Successive bigwigs of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), a private sports body with a public function, had enjoyed enviable power and clout since its formation before Independence. So much so, they used to believe, or so it seemed, they were more powerful than many star cricketers and even state and union ministers.
Some even gave the impression of believing themselves to be bigger than the game itself. They would take the players for granted, dictate terms and enjoy their days in the sun. The panjandrums running the BCCI-affiliated state cricket associations across the country were in no way different from their counterparts at the highest level.
Surrounded by genuflecting sycophants, these self-styled “servants” of cricket would live like maharajas, spend money lavishly and go on luxurious foreign tours, not just when the Indian team was playing abroad. They would manipulate the BCCI as well as state association elections and ensure that they won by fair means or foul.
They would stick to their positions like limpets and promote no one else but their own kith and kin to the power. Supremely arrogant and highly influential, the Rungtas in Rajasthan, the Leles in Baroda and the Shahs in Saurashtra wielded power for decades, for instance. Age was just a number and fitness foreign to these power-hungry officials.
Though it was the players who drew a large number of spectators and viewers and pumped mindboggling money into the BCCI coffers on the strength of their dazzling popularity in a country where cricket enjoys the status of a religion, they were paid a pittance by these officials until the central contract system was introduced a few years ago.
Not only were the players paid meagrely in terms of match fees; they were also paid scant respect for all their star value and celebrity status. The Indian Premier League (IPL) may have made the cricketers financially strong, but it made the officials stronger in the power they wielded and the position they held.
Many of these thick-skinned cricket officials were powerful politicians. Others were backed by certain political parties. If there were some controversies, or disputes or lawsuits, they would hire the best legal eagles in the country. Officials of the state associations knew only too well the price and value of their votes in the high-profile BCCI elections.
The BCCI had begun to take the media, howsoever powerful and influential, for granted in the last few years in the world’s largest democracy, ensuring that its affiliated units across the country took a leaf out of its book in this regard. Indeed, it appeared as if these officials’ conceited ways and seemingly infinite ride to power were simply unbridled.
It required the country’s top court to check their march and eventually force them to get down from their throne. The Supreme Court-appointed Justice R.M. Lodha Committee, set up for the much-needed reforms in Indian cricket under total control of the dictatorial BCCI, has not only shown light at the end of the tunnel but also shown the exit door to its top brass, president Anurag Thakur and secretary Ajay Shirke.
The apex court had made the Lodha commission reforms binding on the BCCI through its verdict delivered on July 18, 2016. But Thakur and Shirke, instead of obeying the order and accepting the well-intended recommended reforms for the good of Indian cricket and cricketers, as well as bringing transparency and accountability to the world’s richest sports body, showed a cavalier approach and almost unashamedly defied it, as if considering the BCCI to be above the law.
While the BCCI stated, quite unconvincingly, that it had difficulties getting its affiliated state associations to accept the reforms, it made some decisions at its AGM in September which were not in tune with the Lodha panel’s recommendations. The panel still gave time, and more time, to implement its recommendations, but an adamant BCCI did not seem to pay any heed.
This was probably the last straw. The Supreme Court had to show who the boss was. The price had to be paid. Thakur in particular faces not only a contempt-of-court charge in the name of protecting the sport’s autonomy but also prosecution for perjury. Not many will disagree that he deserves some punishment.
With one firm stroke of the gavel, almost at the dawn of the New Year, the Supreme Court has delivered a big blow to the BCCI mandarins, triggering a string of resignations from cricket officials from across the country. Niranjan Shah, the unchallenged, uncontested supremo of Saurashtra Cricket Association for well over four decades, who served as a BCCI secretary for two terms, has also been compelled to step down.
Will the Supreme Court order change Indian cricket, or its image, for better? Will it clear, or remove, the ills from within the BCCI? What will be the new BCCI regime like? Who will wield power in the new BCCI setup? Only time will answer these questions. It will be better to keep our fingers crossed and watch what happens in Indian cricket, especially in the BCCI, in the near future rather than speculate.
Fast. Lite. Innovative. Shareable. Download our HW Cricket app!