In many ways, Arun Jaitley is the Manmohan Singh of the BJP. Like Singh, he was a successful and much-admired professional before he became a member of Parliament and Union minister. Like Singh, he has a calm demeanour, and friends across the political spectrum. Like Singh, he sees the Rajya Sabha as his natural parliamentary home — like him again, he was once persuaded to fight a Lok Sabha election and lost, confirming the aptness of his own preferred choice. Finally, like Singh, Jaitley has a reputation for honesty and probity.
These comparisons are strengthened by the recent controversies that Jaitley has found himself in. In the 10 years that he was prime minister, Manmohan Singh retained his individual reputation for integrity. No one could accuse him of having diverted a single paisa of public funds for personal use. However, all around him, nepotism and cronyism flourished. In 2011-12, as the corruption scandals gathered force, the PM came increasingly under the scanner, not because he was personally involved, but because he was head of a cabinet some of whose members were seen as having a hand in the till.
It has been claimed that the UPA government of 2004-14 was the most corrupt in the history of independent India. And it is widely known in cricketing circles that, even when judged by the lamentably poor standards of our sporting bodies in general, the Delhi and District Cricket Association has been deeply mired in cronyism, nepotism and corruption. It is among the worst managed cricket associations in India.
No evidence has thus far emerged that, in his long tenure as DDCA president, Jaitley financially benefited from the various scams the association is now accused of. Yet all around him, men in the DDCA were on the make, on the take. If Singh could not escape culpability or responsibility for the misdeeds of A. Raja, S. Kalmadi, et al, can Jaitley entirely escape culpability or responsibility for those charged with allowing these reported instances of malfeasance in the DDCA? If the buck for the misdeeds of Union ministers stops with the PM, surely the buck for the misdeeds of the DDCA’s officials stops with the DDCA president?
The campaign against corruption in the DDCA has been led by the now-suspended BJP MP, Kirti Azad. At Azad’s side has been a far greater cricketer, Bishan Singh Bedi. Younger readers may need reminding that apart from the Tests and series he once won for India, Bedi was almost single-handedly responsible for making Delhi a cricketing powerhouse. Before Bedi became captain of Delhi, it had never won the Ranji Trophy. Under his leadership, it won the trophy twice in three years; later, led by some of the younger cricketers he nurtured (including Azad), it won a further four times. Between 1978 and 1992, Delhi won the Ranji Trophy six times. Between 1993 and 2015, it won only once. For much of the latter period, Jaitley was DDCA president. As the trophies have become scarce, the corruption and nepotism have grown, a connection that has been visible to many cricket lovers, Bedi included. Among Indian cricketers past and present, Bedi stands out for the courage of his convictions. Nothing and no one can cow him down. That he now stands beside Azad is telling.
The DDCA is a constituent unit of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Jaitley was also active in the BCCI, serving as its vice president for several years. That means that he was, in an organisational sense, also involved with the Indian Premier League, whose own record of nepotism, cronyism and corruption puts the DDCA’s misdeeds in the shade. Jaitley knew of, and condoned, N. Srinivasan serving as BCCI president and yet owning an IPL team; he knew of, and condoned, an IPL franchise being run by a man (Vijay Mallya) who had massively defaulted to public-sector banks and had not paid salaries to his own employees, driving them to despair if not destitution.
In 2009, when the BJP looked down and out, after their humiliating defeat in the general election of that year, it seems that one of Jaitley’s remaining ambitions was to become BCCI president. Indeed, as this paper reported (‘BCCI Constitution altered for Arun Jaitley not N. Srinivasan: Shashank Manohar’, September 13, goo.gl/vrcx0j), in 2012 the BCCI constitution was altered to permit Jaitley to become a presidential candidate from the East Zone, rather than his own North Zone. Shortly afterwards, Narendra Modi made public his desire to become PM. Jaitley was a long-time friend and advisor of Modi; now, he redirected his attention away from cricket, and back to politics. Where he had once merely hoped to become BCCI president, Jaitley became finance minister instead.
In the election campaign of 2013-14, Modi promised: Na khaoonga, na khané doonga. This was a clear reference to Singh’s claim, or defence, that he was himself scrupulously clean. The line unspoken by Modi was: Dr saab né khud nahi khaya, lekin unhoné apné sathiyon ko khané diya. These lines now seem to apply directly to Jaitley, except that the frame of reference here is not the government of India but the DDCA. I myself do not think Jaitley has to resign from his present post. The DDCA is a private body, not an arm of the government. The oversight or complicity he is charged with happened under his watch as DDCA president, not as finance minister. That said, as with Singh and 2G/ 3G/ CWG, Jaitley’s reputation will never be the same again. Before the CBI raid on the Delhi Secretariat, the misdoings of the DDCA were known only to those who follow cricket closely. Now they are a matter of intense, and increasingly acrimonious, public debate.
In a profile of the finance minister (‘How Arun Jaitley ignored corruption in the DDCA during his tenure as its president’, goo.gl/aV7p9x), The Caravan quoted a friend of his as saying that Jaitley loved the “social cachet” that came with being DDCA president and BCCI vice president, sitting alongside the rich and famous, his beaming face televised across the land. That vanity has now exacted a cost, with Jaitley’s cricketing past coming back to haunt his political present.