Why Rajeev Shukla?
The IPL Chairman, a BCCI old-hand and a Congress politician with friends in high places and across parties, Rajeev Shukla is an important voice this T20 season, which also coincides with a big churning on within cricket. From ordering the rescheduling of IPL matches to redrawing India’s cricketing landscape, the courts have been tough on the BCCI. Still, in these times of uncertainty, if there is someone equipped to survive and find a place in the BCCI’s new template, it is Shukla with his Capital connections.
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: Questions were raised over hosting IPL matches in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh at a time when the states and the country are battling a huge water crisis. What is your opinion on the stand taken by the courts on this?
It is a huge problem for us. Moving from one venue to another is a difficult task — equipment needs to be moved, tickets have to be printed, there is publicity to be taken care of. It is equally bad for franchises. But we have to live in the system prevailing in the country. (Last month, the Bombay High Court directed the BCCI to shift all IPL matches, from April 30 onwards, out of Maharashtra.)
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Most of these PILs are publicity stunts. The problem is much, much bigger. Just by shifting six matches, I don’t think one can resolve the drought situation or water crisis in Maharashtra.
Those stadiums from where the matches have been shifted continue to be watered because it is a year-round process. No stadium can be maintained without being watered. People who are serious about the water crisis should look at long-term solutions such as constructing more dams, de-silting existing dams, building more tubewells in Marathwada and Vidarbha.
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: Do you think these decisions have to do with the perception regarding IPL, given the negative publicity it has received over the years? There was some talk about shifting IPL outside the country. Is that a serious consideration or just a threat?
IPL has virtually become a punching bag. Last month, Maharashtra hosted 24 World T20 matches. Same amount of water was used. The arrangements were the same. But nobody raised a single question against it. As soon as it was over, the IPL issue was raised and people filed PILs. Every year during the IPL season, even a small issue becomes big. It could be because of television, for the sake of TRPs, every small issue linked to the IPL is highlighted.
As far as shifting IPL outside the country is concerned, the board’s secretary has raised the issue with the governing council. Right now, we are focusing on the current season, IPL 9. Once this is over, the council will ponder over it. But IPL is an Indian brand. I think this is the only global sports brand that is telecast in 182 countries. After FIFA, BCCI is the biggest sports organisation. Building an organisation is very difficult, it takes decades. But destroying one takes very little time.
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: Very soon the Supreme Court will give its judgment on the recommendations of the Justice Lodha panel. What is the mood within the BCCI?
We are keeping our fingers crossed. We will go by what the Supreme Court judgment says. (The Supreme Court is hearing the BCCI’s appeal against the recommendations of the Justice Lodha panel, formed after the IPL match-fixing scandal in 2013).
But there are certain recommendations of the panel that are not practical. Take for example, the advertisement clause (Only during breaks taken by both teams for drinks, lunch and tea can the broadcast be interrupted for advertisements). It cannot be implemented because by implementing it, the BCCI will become the poorest board in the world.
Then there is the issue of state associations. There are some states, such as Gujarat and Maharashtra, that have actually helped build cricket in India, and that is why associations in these states have been recognised. There are certain states, such as some in the Northeast, where it is difficult to find even 12 Ranji players. There is no infrastructure in these states. So giving them full status is a problem.
States that have been organising cricket for over 75 years, if they are deprived, it will be injustice.
We have agreed to implement 80 per cent of the Lodha panel’s recommendations, the Supreme Court has to look into the remaining 20 per cent.
DAKSH PANWAR: Do you feel the BCCI is being victimised?
The only feeling in the BCCI right now is that even though we are doing so much for cricket, it is not being taken into account. We are organising 55,000 matches every year, it is not easy. Earlier, there were just five stadiums — Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Kanpur. Today, we have 22 venues and the numbers are increasing. We are building infrastructure and domestic cricket is being strengthened. At the international level, we have been world champions thrice (2 ODIs and 1 T20).
There are benefits for the players too. Ours is probably the only sports body in the world that gives pension to its former players. We also give money to former players who suffer from terminal diseases.
ANANT GOENKA: Is the sheer wealth of the BCCI one of the reasons for the victimisation?
Is that a reason to envy it? In fact, people should take pride in it. Unlike certain other sports organisations in the country, we haven’t asked the government for a single rupee, and yet, we are number two in the world. We don’t get any government grants and we still pay Rs 2,500 crore as taxes. If people are still upset with it (the BCCI), what can I do?
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: It is very difficult for an outsider to get into a state unit, considering the way they function. Some people have been part of these units for ages. This was one of the Supreme Court’s observations as well.
These people have contributed immensely to state associations. That’s why they (state unit members) are where they are. But if the court says people should be in a position for a fixed tenure, I don’t mind.
COOMI KAPOOR: Why are so many cricket bodies controlled by politicians?
Politicians are not from another planet. They come from different walks of life. A politician can be a judge, and a judge a politician. Why can’t a politician go back to his original profession? How does it matter? This is a wrong argument. What category do I fall under? I was a journalist for 22 years before I entered politics. Tomorrow, I may go back to journalism. Those who are committed to developing the game, who really want to do something, there is nothing wrong in such people joining sports organisations.
There are, maybe, six associations that have politicians on their boards. What about the 23 other associations without politicians? Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath were in the Karnataka Cricket Association. In Delhi, Chetan Chauhan is the president. Sourav Ganguly is the president of the cricket association in Bengal.
MIHIR VASAVDA: Do you think the IPL brand became too big for the BCCI to handle?
No, I don’t think so, it can easily be handled. This is my fourth year as IPL chairman. Yes, IPL is a global brand and it has massive viewership. It also gets the maximum number of hits on social media. It is a global product which can be made bigger. We are working on taking it overseas next year. We are also thinking of launching a tier-2 IPL.
MIHIR VASAVDA: Anurag Thakur proposed 10-year jail term for match fixers. Something similar was proposed in 2013 as well.
There is no space for match-fixing in cricket. Whoever does it should be brought to book and severe punishment should be given to them. The government should enact a law. The BCCI is doing its best to curb such instances. We are not the police, we don’t have the power to place everyone under surveillance or pursue cases. Our director, Neeraj Kumar, has acquired expertise in such cases. Both the Hansie Cronje episode (2000) and the Sreesanth incident (2013) were investigated by Neeraj Kumar. He heads the anti-corruption unit at the BCCI. We also have people from the ICC. These are internal arrangements. For external arrangements, we are in conversation with the Mumbai Police. However, thousands of people are involved in IPL, we can’t find out who is doing what in his hotel room.
AVISHEK G DASTIDAR: Television is very important to the IPL business model. What do you have to say, as an administrator, about the sudden removal of a popular commentator like Harsha Bhogle?
Well, it is for the BCCI to decide who should or should not be the commentator. (Harsha Bhogle was removed from the IPL commentary team last month). For so many years he (Harsha Bhogle) was a commentator and no questions were asked. Is it necessary that a particular individual should always be there? Some people deserve rest after doing continuous commentary for so long.
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: But why should the BCCI get involved in TV production? Wouldn’t the objectivity of the commentator be lost by doing this? For example, after Sreesanth was arrested, there was not even a word on the issue the next day.
Well, a commentator’s job is to comment on what is happening on the ground. Otherwise, they keep writing columns, they can always express their views on outside forums. Have a panel discussion, there is enough of that in the country.
SHEELA BHATT: Will Priyanka Gandhi be the Congress’ s chief minister candidate in Uttar Pradesh?
This issue should be left to the Gandhi family.
MANOJ C G: Prashant Kishor feels a Gandhi family name or even someone such as Sheila Dikshit would help the Congress revive in the state.
He (Prashant Kishor) is working hard. It’s purely up to the Gandhi family to decide (on the CM candidate). The party high command will take a decision on Kishor’s advice.
SHEELA BHATT: What are the fundamental problems of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh?
I think the fundamental problem is weak organisation. I am equally responsible for it. For the last two decades, the organisation has depleted. There should be more workers at the grassroots, block and district levels.
LIZ MATHEW: What caste calculations are you banking on for a revival in UP?
The Congress is for everyone — all castes, creed and religion. So I want a combination of all castes, all segments of society to vote for the Congress. There are suggestions that in UP there should be a combination of upper castes and Dalits and Muslims. The OBCs will also vote for the Congress, they should also be taken along. All sections should be taken along to ensure the party grows.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: How involved is Rahul Gandhi in the governments of states where the Congress is in power?
He is doing what a party leader should be doing. He is advising them on how the life of the people can be improved, how people can be helped. He is shouldering the organisational responsibility.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: Some leaders who have left your party recently have said that they tried to get their problems across to the Congress leadership in the state, but failed. This happened in Assam and Uttarakhand. Where do you think your leadership is lacking?
Our leaders give equal opportunity to everyone. There should not be factional politics in any state. Still, if an individual’s ambition is higher than the party’s ideology and decision, then it can’t be helped. The leadership is quite accessible.
SHEELA BHATT: What is your view on the charges made against Arun Jaitley by the AAP government regarding cricket administration in Delhi?
Those are just allegations. There is no evidence. I think Arun Jaitley did a wonderful job as president of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA). His contribution to Indian cricket as the BCCI vice-president and as DDCA president must be admired and appreciated.
MIHIR VASAVDA: As a Congress leader, you go all out against BJP members. But there is a change in your position while talking about a BCCI colleague from the rival party.
There are no party lines in cricket. As Gujarat CM, Narendra Modi also attended many working committee meetings, Amit Shah attended too. The BCCI has people from other parties as well. Our focus is on cricket and on how to improve the game.
COOMI KAPOOR: As a politician you have very good friendships with leaders across party lines.
In politics, there is no room for personal enmity. There can and should be ideological differences and difference of opinion, and you should remain loyal to your party. Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru always maintained this. If you advocate personal enmity, then you are doing a wrong to Indian politics. Personal relationships are different and working for the party and espousing its cause and ideology is different. There are many such people, not just me.
SHEELA BHATT: What do you think has not worked for the Modi government in its two years in power?
The core issue is that they have not implemented all the promises they made before the elections. Nothing has been fulfilled. On the day Modi came to power, I told a news channel that he has won because he promised people that he will give them Venus, Mars, the Sun and the Moon, basically everything. Now we have to see if he can deliver all these things.
ASHUTOSH BHARDWAJ: Does anyone in the Congress ever discuss the idea that Rahul Gandhi might not be the most appropriate person to lead the party at the moment?
I think everyone in the party thinks he is the most appropriate person to lead the party. For one, he has built the organisation. He rejuvenated the NSUI. New cadres have been recruited. Secondly, his focus is on the aam aadmi and weaker sections of society. He really cares for them. Third, he is the only politician who has undertaken tours to every nook and corner of the country, he has visited villages and has listened to problems of the downtrodden. Fourth, he is very well-read. You can talk to him on any subject for hours. He can talk about global issues as well — he has been abroad, studied there. So I think he is well-qualified.
SHAILAJA BAJPAI: Can you tell us about the background of appointing a cricket director instead of a coach. Is this going to be the way forward?
When our coach resigned just as we were deciding our schedule for Bangladesh, we started to look for a permanent coach. Due to paucity of time, we couldn’t find a good coach. Jagmohan Dalmia had constituted the advisory committee with cricketers such as Sachin Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly on it. The committee needed some time to find a person, because they had to speak to international players. They had to consult the captains as well. As there was no time, we appointed Mr Ravi Shastri and he immediately agreed to become the director. He did a good job. So we decided that he should continue till T20. The T20 tournament has just ended and IPL has begun. Then we have the bilateral series. In between, there may be a coach. Whether he is an Indian or a foreigner, it will be decided.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: You backed Sachin Tendulkar’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha. But he has spoken for hardly more than five minutes in the House. So why bring him to Parliament?
When you pick people for the Rajya Sabha, you look at their stature. There was talk about the absence of a person from cricket in the Rajya Sabha. When you think of cricket, Sachin Tendulkar’s name comes up first. So we chose him and recommended his name to the President, and it was up to him to decide. The President accepted his name happily. We are not astrologers, how can we predict if a person is going to attend Parliament or not? It is up to the individual.
MANOJ C G: When the hawala scandal broke out in mid-’90s, L K Advani, Sharad Yadav, they all resigned because their initials appeared in the Jain brothers’ dairy. Given that there are references to the ‘family’ and initials such as ‘AP’ in a middleman’s note in the AgustaWestland scam, shouldn’t there be a symbolic gesture from your leadership?
No, I think it will set a wrong precedent. Anybody can write any initial. And on that basis if you punish someone, it will be a wrong practice. And in this case, the judge himself said that there is no evidence against them. The high court judgment in the hawala case had also made it very clear that initials do not matter as far as legal proceedings are concerned.
Transcribed by Nikitha Phyllis & Harikrishnan Nair