The mighty mandarins at BCCI are running scared. Anurag Thakur is shuttling between Delhi and Himachal after apologising to the Supreme Court.
On October 16, 2016, as Umesh Yadav flung to his right at mid-off to complete a stunning catch to send back Corey Anderson, television cameras zoomed on a familiar, dapper, young man in the stands. Anurag Thakur- not a hair out of place, as usual sat in the enviable confines of the world’s highest cricket stadium, Dharamsala, watching through the hazy early winter sunshine his team browbeat New Zealand.
The president of world’s richest cricket board looked happy; he had reasons to be. His boys had spanked the visitors 3-0 in the Test series five days back, they were currently the top Test team in the world, and the country’s premier domestic cricket tournament was underway at neutral venues, something in which world cricket’s arguably most powerful man was believed to have a personal say.
What could possibly go wrong in his citadel? Could there ever be room for trouble in the dreamy, ephemeral story of success he was continuously weaving? Surely, it was an ideal world; it had to be. Just that, some 475 kilometres away, the Supreme Court of India was gearing to kick-off the final act of what had become the courtroom version of a gripping heavyweight bout.
It had been a funny year for Thakur. For someone whose solitary first-class matchwhich he played as a captain, no lesscontinues to be cited as a ready reckoner for obscene opportunism, being elected unopposed as the youngest BCCI president in independent India came as little surprise. While a 16-year administrative experience lent gravitas, what was unmistakable was his dignified stand against N Srinivasan when the latter was proving to be a chairhugging, power-lusting, immovable boulder.
Suave, young and articulate, Thakur was the perfect antithesis to the cagey, craggy old man he had replaced. N Srinivasan and Anurag Thakur though had few traits in common. If the post spot-fixing churn created a chasm, a heady mix of unbridled arrogance and insatiable ambition made them appear similar in more ways than one. In time, the two ‘virtues’ would lay the groundwork for their epitaph.
Twenty-four hours after Thakur was seen at the HPCA Stadium, the Supreme Court was to deliver an order on Lodha’s Committee’s status report that had recommended BCCI office bearers be ‘superseded’ and a group of administrators be appointed to implement the Committee’s suggestions. If he was nervous in Dharamsala, Anurag Thakur did a fine job concealing it. The court reserved its order the next day, but three months later, in a startling reprisal of Lodha Committee’s suggestion, the highest court of the land ended Thakur’s reign, setting in motion the wheels of an unprecedented administrative reshuffle in BCCI’s corridors of power.
The inevitable transpired on the chilly January 2 morning. For BCCI though, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, for the past three Januarys had been bitterly cold for them. While 2015 had begun with the appointment of Lodha panel, a year later, almost to the day, the three-member committee announced its path-breaking recommendations that set the ball rolling for a yearlong slugfest.
Suave, young and articulate, Anurag Thakur was the perfect antithesis to the cagey, craggy old man he had replaced at the helm of affairs, namely N Srinivasan
“We met 74 people over an entire spectrum spanning across BCCI’s current and erstwhile office bearers,” Justice Lodha explains the methodology of his team, that also comprised of retired SC judges Ashok Bhan and R Raveendran.
“We met the BCCI president, secretary, treasurer, everyone. We met senior journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai, lawyers, retired judges like Justice Mukul Mudgal, six former captains Kapil Dev, Bishan Singh Bedi, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, ex-cricketers like Mohinder Amarnath, and also some current cricketers. At that point, Jagmohan Dalmiya was the BCCI president and Anurag Thakur was secretary. We met Ajay Shirke before he became BCCI secretary and after it. We met Shashank Manohar three days before he took charge of BCCI. The idea was to get maximum inputs from all possible stakeholders.”
All this while, and much to its credit, the Indian cricket team, under a new Test skipper, went about conquering new vistas home and away. Teams arrived at Indian shores talking positivity and processes, spin and skill, only to leave scarred, struggling to hold on to the last remnants of respect and reputation.
West Indies were walloped, Kiwis were conquered, and the English were avenged. More than once did India scale the summit of Test rankings; their captain and premier spinner going on to become sources of global envy and admiration. The achievements painted a strange, poignant irony. It was a throwback to 2013, when close on the heels of the spot-fixing scandal, Mahendra Singh Dhoni lifted the Champions Trophy in Edgbaston. The more things turned sticky in court, the more they improved on the field of play.
Few days after Justice Lodha’s recommendations blazed through the early January nip of 2016, Dhoni-led India clean swept Australia in Australia to set the stage for a phenomenal year. In the months to come, he would lead India to the Asia Cup title and World T20 semi-final. Indian Premier League (IPL), the progenitor of the proverbial Original Sin, witnessed Virat Kohli hit batting stratosphere. It was around the same time that Thakur took over the reins of BCCI as his predecessor Shashank Manohar graduated to the ICC top job.
Things began to move rather quickly thereafter, on and off the field. On July 18, the Supreme Court accepted a majority of Lodha Committee suggestions and gave BCCI six months to implement them. The Indian cricket team was in West Indies then, ready to kickstart a long Test season. Three days after Supreme Court’s order, India’s Test skipper Virat Kohli scored the first of his three double tons of the year. At the time of writing, the 28-year-old had surpassed Rahul Dravid and a certain Sir Donald Bradman to become the first man on planet earth to score four double hundreds in as many Test series.
On September 30 that year, India and New Zealand met at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata for the second Test of the threematch series. It was also the deadline for BCCI to adopt Memorandum of Association and Rules. Expectedly, the Board chose to ignore the deadline, besides failing to reach a consensus with regards to implementing Lodha reforms. For the next four days, an enticing duel ensued at the Eden, and an air of expectancy hung around the Supreme Court.
On October 3, fourth day of the Test, India’s 178-run mauling of the visitors took them past Pakistan at the top of ICC Test ranking. The same afternoon, about the same time when Murali Vijay caught Trent Boult off Mohammad Shami to cue wild celebrations in the Indian dressing room, the Supreme Court asked Yes Bank and Bank of Maharashtra not to disburse funds from BCCI accounts to member associations.
Even by the standards of Indian cricket, it was turning out to be an eventful October. Court’s clampdown was a riposte to BCCI’s decision to give Rs.10cr to its full members. Nothing wrong with that, except that the Committee had, on August 31, asked BCCI to take no decision pertaining to its future.
All this while, and much to its credit, the Indian cricket team, under a new Test skipper, went about conquering new vistas home and away
This was, by no means, the first act of defiance by the Board. For the three-month period beginning August, it went on an obfuscation spree, roping in a battery of senior lawyers to stymie the Supreme Court’s July 18 order.
Sample this. On August 2, 2016, BCCI formed a Justice (retd) Markandey Katjuled legal panel as a single contact point for the case. Six days later- a day before Kohli & Co. were to take the field against West Indies in Gros Islet- the Board announced to file a review petition against the SC order. In between, on August 7, Justice Katju called the SC order “illegal”. On August 16, BCCI filed a review petition, besides calling the then Chief Justice of India Justice TS Thakur- who headed the two-member bench that passed the July 18 order- a man with “prejudiced approach.”
“With board officials, the discussions revolved around the points mentioned in our questionnaire,” Justice Lodha remembers.
“They answered what they wanted to; there were some questions that they did not answer. But their defiance surfaced only after SC’s July 18 order.”
In a span of 10 days, BCCI’s legal experts had attacked both the court and the CJI in the most vicious terms possible. Such was the ferocity of the attack that it left even the Lodha Committee stunned. Justice Lodha told this correspondent that BCCI’s stonewalling was “disgusting.”
“BCCI’s defiance was not just surprising, it was disgusting,” Lodha said.
“After we gave our recommendations on January 4, 2016, they went to the Supreme Court. The SC accepted most of our recommendations, and they (recommendations), by way of Court’s seal of approval on July 18, 2016, became an order of the court. We never expected SC’s order could be defied. Therefore, it was disgusting.”
BCCI’s no holds barred barrage of impunity was astounding. It was not defiance alone; the entire reaction reeked of arrogance and a sense of classist, hedonistic elitism that ceased to recognise the existence of dissent, denial and dialogue.
In all fairness, expecting a milder reaction from Justice Katju is an exercise in futility. The former Press Council of India chairman is known to speak his mind, and his scathing views on everything- from Pakistan to homosexuality- make him perhaps the most recognised legal face on Indian television and social media chat rooms. A less confrontational stance, however, would have helped.
“All I can say is that was quite unfortunate,” Justice Lodha said of Justice Katju’s comments.
On September 10, a crowd of over 5,000 descended on Shaheed Vijay Singh Pathik Cricket Stadium in Greater Noida, some 65 kilometres from the national capital. It was the final of Duleep Trophy, India’s domestic cricket season’s curtain-raiser, being played for the first time under artificial lights with the pink ball. However, for the scores of journalists who had gathered in the press box, the on-field action was perhaps of least importance.
Anurag Thakur was due anytime, and the byte-hungry hacks would have given an arm to know his mind. It was an unusually sunny afternoon in the midst of a long and productive monsoon, but that did little to improve the gloom in the BCCI think tank.
Buzz was that Thakur, and BCCI, were unhappy with ‘their man’ at ICC. The Indian board, the big bully of world cricket, had found no representation in ICC’s finance committee, and the perceived slight had not gone down too well with the big boys. BCCI secretary Ajay Shirke had threatened to pull out from this year’s
In a span of 10 days, BCCI’s legal experts had attacked both the Honourable Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of India in the most vicious terms possible
Champions Trophy, and several board officials had suggested that ICC was not working in India’s interests. Trouble was already brewing over ICC chief Shashank Manohar’s insistence on doing away with the Big Three model that guaranteed BCCI a major chunk of ICC’s revenue. Manohar, known to be a man of upright dignity and high personal propriety, said his job is to protect the interests of 105 member nations and not BCCI. The stage was set.
Thakur arrived in the press room shortly before India Blue and India Red the finalists took the field, and launched into a tireless tirade that stopped short of calling Manohar a traitor.
“Plenty of members felt that Manohar left just when he was needed in the Board. When BCCI wanted to seek his help, he wasn’t ready to come forward. What he is today is because of BCCI and right now he is working against the interest of Indian cricket,” Thakur began. “It doesn’t matter if I am disappointed or not. I have to convey the feelings of the members today.
When the board needed him, Shashank left the sinking ship. BCCI being the global leader, we look after global issues as well, we want to look through comparison as well,” he continued, before setting off on a self-congratulatory trip.
When asked about the Lodha-BCCI standoff, Thakur said, “You will get to know everything after the AGM. Its agenda has been circulated and it will be held as scheduled. Once the AGM is held, and the agenda is implemented, we will circulate detailed press note.”
On September 21, BCCI held its 87th AGM in Mumbai, and conveniently ignored some of Lodha Committee’s suggestions. It announced a fresh, five-member panel of selectors headed by former India wicketkeeper MSK Prasad. However, in doing so, the board overstepped Lodha panel’s diktat of a three-member selection committee, with each member being a former Test cricketer. Gagan Khoda and Jatin Paranjpe, two of the five newlyappointed national selectors, had not played Test cricket.
On September 21, BCCI held its 87th Annual General Meeting in Mumbai, and conveniently ignored many of Lodha Committee’s suggestions
In the interim, murmurs began that Thakur, in an attempt to wrong-foot the Supreme Court, had asked Manohar during the ICC governance review meeting (August 6 and 7) in Dubai to write to him, calling the inclusion of nominee from CAG’s office to the suggested apex council an act of ‘governmental interference’ which may, as per ICC’s constitution, lead to BCCI’s suspension. Thakur’s move was attested by ICC’s chief executive David Richardson, who appeared on an Indian news channel to confirm the ‘verbal’ request.
Six days after its AGM, BCCI filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, requesting that its July 18 order be suspended until the court hears its review petition. The gloves were off. Lodha Committee responded by asking SC to supersede BCCI top brass and replace the office bearers, with immediate effect, with a panel of administrators. The court, while giving BCCI one week to respond, warned, “BCCI thinks it is law unto itself. We know how to get our orders implemented. BCCI thinks it is the lord. You better fall in line or we will make you fall in line. The conduct of the BCCI is in poor taste.”
That, however, did little to alter the smugness of the Board, as it not only missed the September 30 deadline, but also agreed to selectively implement some reforms.
“We were asked (by the court) to fix timelines. We met the board officials. The president did not turn up, but the secretary (Ajay Shirke) came. Gradually, we realised they are not serious about the reforms. It was disgusting because the orders had come from the highest court of the land,” Justice Lodha told this magazine.
On October 7, the court asked Thakur to file a personal affidavit on lobbying for ICC’s intervention. The same day, board’s general manager of game development Ratnakar Shetty, in his affidavit, denied approaching the ICC. In his response, filed 10 days later, Thakur said he only sought a ‘clarification’ from Manohar whose views were not dissimilar to Thakur’s when the former headed the BCCI.
“I pointed out to the Chairman of the ICC, Mr Shashank Manohar that, when he was President of BCCI, he had taken a view that the recommendations of the Justice Lodha committee appointing the nominee of the CAG on the Apex Council would amount to governmental interference, and might invoke an action of suspension from ICC,” Thakur said in his affidavit. “I therefore requested him that, being the ICC Chairman, can a letter be issued clarifying the position which he had taken as BCCI President.” The court deferred its hearing to October 17, which was further adjourned to December 5, December 9 and December 14.
On December 15, Chief Justice of India TS Thakur finally broke the deadlock. “Prima facie it seems that Anurag Thakur has perjured and lied under oath because of the letter to Manohar. It is a case of prosecution,” he told the packed courtroom.
“You had no occasion to approach Manohar. Where was the occasion to raise the issue once we had pronounced on this. This amounts to perjury,” the court told KapilSibal, senior lawyer and Congressman, Thakur’s political foe but a friend in need who took SC’s bullets for him.
The epilogue arrived on January 2, almost poetically to the day when Lodha Committee had tabled its recommendations. A day before he was to hang his robes after 45 years of immaculate practice, Justice TS Thakur removed Anurag Thakur and Ajay Shirke. The coup d’état had been served.
Justice Lodha, the man who once hogged headlines for calling Central Bureau of Investigation a “caged parrot”, had tamed the Goliath. His reaction was that of a man who had seen the future. “This is the logical consequence. Once the recommendations were accepted by the court, it had to be implemented. There were obstructions, there were impediments …obviously, this had to happen, and it has happened,” he said at the time.
The decision could have come as far back as September 28. The apex court’s multiple warnings made for catchy headlines, but did little to coax the board to budge. The BCCI mandarins chose to burn the long rope extended to them; it wouldn’t be too out of place to suggest they hung it around their necks like an old-fashioned noose. Anurag Thakur, however, had lost not an ounce of his pride, or so he suggested. He chose not to answer the journalists, opting instead to release a video statement that captured the inexplicable, ingratiating smugness his office seems to have imbibed.
Justice Lodha, the man who once hogged headlines for famously calling Central Bureau of Investigation a “caged parrot”, had tamed the Goliath
“I respect the honourable Supreme Court, as any citizen should. If Hon’ble Supreme Court judges feel that BCCI could do better under retired judges, I wish them all the best,” he said. He didn’t wish to talk to us for this story.
On February 10, Thakur filed an affidavit in the SC, offering “unconditional and unequivocal” apology in response to court’s notice over prima facie perjury charges. That proposition had appeared highly improbable in August-September of 2016.
It’s over a month since the Supreme Court’s verdict, but the embers of the Board’s defiant firefighting may smoulder for a while. Thakur’s Twitter timeline reveals intermittent visits to Himachal Pradesh, his home state. There are odd tweets congratulating the Indian men’s and blind cricket teams, but the feed is generally dotted with passionate endorsement of the Prime Minister, his policies and programmes.
Erstwhile BCCI secretary Ajay Shirke is keeping a low profile, and is reportedly writing a tell-all book. In all likelihood, the duel has left them with bruised egos and battered ambitions, and while hindsight is an unfair advantage to have, one can suggest that a bit of pragmatism could have saved them a fair share of public pounding.
“Every Indian is passionate about cricket. People were able to interpret what we were trying to do. We were trying to bring best practices of governance- like one state one vote, age cap etc. – to the country’s cricket administration. In that context, I would say it’s quite an important report,” Justice Lodha said, when asked to comment on the historic significance of his labour.
Court cases in India are a long drawn study in tedium. Litigation tends to drag endlessly, testing a petitioner’s will and wallet. What started as an investigation into the IPL spot-fixing saga in the heat and dust of 2013, developed into a full blown spring cleaning exercise. Having given his all in the fight against the highest seat of law in the country, Anurag Thakur, who once cut a righteous figure after refusing to side with the N Srinivasan camp, awaits his turn while shuttling between Delhi and Himachal. Who would have thought?
Will Vinod Rai and his team be able to re-auction the IPL teams and do justice to Indians who have been taken for a royal ride?
Fake tenders, under-the-table bribes, money laundering and distribution of licences to a select bunch of predecided people at whims and fancies. No we aren’t talking about the 2G spectrum scam or the 2010 Commonwealth scam. We are talking about cricket and more specifically the great IPL scam.
Vinod Rai is a man who is honest to the last core. He is totally against privatisation of national resources through unfair means and has shown that he means business while exposing the massive Telecom and Commonwealth scams. He has a chance to repeat history. And this time with another equally national property – cricket.
Let’s go back a bit in time. It all began with the flamboyant Lalit Modi. Yes the same poor Lalit Modi. He went a little too fast with his scam and partied a little too hard in front of public eyes. As per a confidential income tax report, he bought a luxury yacht, a private jet, a fleet of Mercedes S-class cars and what not! All in the three years post-launching IPL! He gave every possible deal to do with IPL to his relatives and family and friends or to people whom he owed money – so that they don’t come behind him. Again, this is as per that report which came out in The Economic Times. More, he took personal stakes in disguise in three of the IPL teams and is supposed to have been himself involved in fixing the outcomes of IPL matches along with a prominent Page 3 personality; again according to the same report.
He is linked to Betfair – a UK firm that runs one of the world’s largest betting syndicates on the internet – and is helping it to enter the casino and hospitality business in India! This is what the Income Tax Department scooped out from Lalit Modi’s email box. And all this an unbelievable seven years back. But then the government didn’t take any action till Lalit Modi in his stupidity tried to publicly challenge Shashi Tharoor because Tharoor gate-crashed into Modi’s IPL party while he wanted to give that franchise to another big industrial house along with a couple of more film stars! And then Tharoor broke free and brought in the counter-allegations, which everyone knew about but was maintaining the conspiracy of silence hoping to join the party at the right time. Of course, a number of government people were involved!
But this is what you all almost already know by now. This is not what we at TSI want to elaborate upon. The bigger issue is something else. This is not something new. It’s something that is happening in India all the time. Ever since Independence, our focus has been to privatise every public good available through unfair means to allow private businessmen to profit, and in the process helping government middlemen make money. Sports in India is a public good. Cricket is a national craze. Then, is it fair to privatise this activity, is the bigger question in hand. Well, truthfully speaking, I am not against privatising sports. Worldwide privatisation of sports has helped nurture and encourage sports at a local level and bring in amazing talent. A case in point is the European football clubs, the British premier leagues. It’s the working-class people whose children are the star players today; kids from the streets getting into the various clubs and making it big regularly. Club games and such leagues necessarily promote sports and encourage fresh talent. So privatising sports – especially cricket which Indians are so passionate about – is not a bad idea. And there is hardly any encouragement. But what is wrong is privatising it through a coterie and distributing it amongst themselves. Cricket is nobody’s father’s property. No one has the right to privatise it and distribute it between friends and family. It has to fairly go to the best bidders, because it is guaranteed money and valuations. Readers of this magazine will remember when IPL franchises were distributed, we had written that there surely is an unfair play.
Many of the franchise owners couldn’t have surely afforded the teams on merit and fair auction. It clearly seemed here was a man, Lalit Modi, and he wanted to please some Bollywood and industrialist friends and decided to play an incestuous game out of the nation’s passion sport and collectively make money, thanks to BCCI being a private society where almost anything could be done. Of course, we then came to know that people who supposedly paid Rs. 300 crores for a team never actually paid it. They had to pay it in a span of 10 years a paltry sum of Rs. 30 crores every year. That’s only Rs. 2.5 crores per month. That too we doubt how many people had to actually pay. For it was decided that all the central sponsorship money and central revenues earned from IPL by BCCI would be divided in a particular ratio and distributed amongst the franchise holders. And it ran into a few hundred crores. So there is all probability that if the due to the franchisee from central collections was say Rs. 25 crores in a year, the franchise owner actually only paid Rs. 5 crores – the differential because Rs. 25 crores came to them from their share of central sponsorship moneys! This paltry Rs. 5 crores also in fact got divided amongst a few partners per team. So, of course, that’s how all of Modi’s Bollywood friends and family could afford it! Mind you this calculation is assuming the teams could raise no team sponsors on their own, which was not the case. So against a due of say Rs. 30 crores they probably paid a fraction post-adjustments of their share from central revenues earned (which they were almost guaranteed from day one); and this fraction that they paid in reality too was earned from the individual sponsors etc. of the teams. So from day one everyone only earned. No one paid. Of course apart from the ones who were fooled and made to pay hefty sums later on, like Sahara.
And, this is not an exception. Look at mining licences in India. Look at the way top oil companies have done all the researches, identified the oilfields and then instead of digging for oil, closed it saying there is no oil. And secretly sold the reports to private players, who then suddenly reach the fields, discover hidden oil like magic and make millions! Or look at the way government would take over failed companies through BIFR and then sell assets worth ten times at a tenth of the value and take kickbacks in return.
So at every given moment, we have done bigger scams than IPL ever since Independence. And done it shamelessly. That’s India. Privatise all profits and nationalise all losses. Every public property which can yield money, distribute it between a select coterie, fool the public and enrich a few.
To undo the IPL scam, what we must do minimum is to take away all the franchises given unfairly – including those given out in the first round of auctions – through nepotism because cricket belongs to the nation and not to private individuals; and re-auction them again fairly where those who want to own franchises and make money pay the real value of the franchise. And see to it that such shameful privatisation of everything public through unfair means should stop with immediate effect. Otherwise, we will only have more and more of BPL (below the poverty line) while IPLs and such similar scams keep thriving.
The question is will Vinod Rai be able to do it again with cricket what he did with Telecom spectrum rights and take away all the franchises and re-auction them again at fair market prices?