It was a pre-poll bash meant to be a brash stand-in for an election campaign, held artfully on an auspicious date for Indian cricket. The ‘Trustworthy Group’, as the panel headed by former India all-rounder Madan Lal was called in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) elections, had made arrangements for 300 ‘plates’ for a get-together. But over 750 people turned up at Lord of the Drinks Forum in New Delhi’s Nehru Place, where the last big bash before the elections was held. The occasion, on June 25, was the 35th anniversary of India’s first World Cup triumph in 1983.
Madan Lal, accompanied by his family, flashed his trademark smile as short video clips of the World Cup final was repeatedly played, along with good-luck messages from legends like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, on the big screen. The anniversary celebration was just an excuse to organise a supporters’ gathering in an attempt to consolidate votes in the impending DDCA elections. While reminding the gathering, which included a few ‘informers’ from rival contestants’ camps, that the 1983 victory was the outcome of a team effort, the 67-year-old stalwart requested DDCA members to vote his entire 12-member team to power, and not just him. Otherwise, he stressed, his team wouldn’t be able to work towards its goals.
Innovative campaigning marked the period of June 4-26, before the four-day polling, which was scheduled to start on June 27, while the results were to be announced on July 2. The three contesting panels—the other two were headed by senior Supreme Court advocate Vikas Singh and India TV editor-in-chief Rajat Sharma—organised a number of parties, ‘nukkad’ meetings, door-to-door visits, and even paid obeisance at gurudwaras and temples in search of votes. All three panels claimed they were sure of victory.
As liquor flowed like water at these dinners, DDCA members who were invited felt ‘honoured’ at being ‘finally recognised’. And all this came about because the Lodha Committee recommendations have ended the proxy system of voting. It was the first time in DDCA’s 88-year history that all the members were asked to compulsorily vote in person.
Madan Lal at his campaign party
All three teams contesting the polls promised to end corruption. Their lavish spending to woo 3,828 DDCA members was towards this noble goal.
Earlier, thanks to the convenient proxy system, some DDCA officials ruled unchallenged for years, even decades—a few for well over 30 years, as they held a vice-like grip over votes. Proxy voting is cited as the root cause of all the ills and financial irregularities in the DDCA, which, quite ironically, won the BCCI’s 2017-18 best association award for its on-field performance in men’s and women’s tournaments. In their vision documents and speeches, all three panels had harped on putting an end to corruption, cricketing and financial. Towards this noble goal, they left no stone unturned to woo the 3,828 DDCA members who were eligible to vote. Rajat Sharma had also been promising to root out corruption if voted to power. But when asked by Outlook if he would probe issues of previous financial irregularities and take action against the guilty, he chose not to reply.
Despite such campaigning being a ‘first’ at the DDCA elections, the candidates were practised performers. Cocktails-and-dinner parties were organised in various Delhi localities so that DDCA members in those areas could wine and dine without having to brave the traffic.
But Vikas Singh, whose son Varun has represented Delhi in under-17 and under-19 tournaments, surprised all by employing a unique method to elicit support: a musical concert by the Pakistani-turned-Indian singer Adnan Sami at the Siri Fort Auditorium. Singh, who is also president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, hopes this musical gala would have ensured many votes. “It was my idea. This was a novel way of interacting with everybody. At dinners you can’t talk much, but at a concert the audience listens to what you have to say. Six hundred DDCA members registered for the show; around 1,500 turned up. Some others didn’t want to be seen with me, while a lot of my supporters were travelling at the time,” says Singh.
But the one question Singh’s rivals asked was: How many of those who turned up for the show would vote for Singh’s panel, called ‘DDCA Members’ Front’? Singh insisted they would.
Throwing expensive parties need money and the campaigns, it was clear, was held aloft by deep pockets. While most of the expenses of Madan Lal’s panel were said to be borne by a current BCCI office-bearer, Vikas Singh largely funded his own events—he even hired an expensive PR agency—and Rajat Sharma had a distinct advantage of having his own TV channel, which beamed his campaign and encouragements from renowned cricketers. “I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. During interactions at small gatherings you come to know people more closely. I attended gatherings where, at times, only five or ten people were there. The main thing was to consolidate your position,” says Madan Lal.
Interestingly, Vikas Singh, 58, was the first of the three people to announce his candidature for the president’s chair, on May 16, followed by Rajat Sharma and Madan Lal. All three names surprised people. Actually, the ‘DDCA Members’ Front’ was a breakaway faction of the group led by C.K. Khanna, a former DDCA vice-president known as ‘proxy king’ for his reputation of being the biggest proxy collector for years.
A source says that a few people who were adamant on contesting the elections could not be accommodated in the C.K. Khanna panel, so they approached Singh, who represented one of parties in the ongoing BCCI reforms case in the Supreme Court. “There were five people in the Khanna group who had to be accommodated, but there was no space. Some of them were adamant on contesting, and they persuaded Singh to contest and became candidates,” he says.
From left, Anjali Sharma (director aspirant), Shashi Khanna (vicepresident), her husband C.K. Khanna and Sucheta Nagpal (woman director)
Rajat Sharma’s candidature, too, was a surprise. The source said that the Saneh Prakash Bansal-Vinod Tihara group had first approached cricketer Gautam Gambhir to contest the president’s post, but he declined. Then, Rajat Sharma’s name was suggested by a powerful central minister; the senior TV journalist also got the backing of International Hockey Federation president Narinder Dhruv Batra, a former DDCA treasurer. Bansal was removed as DDCA president after an internal audit report detected an alleged RTGS transfer of Rs 1.55 crore of DDCA funds to three shady firms without the executive committee’s authorisation in 2014. Then DDCA treasurer Ravinder Manchanda, who was part of Bansal’s opposite camp at the time, joined hands with Bansal in a realignment of forces for the elections.
Similarly, Madan Lal was not the original choice of the C.K. Khanna faction. A former Test batsman and the son of a former Delhi CM had initially approached Virender Sehwag to put his hat in the ring for the top post, but in vain.
Despite the DDCA being administered by a Delhi High Court-appointed administrator—former SC judge Vikaramajit Sen—it has beaten all BCCI affiliates, barring Vidarbha, to embrace the Lodha panel recommendations, amended its constitution, and announced elections. The polls, too, are being held on the orders of the same court, though some DDCA members, said to be prompted by one of the three panels, unsuccessfully sought to secure a stay on it.
In the Rajat Sharma panel, relations of six candidates were past DDCA officials. Teams of Madan Lal and Singh have three and two cases.
However, the DDCA polls, held under the eye of reforms in Indian cricket, will possibly not change the status quo as many former officials have fielded their wives, sons, brothers and other relations. In September 2016, Outlook had predicted that in the next elections, at least three DDCA officials were likely to push their family members—C.K. Khanna his wife Shashi; businessman Saneh Prakash Bansal his younger brother Rakesh; and Ravinder Manchanda his younger brother Rajan. It has come true. It is not illegal to field relations, but surely unethical, as in most cases the older officials rule by proxy.
In these elections, the Rajat Sharma panel had the most ‘family issues’—relations of six contestants out of 12 were in the immediately previous DDCA executive committee. Rakesh Bansal is a vice-presidential candidate, Rajan Manchanda is a joint secretary aspirant, and Renu Khanna, contesting for the woman director’s post, is wife of Anil Khanna, who signed and approved the transfer of Rs 1.55 crore out of the DDCA. Also contesting directors’ posts are Alok Mittal, son of Brij Mohan Gupta; Apurv Jain, son of Ravi Jain; and, Nitin Gupta, son of Gange Gupta. The fathers were previous directors.
The Madan Lal panel has three clear family-related conflict of interest cases: Shashi Khanna, contesting for the vice-president’s post, is wife of C.K. Khanna; Pushpinder Chauhan is younger brother of former DDCA vice-president Chetan Chauhan; and, Rajiv Garg, vying for director’s seat, is brother of Vinod Garg, a former additional joint secretary (sports). The Vikas Singh panel had the least number of relatives—only two. Vice-presidential candidate Arvinder Singh ‘Lovely’, son of former Union sports minister Buta Singh and woman director aspirant Devyani Singh are relatives, and old DDCA hand Shri Bhagwan Verma, contesting the treasurer’s post and Rajendra Kumar, aiming for the director’s position, are uncle and nephew.
All three panels appealed to voters to elect all their candidates. The most likely scenario was a coalition coming to power in DDCA. But one positive thing on the eve of polling was DDCA agreeing to come under RTI, something that the Lodha Committee has recommended.