For all his alert mind and dynamism BCCI chief Jagmohan Dalmiya, was always reluctant to be interviewed. He would say in jest that he did not want to get trapped or tricked into making a faux pas or any controversial statement without meaning to.
As the secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India in the mid-1990s he was honest enough to say that he was not articulate enough to speak his mind out and so would not like to be grilled in a Q & A session. He once naively said he would give “stories” provided they were written the way he wanted. Gradually, over the years he opened up more, yet a majority of his interviews were command performances.
How much does a sports administrator know about the sport he is running? Precious little, is the general perception. When confronted with this question once, Dalmiya shot back: “I have played enough to know how to administer the sport and as for on-field matters, there are enough players to address them and advise me.”
Like a good Marwari businessman, he had his instincts and never took clever marketing and financial types all that seriously. He calculated on his fingers anything relayed from his mind. Like some of the BCCI’s presidents before him, such as M A Chidambaram, maternal uncle of P. Chidambaram, and Purshottam Rungta, he was a wizard with figures. But though he brought a lot of money into the game, he could he not bring professionalism into the Board It took a long time for him to realise that unless players were adequately rewarded the growth of the sport would remain tardy.
Dalmiya was generous in taking care of officials, especially his supporters, sending his supporters on jaunts as managers and observers. But otherwise, he and his advisers on the board remained tight-fisted, somehow believing that paying big sums to players would corrupt them as well as the sport. Unlike Dalmiya, his friend and also the Board’s president Inderjit Singh Bindra, when he was secretary, believed in even distribution of wealth, But it was only when Sharad Pawar took over, the Board started paying huge sums as infrastructure subsidies to the associations that were its members.
Perhaps Dalmiya was right. Money was not only corrupting officials but also players. The Indian Premier League (IPL), conceptualised by another enterprising Marwari Lalit Modi, gushed money into the board in a torrent and with it, as Dalmiya feared, came the corrupt practices that have became notorious in the game.
After making the BCCI the world’s richest cricket body, Dalmiya focused on the International Cricket Council (ICC) and found ways to get money for global development of the game. He must have been delighted to see so many associate members trying to force their way into the mainstream of world cricket. He was very keen that rich nations like Japan, China and U.S. should use their money power to play cricket.
Dalmiya and his fellow-collaborator Inderjit Singh Bindra formed a terrific duo; they complemented each other. They started drifting apart first on the issue of offshore cricket. Dalmiya saw nothing wrong in tapping moneybags anywhere as a business proposition while Bindra was opposed to it.
Then, when it came to India’s turn to occupy the ICC chief’s position–some international boards did not trust Dalmiya and thought that the suave Bindra would be a better bet. Dalmiya’s supporters saw it as a devious move by the ICC members to create a wedge between the two.
Ruthless with opponents
Dalmiya could be ruthless when it came to dealing with those who differed with him. He got Bindra suspended from the BCCI for actively helping the CBI, which was probing match fixing, by providing information on the alleged involvement of some Board officials. Bindra as president of the board differed with his friend on the methods to deal with dissidence. When Pawar and his team came to power, they did the same to Dalmiya, charging him with alleged embezzlement of board funds and hounding him out.
Unfortunately, people remember their quiet split than what the two did in getting India to host the 1987 and 1996 World Cups by beating England and Australia at their own game. The man who had seen spark in the two was N K P Salve, another former Board president and Union minister, who could teach a thing or two to anyone on fiscal management as well as in political manouvering.
Dalmiya and Bindra were the men who extricated the board from the colonial hangover when they opposed the ruling establishment in the early 80s by their sheer ability to take up right causes in the interest of Indian cricket. It is to the credit of Salve and later another Congress politician and Union minister Madhavrao Scindia, that they had risen above the narrow group interests of the ruling clique to nominate Dalmiya and Bindra as the Board’s brand ambassadors to deal with the ICC.
When he came back for his second stint as the Board president he promised to cleanse the system that got rotted, but both his mind and body were unwilling to cooperate with him. No one who knew him would dispute his commitment to cricket; he carried it in his heart till it eventually failed him.