member inquiry panel, which included former India cricketer and commentator Ravi Shastri, retired judge JN Patel and former director of the CBI RK Raghavan.
It is not known whether JN Patel, a respected judge, had given his consent to be part of the BCCI, but it appears that he is “related” to Shivlal Yadav, the acting president of the Board. This was first brought to everyone’s attention by Union Agriculture Minister and former BCCI chief Sharad Pawar. “Somebody rang me up… saying the BCCI’s interim president Shivlal Yadav and Patel are close relatives. I don’t know him (Patel) personally, but it is his duty to disclose if this news is correct,” said Pawar.
On the inclusion of Shastri, the minister chose his words carefully. “When I was BCCI chief, we signed a contract with him and Sunil Gavaskar. Now, someone says how can a person who has got a financial contract with the BCCI, become part of an inquiry committee of the BCCI chief?” he quipped.
“I have no reservation about Shastri’s integrity or honesty,” he added. “But definitely, anybody can raise the issue. And that is why a sensible person will try to keep away from this (probe panel).”
Shastri has a signed contract with the BCCI as a commentator. That makes him an employee of the Board, and invites criticism on the grounds of conflict of interest.
It seems that Patel’s name was suggested by Shashank Manohar, who was quoted in The Indian Express as saying, “I proposed Justice JN Patel’s name because he’s a man of honesty and integrity. I am not concerned about whether Shivlal Yadav and Justice Patel are close relatives.”
When asked whether Shastri should dissociate himself from the panel, Pawar said, “He has a financial contract (with BCCI). That is not the case with Patel.”
Also, the third member of the panel, RK Raghavan, former director of the CBI, has a link to the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) of which N Srinivasan was elected president for the 12th time in succession in June last year. At the BCCI’s Working Committee, Manohar opposed Raghavan’s name, but it was later passed by a show of hands. Raghavan has been secretary/owner of the Kamyuth Club, a team in the fifth division of the TNCA, and, therefore, has voting rights in the TNCA. Kamyuth is one of the 148 clubs competing in TNCA competitions. There have been reports that Raghavan, who interacted with the Mudgal Committee, had declared to the panel that he knew Srinivasan personally.
When the Cricket Association of Bihar (CAB), the complainant in the case, raised objections to the BCCI panel in the arguments on 22 April, the Supreme Court acted swiftly and rejected the BCCI’s panel and asked Justice Mudgal’s counsel, Gopal Subramaniam, if the Committee was willing to continue the probe. Justice Mudgal has apparently given his consent after speaking to his colleagues and this will be conveyed to the court, when it meets next week.
The court directed the Committee that the panel should return on 29 April with the names of its members and anyone else it needed for the investigation. And the probe committee will have to somehow resolve the issue of the 13 names in the sealed envelope and the depositions of Srinivasan, Dhoni and Raman. There has been speculation on what was said, or not said, by them while speaking to the Committee during its initial probe. The tapes were sought by BCCI’s counsel as proof of what these men said about Gurunath Meiyappan and his role in the Chennai Super Kings. The apex court has asked for them to be submitted to the court registrar.
The tapes will be heard by BCCI nominees and the secretary general of the court will transcribe them. But the court has also warned the BCCI counsel that in case the contents of the tapes are leaked, he would be held in contempt. This stems from the Committee’s counsel, Subramaniam, telling the court that the committee had stopped audio recordings because of a suspicion that they were being leaked. Now it is only a matter of conjecture as to who would be interested in this. The committee set up in October 2013 took a little more than four months and after interviewing 52 people, submitted a detailed report in February 2014. The deposition recordings between 5 November 2013 and 6 January 2014 were to be facilitated by the BCCI, but Subramaniam contended the quality of the recordings and also that they may have been leaked to “outsiders” by the BCCI. Clearly, the committee, the apex court and even the people have little faith in the BCCI.
The past few weeks have revealed that Justice Mudgal and his colleagues were thorough in their investigation, even when they did not have enough support of the BCCI. But now with the Supreme Court also willing to back them with external agencies, this spells more trouble for the Board.
As the man of the moment, Justice Mudgal has his work cut out. He knows the target that has been set and has to pace his innings accordingly. At the same time, he is also like the death-overs bowler, who has to keep bowling his yorkers until the stumps have all been cleaned. The sad part is, this clean-up job should have come from within the BCCI itself.