I n July 2013, the Bombay High Court declared as “illegal” the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s panel to probe spot-fixing in the IPL. That two-member body was set up by the then President N Srinivasan, and, its unwritten brief seemed to be to give a clean chit to his son-in-law Gurunathan Meiyappan. When the Supreme Court later set up its own probe under Justice Mudgal, the truth was out. Meiyappan was banned for life and two IPL teams were expelled from the competition. Now cricket seems to have unearthed a new one-man decision-making body, a law unto himself.
He appointed a committee and then censored its report. Except in this case, Vinod Rai from the Committee of Administrators was not trying to protect his sonin-law. It was the CEO of the BCCI, Rahul Johri, who was handed a certificate of exoneration. That is how far we have come in five years. We have replaced one autocrat with another. Such is the power of the chair in the BCCI — anyone who sits on it becomes like anyone who has sat there earlier. If the earlier lot was willing to let spot-fixing slide without proper investigation, Rai is willing to let a possible case of sexual harassment slide without proper investigation.
The farcical manner the inquiry was conducted, the refusal to depose a BCCI employee who had complained, the dismissal of dissenting voices, the unholy rush to reinstate the CEO, and the single-minded, single-voiced nature of the inquiry all suggest a version of match-fixing. We can take on board or dismiss political interference from Delhi, it doesn’t matter. What went out of the window was what the CoA was appointed to bring in through the door: transparency and accountability. The inquiry was neither straightforward nor seen to be straightforward.
The Supreme Court, under whose aegis all this drama was played out must step in now. History repeating itself can be tedious, but it can be prevented. If anything, the lapses work against Johri, making him seem guilty. If he is innocent we don’t know that from the investigation. Cricket deserves better; so does Johri. The silence from most of the BCCI and the “me too” movement is surprising, however. Here are damaging quotes from three different sources — enough material here for a relook at the case: First, from Diana Eduljee, the other member of the CoA who, according to the Inquiry Committee report said that “the fact that Ms Gowda has recommended that Mr Johri should undergo gender sensitisation counselling/ training is sufficient for her to arrive at the conclusion that he is not fit to be the CEO of BCCI. Accordingly, she expressed the view that the report of the Committee is actually a split 2:1 verdict and Mr Johri should be asked to tender his resignation with immediate effect.”
Here’s Neeraj Kumar in an interview to The Telegraph: “A cruel joke has been played on those who swear by cricket. The inquiry committee’s report is so patently preposterous that I’m amazed it’s not publicly being made fun of. The entire CEO-related process has, in my view, been an insult to cricket lovers.” Kumar is the former head of the BCCI’s anti-corruption unit and deposed before the three-member committee. Finally, from Veena Gowda, member of the committee: “Effort to close the concerns/disputes between the parties themselves without going through the due process of law has been made.
The CoA and the BCCI should be held accountable for the manner in which this issue has been handled.” This was a reference to an earlier case in the BCCI; the lady in question was not invited to depose. But a committee should look for both specific cases as well as patterns of behaviour before arriving at a conclusion. In the end it did not just absolve the CEO, it threw mud on the complainants. The allegations by at least three women currently in three different parts of the world who worked with the CEO have been called “false, baseless, fabricated and manufactured with an ulterior motive to harm him (the CEO) and throw him out of BCCI.”
This is classic victim-shaming using the language of a social media troll. Johri might be pure as the driven snow, but the alacrity with which the clean chit (or twothirds clean) has been delivered raises questions about the process. Gowda says in the report, “The conduct of Mr Rahul Johri at Birmingham as CEO of an institution such as BCCI, is unprofessional and inappropriate which would adversely affect its reputation and the same has to be looked at by the concerned authorities.”
Who are the authorities who will look at this? Are the authorities concerned at all? There seems to be an office-bearer common to both the erstwhile BCCI and the current CoA (Eduljee’s has been a dissenting voice): The Secretary for Sweeping Matters Under the Carpet. The gamekeeper has become indistinguishable from the poacher. And absolute power is doing what it is known to do.