At 2 pm on July 14, the Supreme Court-mandated commission led by Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha submitted its opinion regarding the spot-fixing scandal that rocked the Indian Premier League in May 2013. And the most astonishing thing about the report is that it should have been necessary at all.
For what exactly did the Lodha Commission do? It banned two individuals – Gurunath Meiyappan, a former official of the Chennai Super Kings franchise and Raj Kundra, part owner of the Rajasthan Royals franchise – from any further involvement in official cricket for life. And it banned the two franchises, CSK and RR, from the IPL for two years.
All of that is exactly what the BCCI’s constitution expressly mandates in such cases: that officials found indulging in corrupt practices be banned for life, and that teams to which those officials belong should be suspended.
In other words, the Lodha Commission did yesterday what the BCCI could have done on May 16, 2013, or any day after that, of its own volition. Instead, what did the BCCI do?
It first tried to quarantine the infected officials, with the disingenuous claim that Meiyappan in particular was not an official of the CSK franchise but just a “cricket enthusiast” – therefore, no action could be taken by the board, and no action need be taken against the franchise.
When the genie refused to go back into the bottle, the board concocted an “inquiry committee” in such shambolic fashion that one of its supposed constituents – then board secretary Sanjay Jagdale – was not even aware he was on the panel. Predictably, the two remaining members of the hand-picked committee “found no evidence of wrongdoing” against either Meiyappan or Kundra. Two days after that triumphant conclusion, on July 30, 2013, the Bombay High Court struck down the committee as “illegal”.
It was then that the board, driven entirely by its president at the time, N. Srinivasan, made its first major misstep: it challenged the Bombay High Court order in the Supreme Court, and thus drew the latter’s attention to itself.
Despite Raj Kundra reportedly confessing his involvement in betting as early as June 6, 2013, despite Meiyappan being named by the Bombay police for involvement in betting, cheating and criminal conspiracy, despite the Supreme Court asking the board to take action, it kept stonewalling, its efforts bent towards one objective only: to ensure that N. Srinivasan’s Teflon coating remained unmarred.
That led to the appointment of the Mukul Mudgal inquiry committee to probe the scandal and the subsequent appointment of the Lodha Commission to review the findings and make recommendations to the apex court about the nature of punishment.
Which brings us back full circle to this: Two years and two months after the scandal first hit the headlines, the Lodha Commission has prescribed exactly what the BCCI constitution mandates — no more, no less. Der aaye durust aaye. Good has triumphed over evil.
Only, I keep going back to that one central thought: Why could the BCCI not have done any of this of its own volition? Had it, two years ago, taken the action its own constitution mandates and banned Kundra and Meiyappan, even the suspension of the franchises would have been unnecessary.
Through these two years, one man drove the entire agenda, both in the courts and in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, the rest of the honourable men making up the BCCI sat on their collective hands. The list of powerful figures who held office in the BCCI at the time is illuminating: Rajiv Shukla and Jyotiraditya Scindia of the Congress; Sharad Pawar of the NCP; Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley of the BJP…
And yet, not one yip from an all-star roster of the most powerful politicians in the land; not one move to bring their influence to bear to see the right thing done, their own constitution honoured, and Srinivasan prevented from actions that have done more even than the spot-fixers to bring the game into disrepute.
In all the ‘justice is served’ triumphalism of Justice Lodha’s pronouncements, and all the agonising over the fate of two franchises, this is the question that gets short-shrift: If all these powerful political figures stood mute for all these months, why are they not deemed accessories?
What censure, what punishment, fits their crime?
Prem Panicker is a journalist and editor of The Peepli Project.