Politicians of India must answer! Why cricket has lost its glow?/ And what should they know of cricket? Who only politics know?/ The famous and wily netas, and the cricket funds they bag,/ Are found lifting their heads, while lowering the national flag! — with apologies to Rudyard Kipling, “The English Flag”.
Let us sit back and reflect on the clamour for the resignation of two BJP leaders, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. By all accounts, both internal to the ministry and outside, Swaraj has done an outstanding job as foreign minister. Raje has been equally outstanding — what no political leader has tried to date, she has not only attempted but begun to implement, that is, labour reforms.
However, there are calls, led by the normally “silent” Congress party, that the BJP leadership should force the two women to resign (sexism anyone?). What is the “crime” involved that demands resignation? For a lay observer, it seems that the crime is one of guilt by association — of interacting with representatives, especially past representatives, of an organisation called the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India). This organisation has ostensibly the interests of cricket at heart, but for at least the last two decades, the BCCI has been known for palace intrigue, and allegedly for corruption, match-fixing and related scams.
For example, in 1998, when the BCCI had the hallowed status of an NGO (no payment of any income tax with the proviso that the profits made by the BCCI be ploughed back into cricket), one of its premier divisions, the Delhi District Cricket Association, obtained more revenue from selling used liquor bottles than it spent on coaching.
Recently, a judicial committee appointed by the Supreme Court, under the leadership of Justice Mukul Mudgal, concluded, after a long investigation, that then BCCI president N. Srinivasan was guilty of impropriety and conflict of interest because of his joint position as BCCI head and owner of an IPL team, the Chennai Super Kings (CSK). Further, his son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan, was found guilty of fixing CSK matches. No one takes on the BCCI lightly, not even the SC. The punishment for the BCCI for allowing high crimes to flourish under its masthead, a masthead adorned with the names of almost all leading politicians (women not allowed)? That its chairman, Srinivasan, either relinquish his post as president, or relinquish his ownership of CSK. In the murky, all-important and politically connected world that is the BCCI, Srinivasan has had the last laugh. Thumbing his nose at everyone, including the SC, he has transferred the ownership of CSK to a “trust”.
If there is one person who knows about the inner goings on of the BCCI (besides the various politicians of all hues, but primarily from the Congress and the BJP), it is none other than the Indian “fugitive” from justice, Lalit Modi. Recall that helping Lalit Modi is a crime because he is wanted in India for questioning and, according to the Congress, they placed a blue corner notice for him as far back as 2011. A blue corner notice is meant to collect additional information about a person’s identity, location or activities in relation to a crime.
If Lalit Modi is such a wanted criminal — and one who should be under “country arrest” in England and not allowed to travel — why was only a blue corner notice issued by the UPA government, and not a red corner notice, which would mean an arrest on sight? What makes the Congress blackmail bravado of “no resignation, no Parliament” worse is the claim by Lalit Modi that even a blue corner notice was not issued by the UPA!
So what is going on and what do we know with reasonable certainty about what’s happening? In Swaraj’s case, she did not recuse herself from the decision to say “no objection” to the UK government’s request to allow an Indian national, Lalit Modi, to travel outside England. It turns out that even British royalty had no objection to such travels. However, given her personal friendship with Lalit Modi, it does stand to reason that she should have passed over the file to the high commissioner.
In Raje’s case, there seem to be two allegations of “crime”. First, that she wrote a letter in support of Lalit Modi’s application for immigration to the UK. She did so in 2011, when she was a “nobody”, having lost the chief ministership to the Congress’s Ashok Gehlot in 2008. Only a draft of this letter is available, and that too without her signature. However, let us assume the worst-case scenario (from Raje’s viewpoint) — she did sign the letter. So what is the crime?
There is a second issue involving Raje. Her son, Dushyant Singh, was involved in business dealings with Lalit Modi. These dealings happened during the UPA regime (in 2008) and were known to the UPA tax authorities. If the UPA did not find fault with Dushyant’s dealings for six years, what new evidence is there to find his mother guilty?
Members of both principal parties and regional parties have headed the BCCI as well as various state cricket associations, some of them holding office for more than 30 years. One explanation for this unusual occurrence is that netas are involved because the BCCI is a good cash-cow (albeit tainted with adulteration). Another is that netas genuinely know a lot about cricket and have its best interests at heart — in which case, I am both an astrophysicist and Mother Teresa.
In 2013 (‘No sympathy for the devil’, IE, September 7), I had written that Narendra Modi, then a probable prime ministerial candidate, should resign as president of the Gujarat Cricket Association. He should do so in order to reaffirm his non-corrupt status and his dedication to economic development. While Modi did resign after his elevation as PM, he was replaced by none other than the head of the BJP, Amit Shah.
There is an easy solution to the political problem that PM Modi is faced with — a three-step solution that is a win-win for all concerned, including morals, justice and sport. First, that PM Modi set an example to other politicians by making all BJP politicians resign from the BCCI and any of its affiliated bodies. Second, that this procedure be followed with all sports organisations. Third, that he call Lalit Modi back to India for questioning. Let the truth finally be out.
The writer is a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’ and co-author, with Ankur Choudhary, of ‘Criconomics’