In mid-2013, the BCCI appointed a couple of judges to probe the spot-fixing scandal. With 2016 fading out fast, Justice T.S. Thakur flanked by a Supreme Court judge on each side, will once again throw its searching stare at the cricket body. This unrelenting judicial gaze on the country’s most popular sport has made this the most-watched, long-running court drama. Since each court episode ends with more questions it takes the case further away from closure.
The BCCI’s stubbornness and SC’s caution are the two clear reasons for this slow drag. Both these reactions are disturbing. In the past, the BCCI has famously bullied its way around at the ICC, gone against the government’s diktat by taking the IPL abroad but still the SC defiance can easily be rated as the BCCI’s most outrageous daredevilry. The driving force behind the BCCI’s stand is its president, Anurag Thakur, one of the most visible and audible MPs in Parliament and youth president of the BJP. There is a general feeling within the board that if the BCCI had a businessman, read N. Srinivasan, or a lawyer, Shashank Manohar, at the helm instead of Anurag Thakur, the script would have been different. On the other hand the buzz outside court no 1, where the cricket case has been debated for close to three years now, insinuates that had there been a more submissive president of rather apologetic board, the judges would have thought of taking a middle path and not insisted on reform. The prevailing political climate, the fierce fight between the executive and judiciary over the doctrine of the separation of powers, makes this a cricket case whose boundary extends well beyond the stadium premises.
The reforms recommended by the Lodha panel, which if followed in toto, would mean most BCCI officials, including Anurag Thakur, will have to say goodbye to cricket administration, that powerful position of authority with unparalleled perks and unmatched influence. As expected, they aren’t dutifully bowing out. The court, now has the unenviable job of making the BCCI change its constitution, push the well-entrenched old hands out of power and put in place a fresh system. It needs to do all this without being seen as interfering in the internal matters of an autonomous body or crossing the lakshman rekha that it considers sacrosanct.
In hindsight, it can be said that the BCCI should have been more receptive and the SC more pragmatic. But this isn’t about that. It’s the fear that the time that the best judicial brains have invested might go waste. Till date seven present and former Supreme Court judges including two CJIs have lent their wisdom to streamline the board. The case has been argued by the country’s most sought-after lawyers.
The BCCI has its own escape route worked out. Officials whisper about Justice Thakur’s retirement date early next month. They also talk about the sports act — that many “politician cum cricketer administrators” in Parliament are planning to push — which will overwrite every reform that the Lodha committee recommends. Besides, there have been plans to circumvent the new ecosystem. Heard about Lalit Modi’s 22-year-old son becoming the Alwar district president and rumours of him being the next Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) president. Mind you, the RCA was the first to embrace Lodha’s reforms that promised transparency and the end of conflict of interest. Reports of wives of old-standing officials taking sudden interest in cricket administration and increasing importance of subservient Man Fridays are emerging from cricket associations across the country.
Once during a heated hearing, the CJI lost his cool as he asked the BCCI lawyer, Kapil Sibal, to given an undertaking that the board will follow all reforms. To stress the importance of the SC’s time, he said, “Do you know how many people are in jail, waiting to be heard by this court?” It was an eye-opener. It’s been a while, this needs to end.