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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

PS Narasimha: The Negotiator

The BCCI was told to reform and set its house in order. Stubborn officials reluctant to shed the old order, multiple interpretations of court judgements and various stakeholders pulling in different directions made it a long-drawn legal battle. PS Narasimha, the Amicus Curiae, was the key that unlocked the gridlock. The Indian Express on how the tide turned.

Written by Nihal Koshie , Sandeep Dwivedi |
Updated: November 3, 2019 6:55:19 pm
Supreme Court-appointed Amicus Curiae PS Narasimha at his office in Sundar Nagar in New Delhi. (Express Photo)

It was only after a truck-load of papers detailing BCCI’s long-running case in the Supreme Court landed at his doorstep that senior advocate PS Narasimha understood the quantum of his work. This was early this year, in March. Being a well-informed lawyer, he knew that Indian cricket was at crossroads but now as SC-appointed amicus curiae he would get to learn that the game was actually caught in a seemingly irresolvable traffic jam with tempers running high and frustration growing.

That was the time when pandemonium prevailed in the CoA-ruled BCCI. The ugly, acrimonious public battle between Vinod Rai and Diana Edulji had made Justice RM Lodha compare the CoA to a bicycle with one truck tyre and the other a cycle wheel.

CEO Rahul Johri’s alleged sexual harassment and the aftermath of Koffee with Karan’s tell-all cricket special episode with a couple of young loud-mouth guests had shifted BCCI’s focus from implementing the SC order. The state units were complaining about delayed funds. The office-bearers were calling the CoA autocratic and arrogant. The CoA, in turn, saw them as parasites surviving on TA/DA. Mistrust had engulfed India’s cricket circuit.

Explained

How the impasse ended

SC’s final order said the constitution of state units should be on “similar lines” to the one followed by BCCI. Later, the CoA changed “similar lines”to “mirror image”. The administrators wanted the two constitutions to be identical,word for word and clause to clause. This didn’t go well with the state units. Narasimha disagreed with the CoA, saying “mirror image” didn’t mean “identical”. So the CoA’s interpretation about tenure of office-bearers and composition of apex council saw a change. According to the amicus curiae’s understanding, office-bearers could have two stints of 9 years, with a cooling period in between, separately in state and BCCI. The CoA’s constant assertion that office-bearers can have a sum total of 9 years — be it in BCCI, state or combined — was dumped for good. Narasimha also interpreted that the apex council could have more than 9 members, which was again contrary to the CoA’s stand.The members readily agreed and a middle path was found.

It had been over two years since the SC order to overhaul the BCCI but the impasse had continued. With the court getting busy with more pressing matters, the hearings were less frequent. The legal knots were multiplying. Nearly 100 interlocutory applications had been filed in the court, the papers were piling.

After the earlier amicus curiae, Gopal Subramanium, excused himself from the case; the ‘truck’ with papers was now parked at Narasimha’s gate. He had been tasked to end the ill-will between the stake-holders, make the state units come around and give the CoA a respectful exit. Narasimha was being asked to play a ‘miracle worker’.

In the seven months to follow, Narasimha would do the impossible. He wiped out the follow-on, got his team the lead, and finished the job at hand. The story of the CoA’s final overs is about the runner they got when they seemed exhausted, the magic of reconciliation, the power of patient mediation and, most importantly, the conflicting interpretation of the SC order.

With Diwali round the corner, Sundar Nagar has a festive look. It’s where Narasimha has his office-cum-home. It’s just a 10-minute drive from the Supreme Court, where one passes the Purana Qila and Chidiyaghar. This is Delhi’s upmarket space. Cricketing icon Kapil Dev is his neighbour. Beyond the waiting lounge, reception area and a comfortable room for his office staff, is Narasimha’s chamber. In case the roof is pushed higher, you can have a game of mini-badminton. It’s a tastefully done room. One of the walls has long cupboards packed with shining law books, the furniture is stylish and sparse. There’s enough space to move around.

Narasimha points to a frame of Lord Rama behind his leather chair. He smiles. A few days back he was in court appearing for Hindu parties in the Ayodhya Ram Janambhoomi case. The arguments are over and he now waits for the verdict. It’s been a busy year. The courts are on Diwali vacation. Narasimha, in the next few hours, will head to his hometown Hyderabad for a much-deserved break.

Before heading to the airport, he talks about the close to 200 hours, spread over six months, he spent meeting cricket officials from around the country at his Sundar Nagar home. From mid-March to the end of September, Narasimha’s chambers were thrown open for a stream of visitors; advocates, administrators, club officials, former Indian team captains and members of the Committee of Administrators.

Even representatives of cricket clubs whose pleas for membership in their state units had fallen on deaf ears got an appointment. The meetings went on till late at night. Narasimha and his staff worked on Saturdays too.

Pointing to the room where his staff has work stations, he says, “That entire room was filled with files.” Now with the ‘reformed’ BCCI in place, after the election that saw 30 of the 37 units participating, the files have been moved to a storeroom on the terrace. Half a dozen stacks still need to be put away.

Narasimha recalls those tough early days, the pensive moments of deep thought wondering how to find a way out the maze. “Where do I start? How do I go about it? I was completely at sea,” he says. Eventually, he came up with a simple plan: For starters, he would talk to everyone involved, be sympathetic to their views, look at solutions and “not share the common view that they (BCCI officials) were all villains.” He knew he had to be cautious since this was, as he calls, “a controversial case”. He was also clear that he would not charge fees for this mediation.

Once the ground rules were in place, the work began. The cricketing footfall at Sunder Nagar increased with each passing day. Everyone, be it a veteran BCCI official or a club official from Pondicherry, were given one-on-one meetings. According to Narasimha what worked for him was his patient and sympathetic attitude. “These were men who had worked for cricket for long and now they were asked to leave. There was this one man who came here who said I don’t want anything but I just want someone to listen to my voice,” he says.

The amicus curiae wouldn’t just listen, he would also walk them to the gate with an open invitation to come again if they wished. Any specific query or a divergent view about the difficulty in adopting the new constitution was received by a serious nod of the head.

The game-changing moment of the long-dragging case was the amicus curiae’s stand that the CoA can’t be always right when it came to interpreting the SC order. “I showed them the other way of those interpretations. They said units need to “mirror” BCCI and I said “mirror” didn’t mean identical. I told the association, they (BCCI) have nine members in apex council, you don’t need to have nine. Mirroring is of the core values, not in a pedantic way. To be fair to CoA, they also said this is correct and this was a positive way of resolution.”

Narasimha, before meeting the state unit representatives, had a chat with the CoA. “I told the CoA that there were some aspects where I am completely with you and there are some aspects in which the CoA stand does not appeal to me at all. But at the same time there are some core values which I will not permit anybody to dilute. They were also taken aback as to how the amicus can go against the CoA. I had a detailed discussion with them and they agreed with me that this is the correct interpretation.” he says.

He also convinced the CoA how each unit is different from each other and also to the BCCI. “I told them ‘how can you insist that say a state unit like Karnataka needs to do exactly what BCCI does’. They have different compositions of people, different composition of sportsmen. As long as certain important values are incorporated, you can’t dub all of them as one identical unit, they differ from state to state and they anyway differ from BCCI. How can somebody in Manipur be equivalent to someone in Chennai? So they agreed that we will now not restrict it.”

For example, the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) wanted a bigger Apex Council and not a nine-member one as mandated by the Lodha Committee reforms. Former KSCA secretary Sudhakar Rao states his case. “All state associations had the same problem in the beginning, the composition of the apex council.

Initially, as per the recommendation, it was a nine-member apex council. But the amicus considered everything. The number of districts we have, the fact that we organise nearly 5,000 matches was also factored. And because of the vast work we have been doing, we needed a 19-member apex council. Eventually, we were allowed a 19-member apex council.”

The Saurashtra Cricket Association too had the same problem. SCA old hand and former BCCI secretary, Niranjan Shah, would travel to the capital to meet the amicus curiae. “He was a practical man. He heard us and understood our difficulties. Many state association had filed IA in Supreme Court, he was the main reason many withdrew their application. The CoA interpreted the order differently. The CoA and old amicus curiae were forcing us to have mirror image constitution,” he says.

Another Narasimha masterstroke concerned the money that wasn’t reaching the state units. “The CoA would not release funds. So I told them don’t play God. You have to trust them. I said you release funds in four phases. Once the funds started coming in, people came around. I guess people were also fed up,” he says. Karnataka’s Rao endorses the move worked as a sweetener. “We also had to get the funds to run the show. We have three new grounds that are in the finishing stage. We had to finish them. We didn’t want cricket or young cricketers to suffer.”

Once most of the units were on board, Narasimha called a mega-meeting. Among those invited were the CoA, their lawyers and the state units representatives. The chamber would turn into a conference hall with the amicus curiae sitting at the head of the table. Narasimha played the peacemaker when tempers flared or voices were raised. It turned out to be a productive meeting. Everyone left with the feeling that dates for BCCI elections could be announced soon.

“Once a majority of members were compliant, I thought why can’t we have a democratically elected BCCI body. I said there is no order of the court which prevented the holding of elections. Some units, like Tamil Nadu, were extremely agitated. They didn’t want elections at all. I said three-fourth want elections so what is the problem. Unfortunately, Tamil Nadu lost out. Anyway other than 5 associations everyone was on board and there was no question of Corum,” he says.

CoA member Diana Edulji acknowledges the role of Narasimha in clearing the bottleneck by taking a pragmatic view and being ready to listen to arguments of all stakeholders. The CoA, she says, had taken a rigid stand on occasions. “At times the CoA was being adamant also. The amicus made us see sense. I feel we could have definitely looked at it in a positive way right at the beginning. But maybe legal was guided by some other aspects. We were not put on the right track at the start. But once this amicus came on board I think everything changed for the better. I don’t want to run down the previous amicus but I would like to place it on record if it wasn’t for his (Narasimha’s) efforts this would have never have come to a close. I definitely acknowledge his contribution,” says Diana, who adds that it was because of the effort of the amicus curiae that the CoA got their payment.

Justice RM Lodha, the man whose report the SC court based its order, has for long maintained that his reforms had been diluted and he also insists that “mirror” according to him means “identical”. But with the new BCCI in power with a cricketer at helm, he is pleased with the eventual outcomes of the case.

“Our report was unambiguous, absolutely clear but everything can have multiple interpretations. It is only for the adjudicating authority to decide if the interpretation is correct. Like once parliament enacts a law, the parliament does not decide what it has said is adjudicated, it is the adjudicating authorities’ job,” he says.

But has the case reached its logical conclusion?

“As far as the BCCI elections are concerned, the apex council has come into effect and it is the major success of the reforms. The apex council is headed by a cricketer, it comprises two representatives of the cricketers’ association. None of these would have been part of BCCI if the original structure had continued. So this is a big success. Fortunately, the cricketing minds are in significant number in the apex council. They have scored runs on the cricketing field now it remains to be seen how many they score in the cricket body.”

Narasimha, a former additional solicitor general, is wiser after his match-winning cameo. It strengthened his conviction that in a country of over a billion, courts can’t be the only place to settle disputes. A member of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), a body that provides free legal services to the weaker sections by organising Lok Adalats, the amicus curiae takes the final bow with a fulfilling smile. “I see the strength of mediation; people can come together and resolve issues to the satisfaction of everyone. It is amazing,” he says.

In the end, it turned out to be a win-win situation for all. Narsimha pens final lines of the ‘happy ending’ BCCI saga. “The state units got their respect as the essence of their association didn’t dilute, the reform regarding introducing players in BCCI were in place and the CoA also exited with dignity.”

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