In a dramatic turn of events over the last couple of days, former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly is all set to be announced as the unanimous choice for president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Ganguly, who has served as president of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) since 2015, is one of the most celebrated names in Indian cricket and brings with him a powerful image of honesty, integrity and vision. It’s not surprising, then, that the news of his appointment has been met with great enthusiasm.
However, it’s the great cricketing minds that have come along with Ganguly that have raised eyebrows: Union home minister Amit Shah’s businessman son Jay Amit Shah has been appointed BCCI secretary while the post of treasurer has been offered to Arun Dhumal, brother of minister of state for finance and former BCCI president Anurag Thakur.
It has nearly been three years since the Supreme Court dismissed Thakur as president and took de facto control of the board. The court-appointed Committee of Administrators has since been in charge of the board’s operations. But with the CoA’s term coming to an end, the BCCI will get back its authority and control, under a new leadership.
While Ganguly’s brand name obviously generates much euphoria and hope for a cleaner reign, the other two appointments more than confirm that the traditional forces of power and political influence are very much still in the equation. Revisiting what happened when the Supreme Court had to intervene in the BCCI’s functioning could give some important context here.
The Jagmohan Dalmiya episode
Jagmohan Dalmiya, who was the face of Indian cricket administration for the better part of the 1990s, conceded control of the BCCI to his powerful rival, Sharad Pawar, in 2005. Dalmiya was subsequently ousted from the board on charges of misappropriation of funds. The Pawar bloc kept growing in strength and completely seized control of the board, sidelining all the Dalmiya loyalists. Dalmiya had lost his power and influence, and was steadily running short of friends.
However, nearly a decade later, when Indian cricket was embroiled in a major betting scandal, the incumbent board president N. Srinivasan was asked to step down on Supreme Court orders. The tumult which followed meant that the BCCI had to restore its integrity by doing away with the old guard. But a few interim appointments later, the entire system forged a consensus and the same old Jagmohan Dalmiya was elected back to power – unopposed no less.
This turn of events highlights the BCCI’s organisational culture in which power is strictly confined to a coterie of strongmen. The warring factions may topple each other from time to time, but there is very little scope for any meaningful change among the board’s power ranks. And the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Sticky power structures
In January 2017, when the Supreme Court put the CoA in charge of running the board, the fundamental idea was to seize control from the traditional powers and see through a cultural change, to ensure that the reforms mandated by the report authored by Justice Lodha at the Supreme Court’s direction are implemented properly.
But at the end of the CoA’s tenure, that prospect still looks like a distant reality. The powerful factions, primarily made up of the very same old guard, are once again in a power tussle and Ganguly has emerged as the consensus candidate between the two. The Srinivasan camp was actively lobbying for former India and Karnataka batsman Brijesh Patel. But Anurag Thakur’s lobby, at the mercy of Amit Shah, did not welcome the idea of Srinivasan wresting control again.
Ganguly’s name has understandably generated some frenzy in the media. But it is important to highlight the fact that the former India captain’s stint in his new position is not likely to extend beyond 10 months.
In compliance with the Lodha reforms, no office-bearer can continue to function beyond two terms without a mandatory cooling-off period in between. Along with Ganguly, Jay Shah too will have to vacate the office of secretary some time in 2020. With a tenure of less than a year, therefore, these appointments make little sense apart from the fact that they are only at the behest of those pulling the strings from behind the scenes.
While Shah and Dhumal allow their father and brother respectively to have influence at the table, Ganguly helps the Bharatiya Janata Party keep the Srinivasan camp at bay. There is also speculation that a deal involving Ganguly campaigning for the BJP in the upcoming West Bengal elections may have been struck, though the former captain has categorically denied this. But even if the rumours have no merit, Ganguly may very likely have been crossed off the list of people Mamta Banerjee could have asked for an endorsement.
The Gujarat model
With Amit Shah very much at the heart of Indian cricket now, the BCCI – like the bureaucracy at large since 2014 – may turn into a Gujarat lobby stronghold. Influential Gujaratis like Niranjan Shah and Chirayu Amin have held key offices in the BCCI in the past, but their political stature does not even begin to compare to Shah’s. The Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) has already had a taste of this.
Among all state associations affiliated with the BCCI, the GCA wasn’t known as a strong force for the longest time. In fact, the other two associations from the state (Saurashtra and Baroda) have had more historical significance. But in 2009, Narendra Modi – then the chief minister – took control of the association. This was a critical turning point, as it marked the end of reign of former Congressman and BCCI vice-president Narhari Amin. Rajya Sabha member and Reliance Industries’ chairman Mukesh Ambani’s trusted confidante Parimal Nathwani soon followed Modi as the vice-president. In 2013, Jay Amit Shah was appointed the joint secretary.
Modi relinquished his position as the board’s president in 2014 and was naturally succeeded by Amit Shah at the helm. The GCA now was firmly a BJP stronghold. It no longer was just another member board but a major power bloc with ambitions to wield greater control over Indian cricket.
When the Lodha reforms had to be forced down the throat of the BCCI and the state associations by the Supreme Court, the GCA was among the more intransigent ones. Ideally, the Shah father-son duo and Nathwani should have vacated their posts if due process was followed. But while a number of others in violation of the guidelines were let go, the three held on to their dens.
It is only in September 2019 that Shah stepped down as president; his position is yet to be filled. Dhanraj Nathwani stepped into his father’s boots as the vice-president – another appointment in direct violation of the Lodha guidelines since Nathwani is also the president of the Gujarat State Football Association. However, Jay Amit Shah’s was the name conspicuous by its absence in the new list of office-bearers. It created speculation on him eyeing a lucrative position in the BCCI in the upcoming cycle.
As it turned out, only days later Jay Amit Shah has now made it to the highest circles of one of the most powerful sporting bodies in the world. With him occupying the second-highest position in the BCCI, while very likely furthering his father’s political interests, the power politics of the cricket administration has gone back to square one. The principle behind introducing the Lodha reforms was to take the sport away from the clutches of a powerful politico-industry nexus and have the game run by people with the best interests of the sport at heart.
Much like in 2015, where after all the brouhaha, the power eventually came back to the oldest dog in the fight, the reforms this time around, too, sadly offer little beyond the optics. The key purpose behind the Lodha committee, it will be fair to say, has fallen flat on its face.