India is probably the only country in the world where cricket-related activities off the field cause as much excitement as those on it and gather headlines in the front pages of national newspapers. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which was set up in 1928, is the body vested with the responsibility for governing the conduct of the game in the country. Over the period of nine decades that it has been in existence, the BCCI has transformed itself into one of the richest sports bodies in the world, in addition to being the most powerful among similarly placed organisations supervising matters related to cricket. The story of the growth of BCCI to its present status is a fascinating one and has been the subject matter for many researchers and chroniclers of the game.
During the pre-independence age, the BCCI was dominated by the princes and the infighting among them was watched with much amusement by the colonial rulers. One Anthony de Mello tried to take over the reins of its administration and run it in an authoritarian manner in the immediate post-Independence period, but he met his match when Lala Amarnath took him head on. Ever since, administration of the game in the country was controlled by a triumvirate of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, with the occasional former cricketer chipping in. Though there were the odd complaints about bad management and even favouritism, it must be admitted that, on the whole, the administrators of the BCCI were forward looking and moved with the times. They could also lay down the foundations for a strong domestic cricket circuit which could throw up talented players and ensure that game gradually spread to all parts of the country.
As cricket emerged as the most popular game in the country from the 1970s onwards, administrators also started getting more aware about the powers they held over the players as well as the privileges they were privy to. Issue of passes during conduct of international and even domestic matches is one small example of a privilege that could be used to furthering one’s personal agenda. This led to an increase in number of persons vying for positions in cricket associations all over the country. This in turn resulted in all the ills of electoral politics worming its way into the administration of cricket right from grassroots level to the very top.
The first sign of changes that were happening was the formation of a rebel bloc in the BCCI which chose to challenge the old guard. This bloc was led by Inderjit Singh Bindra, an officer belonging to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), and Jagmohan Dalmiya, a businessman from Kolkata. After many years of repeated attempts, the group led by this duo won the BCCI elections in 1993, with Bindra becoming President and Dalmiya the Secretary. While Bindra chose to step down after three years at the helm, Dalmiya sought to continue and became President of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 1997, following which he was elected as President of BCCI in 2002, where he continued till 2005.
Meanwhile, another group, led by Sharad Pawar, which opposed the Dalmiya camp, came into existence and captured power in 2006. N Srinivasan, who worked as Treasurer with Dalmiya, became Secretary in the Pawar regime, following which he took over as President in 2009. He held that post till he was forced out of office consequent to observations of the Supreme Court following the 2013 Indian Premier League (IPL) spot-fixing scandal where his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan was also alleged to be involved.
Clinging on to power
From the above short narrative it would be seen that two gentlemen, essentially businessmen, changed the unwritten rules of the game in administration of BCCI. Both Dalmiya and Srinivasan tried to hang on to their positions of power within the organisation even after their tenures got over. The BCCI had a well respected convention of the post of President going by rotation among contenders from the five zones that constituted it, which was thrown to the wind by this duo. In this regard, credit is due to political leaders who headed the BCCI such as S K Wankhade, Pawar, N K P Salve and Madhav Rao Scindia, as, besides being able administrators, they showed the good sense to not attempt extension of their tenures by any means. It was Srinivasan’s intransigence in clinging on to the post of President even after serious allegations broke out against his son-in-law that saw matters go out of BCCI’s hands and lead to interference by the apex court through constitution of the committee headed by Justice Lodha.
The implementation of the recommendations of Lodha Committee took place under a Committee of Administrators (CoA) appointed by the Supreme Court. This was a long and slow process and many a time one was left wondering whether members of the CoA would give the erstwhile administrators of the BCCI a run for their money by the extent of the stubbornness and obstinacy they displayed. However, gradually all the member units of the BCCI fell in line and the long overdue elections based on new charter was conducted last week.
The adage that no election process in the BCCI can be bereft of excitement held true this time also. But a broad consensus was reached which saw former India skipper Sourav Ganguly being set to elect unopposed as President in the AGM on Wednesday. The other principal officer-bearers too are all set to be elected unopposed, with all regions getting a fair representation. Brijesh Patel, the former player who was in the reckoning for post of President, will be accommodated as Chairman of the IPL Governing Council. In fact, the only position in the nine-member apex council that saw elections was for the slot of representative from side of men cricketers, where Anshuman Gaekwad defeated Kirti Azad.
The choice of Ganguly as BCCI chief has been welcomed from all quarters and raised expectations that there would be a change in the style and manner of functioning of this body. He comes with an impressive track record as a player and captain, one who was not afraid to challenge conventions and stood up before even the mighty Aussie cricketing juggernaut to script unforgettable victories. He has a reputation for bringing in new ideas and not shying away from taking difficult decisions. Unfortunately he would be having only a short tenure at the helm for present as the mandatory cooling off period of three years would start by then. However, he would have sufficient time to unfold his agenda and commence work on it which can be continued by his successors.
One interesting aspect that is visible after this round of elections to the BCCI and its affiliated units is the emergence of princelings in cricket administration. While nothing can prevent a son from succeeding his father or for a brother to take the spot vacated by his sibling, it appears a bit too strange that top officialdom of the BCCI is stacked with persons who are better known as son or brother of a prominent personality rather than based on his own standing or achievement. This includes the secretary Jay Shah, son of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, treasurer Arun Dhumal, brother of Union Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur and Vice-President Mahim Verma, son of former Uttarakhand cricket supremo P C Verma.
For the record, Jay Shah is presently serving as Joint Secretary of Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) while Arun Dhumal was recently elected as President of Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA).
Incidentally more princelings have taken charge of state cricket associations, where this was used as an effective manoeuvre for checkmating the recommendation of Lodha Committee that no person can hold elected office for more than six years at a stretch. Thus one finds Rupa Srinivasan, daughter of Srinivasan and wife of Meiyappan, getting elected as President of Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, while Jaydev Shah takes over the reins of Saurashtra Cricket Association where his father Niranjan Shah was at the helm of affairs for more than three decades. When Ganguly steps down as President of Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) to take charge of BCCI, the person tipped to take over is none other than Abhishek Dalmiya, son of Jagmohan Dalmiya!
It would not be fair to comment on the abilities of these newcomers without giving them a chance to perform in the positions to which they have been elected. One fervently hopes that they would contribute handsomely to better functioning of the organisations under their control while also helping to promote the cause of cricket and cricketers. Anything less from them would only serve to strengthen the apprehensions of the followers of the game their rise has little to do their abilities and is more on account of their pedigree.
The nomination of Jayesh George as Joint Secretary of BCCI is a welcome development for Kerala cricket. It is significant to note that he is the only principal office-bearer, other than Ganguly, who assumes office without the weight of a famous surname. Jayesh has been a prominent presence in Kerala cricketing circles during the last two decades and held various responsible positions in Ernakulam District Cricket Association and Kerala Cricket Associations. He continues to retain his connections with the game at the grassroots level and is an excellent organiser. The elevation to one of the top posts in the BCCI is just reward for this hardworking and genial person.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)