N Srinivasan to Earth: Just Chill Out

1997. 2003. 2013. It's pretty simple, actually. Whenever the stench of corruption has threatened the BCCI, it has simply rigged an inquiry committee to give itself a 'clean chit'. Honestly.


“I do not know,” said N Srinivasan, the president-in-limbo of The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), “why you people are making a big issue of it.”

A Bombay High Court bench, responding to a petition filed by the Bihar Cricket Association, had called the BCCI-constituted panel of inquiry “illegal”, repudiated that panel’s report and asked that the entire inquiry be conducted afresh.

What’s the big deal here, Srinivasan asks. And you can understand his bewilderment – after all, the BCCI had in this instance merely drawn from a playbook that has served its ends successfully, and repeatedly, in the past.

Does anyone remember DV Subba Rao? Back in 2003, he was chairman of the Bar Council of India and was handpicked to probe the allegation that Abhijit Kale, an up and coming right hand batsman from Maharashtra, had offered bribes to two members of the national selection committee for a berth in the senior side.

In course of the inquiry, Subba Rao met only three people: Pranob Roy and Kiran More, the two national selectors who had made the allegation, and Kale himself. What is interesting, however, is the list of people Subba Rao did not meet.

He did not meet Kale’s mother, who the selectors alleged was the one who had made the approach and offered the bribe on her son’s behalf.

He did not meet former BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele, who had during his tenure convened all meetings of the national selection committee and who in November 2003 said that bribery and corruption were rampant in cricket selection.

He did not meet former BCCI treasurer Kishore Rungta, nephew of former chairman of national selectors Kishen Rungta, who went on record to state that the integrity of the national selectors was “suspect”.

He did not meet former Hyderabad Ranji player Vanka Pratap, who accused a selector of demanding a bribe to include him in the state team.

He did not meet promising teenager Ritesh Yadav from Uttar Pradesh, who on camera accused a selector of demanding Rs 50,000 for a berth in the state's under-17 side.

Long story short, Subba Rao – a one-man panel ostensibly inquiring into corruption in the selection of cricketers at the national and state levels – did not meet a single person who could have shed light on the question.

Why not? “The terms of reference have been restricted, so the inquiry will be limited to only those three persons,” Subba Rao explained.

Does the sequence sound familiar: a hastily confected ‘committee of inquiry’ with very narrow terms of reference, restricted from meeting potential witnesses, producing a ‘clean chit’ at the end of the exercise?

The Past as Prelude

Egregious though the Subba Rao example is, it was not even the first time the BCCI had deployed this tactic to sweep inconvenient matters under its very capacious rug. Back in 1997, when Outlook magazine in a seminal cover story exposed rampant fixing in Indian and international cricket, the BCCI went immediately into denial.

When the uproar reached deafening proportions, the board appointed retired Supreme Court Chief Justice YV Chandrachud as a one-man committee of inquiry to probe the allegations.

The central allegation was that bookmakers, many of them controlled by Dawood Ibrahim and his gang, had bribed, coaxed and, on occasion coerced cricketers into manipulating their performance and fixing results. But during the course of sittings that lasted for several months, Chandrachud did not speak to a single bookie.

When he was asked about the omission, he said, “That is not part of my brief.”

While the one-man committee was conducting its inquiry, a sub-inspector attached to the Mumbai police force told Outlook magazine that he was witness to conversations between a bookie and some Indian players and officials while the team was in Sharjah. The officer said these conversations had been taped and that he was willing to produce them. Chandrachud refused to summon that official to depose, nor did he call for the tapes.

When he was asked why not, he said, “That is not part of my brief.”

While the committee was in session, a police official called Chandrachud from Kolkata, saying he had rock solid evidence of bribery and fixing. The official offered to come down and depose before the committee and to produce his evidence. Chandrachud turned down the offer.

“It is not in my brief.”

While the committee was in session, a police raid in Kolkata resulted in the arrest of a big-time bookie. The officer who led it said that in course of the raid the police party had unearthed files, computer records and other evidence indicating the prevalence of bribery and match fixing in Indian cricket. Chandrachud was asked if he would summon the officials of that raiding party to testify before him.

“That,” he explained, “is not part of the terms of reference of my committee.”

That, in essence, is the BCCI playbook. When the stench of corruption – in the selection of players, in the performance of those players, whatever – becomes too noisome to be conveniently ignored, it appoints a committee of inquiry. It then laces that committee into a straitjacket by defining the ‘terms of reference’ so narrowly that no evidence of probative value can be considered.

The result is inevitable: a 'clean chit' – to Indian cricket in 1997, to the national selectors in 2003, to Gurunath Meiyappan and, by extension, to N Srinivasan earlier this week.

Rewind – To the Present

On 28 May, 2013, the BCCI in a press statement announced that it had constituted a three-member panel to inquire into charges of betting and related acts of corruption in season six of the IPL. (A sting operation had revealed instances of corruption in the previous edition as well, but since there was no police case involved the BCCI managed to douse that fire by quickly 'taking action' against the outed players and pretending that it had thus cleansed the league of corruption.)

The IPL governing council (emphasis added) has appointed a three-member committee comprising former high court judges T Jayaram Chouta and R Balasubramanian and BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale,” the BCCI statement said.

There was only one problem with that statement – it was a lie. The IPL governing council had not met, and it certainly did not appoint the panel.

“The IPL governing council did not meet on May 28,” Jagdale, who as BCCI secretary would have been part of any such meeting, said on record. He further said that he had not signed on to be a member of the panel, refuting the board’s statement that he had signed.

Jagdale, and BCCI treasurer Ajay Shirke, who both resigned from the board on moral grounds, went on record to state categorically that they did not know who had appointed the three-member panel. To put that in perspective, in the BCCI hierarchy the secretary is second only to the president, and the treasurer is third in importance.

So who did appoint the panel? Many asked the question; most vociferous of the questioners was former BCCI president, and current president of the Punjab Cricket Association, Inderjit Singh Bindra.

Bindra had flown down to Chennai for the meeting at the end of which the announcement of the probe panel was made. He blogged about that meeting under the telling headline ‘Emergency Meeting A Farce’. Here is the salient excerpt:

“After repeated requests to elicit the information, I was told not by the President but by another official that the panel was selected by the IPL Operations Committee comprising Sundar Raman (CEO, IPL); Peter Griffiths (IMG); Rahul Mascarenhas (Legal assistant, BCCI); and PR Raman [legal advisor to the BCCI and brother of PS Raman, vice president of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association and its legal advisor, also legal advisor to N Srinivasan]. I was told that Professor Ratnakar Shetty acted as convener for the panel.

“The appointment of the probe panel is void ab initio (invalid from the outset),” Bindra said, “because the committee had no power or authority under the BCCI regulations to appoint such a panel. The power of appointing a panel to take decisions regarding serious matters such as spot-fixing, match-fixing and violation of franchise contractual obligations is vested with the Working Committee/Special General Meeting of the BCCI.”

Bindra’s repudiation of the inquiry committee, made as early as June 3, has now been echoed by the Mumbai High Court – only, where Bindra called the committee unconstitutional, the court ruled that it was “illegal”.

The manner of its setting up was not the only thing wrong with the committee, however. Justice Chouta said on record, before the BCCI applied a gag on the committee members, that the panel had not been constituted in accordance with the provisions of the Commission of Inquiry Act – which meant in effect that the two-member panel had no right to summon witnesses and no right to call for evidence, and finally, that any report they submitted had no force in law.

“This is,” Justice Chouta said, “a private matter between the BCCI and the two IPL franchises. There is no mechanism or access for the media or public to provide evidence. The probe will depend on whatever evidence is presented by the BCCI, and no one else (emphasis added).”

In other words, the BCCI constituted a panel to inquire into its own wrongdoing; it then told the panel to consider only that evidence the BCCI itself had presented to it and nothing above and beyond.

Rush to Judgment

Consider the timeline: The panel is appointed on 28 May. On 21 June, BCCI general manager Ratnakar Shetty flew down to Bangalore to discuss the procedures of the inquiry with the two members of the committee. On 28 June, the committee presented its report, absolving everyone of everything.

In other words, it took the BCCI 23 days to discuss the procedures with its own committee; but it took only six days to ‘conduct the inquiry’ and write out the elaborate ‘clean chit’, the contents of which are not for public consumption.

The panel reportedly met with Gurunath Meiyappan, son-in-law of N Srinivasan, and with Rajasthan Royals co-owner Raj Kundra (we do not know this for a fact; we only know that Ratnakar Shetty said the panel would hear from Meiyappan and Kundra).

It did not meet with any police officials involved in the investigation into, and arrest of, five cricketers and of Meiyappan himself; it did not consider any external evidence; it did not even consider the report submitted to the board by anti-corruption wing head Ravi Sawani.

What was the rush all about? Ratnakar Shetty inadvertently let the cat out of the bag when, a day after the ‘clean chit’ was produced and N Srinivasan’s reinstatement as president publicly mooted by the board’s hierarchy, said, “We do not have to wait for the police chargesheet (into the match-fixing allegations).”

Substitute “do not have to” with “cannot afford to” and you get the picture: the board needed to whitewash the issue before the police filed its chargesheet, because it sensed that the police report would be damning.

And so it has proved. The chargesheet names and indicts cricketers, bookies and others on an array of charges including fixing; and it excoriates the BCCI for fostering in the IPL an atmosphere conducive to corruption.

The board’s original game plan was to let things take their own time ('interim president' Jagmohan Dalmiya – himself an unconstitutional appointment – repeatedly said that there was no fixed end date for the inquiry committee to report), and trust to the shortness of public memory to let the issue die a natural death.

Once the CBI announced its date for filing of charges, however, everything had to be fast-tracked – and thus the committee completed its ‘inquiry’ and drafted and submitted its report a mere six days after it had been officially briefed about what it was supposed to be doing.

“Illegal,” the high court has ruled – and what has been the board’s reaction? Just this, from N Srinivasan no less: “I do not know why you people are making a big issue of it.”

Indeed, what is a little corruption, a soupçon of illegality, among friends?

Prem Panicker is managing editor, Yahoo India. Follow him at https://twitter.com/prempanicker

Also on Yahoo! Originals

Delhi rape: What’ll happen to the juvenile?

If convicted in the December 16 Delhi gang-rape case, will he be punished as a juvenile or as an adult? More
The Hunger Games, Again
India has a third of the world's malnourished children. The Food Security Bill proposes to guarantee basic nutrition even as we hear of children dying everywhere from Kerala to Bihar, from malnutrition to eating poisonous midday meals. Amid the march of grim statistics, Meghala's story is a reminder that the systems are failing our children and they are dying right next to us. Read

Politicians Should Upload Satire Sites, Not Shut Them Down

Amid the Narendra Modi satire flap, a stand-up comic explains why. Read

Surviving rape: The story of Suzette Jordan

What happens to you after rape? What happens to you after the police, the media and your chief minister scorn you? How do you begin to live again? An intimate profile of Suzette Jordan as she finds her way back home. Read

What to do if you have been raped

Despite being warned to expect it all your life, despite all the chatter of the last few months, you probably still don’t know how to deal with sexual assault. A comprehensive look at how Indian women can navigate the first few days after rape. Read on

What’s really going on at the CBI

CBI versus IB. Home Ministry versus CBI. Someone's getting autonomy. And it’s all done with smoke and mirrors. Read on 

ALSO ON YAHOO ORIGINALS

  • Siddharth Vihar is gone. And with it, an important piece of Dalit historyWed 25 Feb, 2015

    While the Maharashtra government is going over plans to spend Rs 30 crore to buy the London bungalow that BR Ambedkar once stayed in, Siddharth Vihar, the boys’ hostel in Mumbai that was once the site of important political and cultural activity within the Dalit community, has been demolished. Close to a hundred students have currently been left in the lurch as a result, but here’s why the demolition means so much more.

  • What I Learned by Reading Every Budget Speech Since India got IndependenceMon 23 Feb, 2015

    In 68 years, Budget speeches have provided an idiosyncratic, potted history of the country. And no aspect of the Budget has been more fascinating than that of income tax. From socialist Strict Uncle-style disapproval of high income and a focus on egalitarian ideals to a markedly capitalist approach, here's how income tax has changed over the years.

  • Why Your Car is a Chemistry Lab on WheelsFri 20 Feb, 2015

    What makes cars one of the most successful inventions of all time? The answer lies in science.

  • Which Players Will We Remember from this World Cup?Wed 18 Feb, 2015

    Even in this age of globalized sport, multiple new formats and around-the-clock coverage, the cricket World Cup is unique in how it can transform young players’ performances and reputations. From newcomers to international cricket, like Haris Sohail and Axar Patel to more established young guns like Kane Williamson and Adam Milne, this tournament is already throwing up some fresh faces who are trying to deliver on the promise of a lifetime.

  • The Final Sanjana and Other Truths About the New Horrex HeroineMon 16 Feb, 2015

    Why do horrex heroines in Bollywood rarely get to take charge when it comes to ghostbusting? What should really scare them is a creature that walks on two legs.

  • This Valentine’s Day, should we reserve our love for instant noodles?Fri 13 Feb, 2015

    Is happiness an empty word? Is love only about hormones and neurotransmitters? Our writer ruminates on the confusing urge to send romantic love packing. And why she hasn’t done it yet.

  • Your Sari Is Like A ThermosWed 11 Feb, 2015

    Need the warmth of a sweater in winter and the breeziness of a skirt in summer? A new study finds that the traditional sari is the perfect all-weather clothing – and that everything depends on how you drape it.

  • This is one of India's best psychiatric hospitals. Is it enough?Mon 9 Feb, 2015

    India has about 78 million people with mental health problems, but only one psychiatrist for every 332,226 people, and one psychologist for every 2,127,660 people. Between the vast shortage of treatment options and colonial-style asylums, where does one look for success stories? Our author visits the Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) in Chennai for a better view.

  • Why Manjunath Kamath Has Returned to His Old and True LoveFri 6 Feb, 2015

    With every new show, Manjunath Kamath promises storytelling, absurdity and wit. As for medium or material, all bets are off since he reinvents his work every time. Leaving behind his digital prints, murals, watercolor animations, claymations and fiber glass sculptures, Kamath has returned to the fragile medium of terracotta sculpture in which he began his journey as a leading artist of his generation.

  • Why is Delhi Looking for a Second Opinion?Thu 5 Feb, 2015

    Here we go again. Delhi is about to elect a new leader amid all the old questions. But this time, the BJP controls both the central government and the municipal corporation. So why are Narendra Modi and his party struggling so much against the perkily resurgent AAP and Arvind Kejriwal? What lode of unpredictability is the capital tapping into?

  • Inside The Fellowship Of The Relentlessly PositiveMon 2 Feb, 2015

    India is said to have the third highest population of HIV positive people in the world. It’s no longer a disease anyone seems to talk about though there are fresh infections everyday. Funds are drying up and everyone’s looking away. But for those newly diagnosed, for those who have been living with it for years, hope comes from within the community. Their fellow sufferers are the ones who fight prejudiced doctors, make sure they stay on the course with drugs, remind them of tomorrow, remind them of love. Across the country, in every district, it is within these tiny rings of hope that the HIV positive find life again.

  • The Questions We Should Be Asking Frequently About the Land Acquisition ActFri 30 Jan, 2015

    And answers from an expert

  • His Were the StreetsThu 29 Jan, 2015

    What’s written on our walls is important because sometimes our death warrants first appear there. Mohammed Hanif remembers his friend Asim Butt, an artist whose wall art seemed to have found a way of marrying JG Ballard to Habib Jalib. From hubcap lice to the backs of trucks, from Eject signs during Musharraf ’s emergency to the mythical perfume chowk, Hanif meanders through Karachi indulging his special fondness for the writing on walls.

  • America’s Chanting Guru and His Swaying Indian TourTue 27 Jan, 2015

    He’s supposed to be the bestselling chant artist of all time. He performed at the 2013 Grammy awards. Almost 45 years after he first came here, Krishna Das is conducting his first ticketed tour of public kirtans across India and minting some rather unusual fans of Hanuman chanting. Is it all really a spiritual hit back from the West or a long-awaited cashing in?

  • Nothing to See Here. Move Along. Just The Uncle-ification of Urdu in IndiaWed 21 Jan, 2015

    What else can explain its current he-he-joking, controversy-fearing, good-job loving avatar?

  • No historians were hurt in the making of this objectMon 19 Jan, 2015

    The 75th Indian History Congress this month should have been the site of another skirmish in the ongoing culture and memory wars. And the Congress waited with bated breath, convinced there'd be bloodshed.

  • Who Will Stop The Plagiarists?Sat 17 Jan, 2015

    In the drawing room of a suburban West Delhi home sits an elderly vigilante, the head of an organization that has been tracking criminal vice-chancellors, unethical professors and copycat students since 1981. But with only the force of moral authority to help them battle plagiarism in India's scientific community, can the Society for Scientific Values keep up the good fight?

  • If you're in your second trimester and want to get an abortion in Maharashtra, good luckWed 14 Jan, 2015

    The laws in Maharashtra are pitting those who fight against sex selection and those who fight for abortion rights against each other. Meanwhile it's not fun times for women.

  • When parents pay for international schools what do they think they are getting?Mon 12 Jan, 2015

    And is it paisa vasool?

  • Why are we pretending that there isn’t a growing mountain of menstrual waste we need to deal with?Fri 9 Jan, 2015

    And no, burning them is not the best idea ever.

  • Love may know no locksmiths but teenage lovers in India can now be stuck with rape chargesWed 7 Jan, 2015

    The well-meaning new laws were meant to protect children from adult predators. So why are they now criminalizing underage consensual sex? And how did they become the handy tool of angry parents?

  • What Makes Virat Kohli So Brash, Flash and Eager to Smash?Mon 5 Jan, 2015

    He likes the cameras, he likes his hero status and he likes to play hard. India's new cricket captain is incredibly different from his revered predecessors in his win-and-enjoy-at-all-costs gusto. Is this the beginning of the age of Kohli?

  • Yahoo Originals: The Best of 2014Wed 24 Dec, 2014

    The heaviest, coolest and craziest stories of the year. From Kabul to Chennai, from Kashmir to the Andamans, from Manipur to Jharkhand, our writers went everywhere. And found everything that shook us this year: sex, politics, doughnuts, football, gods, deserts, seas and much more.

  • Why I Like Leaning In. Way In. Into My All-Girls’ HostelTue 9 Dec, 2014

    Is a women’s hostel a utopia or dystopia, or is it even better – a place to ignore the boring universe of men? Our writer reluctantly joined a hostel, only to fall in love with the wheels within wheels, the worlds within worlds she found – a sakhi sammelan, Renaissance Florence, a sandcastle and a place to play academic Thelma & Louise.