When anarchy reigned supreme

IN August, cricket witnessed the mother of all draws in Manchester. A no-result achieved off the very last ball of the third Ashes Test match after five days of fluctuating fortunes. Held the very next month, the 76th BCCI Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Kolkata, in which the Board elections were pencilled in as Agenda Nine, has also given the cricketing world what could be classified as a thrilling draw.

But, if Manchester represented the beauty and subtlety of cricket, Kolkata stands for its obverse. Nobody knew whether an election was on; and if indeed it was, it was anybody's guess as to who would represent each of the 30 affiliates of the national governing body of the sport in the voting. A pitched battle was fought behind closed doors of a star hotel between the two rival groups in the BCCI — one led by Jagmohan Dalmiya and the other by Sharad Pawar — with loyalists of each group claiming before waiting cameras at every stage that they held the upper hand. After two days of absolute anarchy, during which attention shifted back and forth from the hotel to initially the Madras High Court and later the Calcutta High Court in the matter of the appointment of the election observers, it was `amicably' decided to postpone the AGM "in the larger interests of BCCI" to a "more congenial time". The Interim Order of the Calcutta High Court has stated that the AGM should be reconvened before November 30.

Perhaps, the only transparent development was the induction of Mumbai Cricket Association President Pawar and his loyalist, Tamil Nadu Cricket Association President N. Srinivasan, into BCCI's Marketing Committee. The Committee is to decide on the Board's television partner for the next four years after the Delhi High Court gives a verdict on a Zee Telefilms petition seeking to change the eligibility criterion spelt out in the BCCI's Tender to Bid document brought out this August. The induction of Pawar and former Marketing Committee chairman Srinivasan is widely seen as a compromise between the rival camps.

The increasing number of legal interventions in administration — whether it be the AGM of this year, the corresponding one of last year, or the television rights dispute that arose in September 2004 and which dragged on for almost a year resulting in huge losses to the BCCI — is indication of the unplanned and unregulated route that Indian cricket has taken over the years. Though a division bench of the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court cleared the BCCI of any institutional bias against Zee Telefilms with respect to the cancellation of the tender process in 2004, it must be noted that the BCCI, unlike professional governing bodies of cricket in England and Australia, has made it a habit of releasing its Invitation to Tender documents at the last minute, which was one reason why the matter landed up in court in September 2004 in the first place.

The mismanagement of 2004-05 has been replicated by the national team, which sank to new depths recently in Zimbabwe when the image of `Team India', foisted by marketing men prior to World Cup 2003, lay shattered to pieces. It does not take a brilliant political scientist to figure out the direct impact that administrative systems can have on performance and productivity. England's recent Ashes win after 16 years was scripted as much in the ECB boardrooms over the last five years by adherence to the Australian Model of elite sporting excellence as on the field.

In the light of what Indian cricket lovers have got over the last few years from the BCCI, it is too premature to get excited about noises that have emanated out of the Dalmiya-Pawar compromise that the constitution of the BCCI would be changed to aim for greater transparency. But, the cricket-loving public of one of the biggest democracies of the world cannot be blamed for licking their lips in anticipation of the day the antiquated articles of the BCCI constitution, specifically ones such as Article 29 and Article 26, are given the burial.

These were the articles that came into play in the controversial 2004 BCCI elections, when the then President Jagmohan Dalmiya used his casting vote to break the electoral deadlock between Ranbir Singh Mahendra and Sharad Pawar in Mahindra's favour. Article 29 states that "in case of any dispute as to admission or rejection of a vote the Chairman shall decide the same and such decision shall be final and conclusive". Article 26 gives the chairman the right to deploy the casting vote in case of an electoral tie.

It is high time such undemocratic articles are scrapped, especially when viewed in the light of the observation of a five-member division bench of the Supreme Court this February that the BCCI "does discharge some duties such as the selection of an Indian cricket team, controlling the activities of the players and others involved in the game of cricket. These activities can be said to be akin to public duties or State functions".