22 December 1997 Sports Cover Story

First Person

Kicking off the inquiry with Chandrachud proved disheartening
First Person

THE inquisition took place in the Taj Palace’s business centre. There were two persons in a room which could have held 22. Y.V.Chandrachud and the BCCI’s legal advisor. A legal advisor to assist the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of India!

The Board obviously wasn’t taking chances. So wasn’t I. When Chandrachud began shooting, I made it clear I would prefer to answer them one-on-one, sensitive stuff and all that. At this, the legal advisor got up and left. As the door closed behind him, Chandrachud hissed: "Even I thought so." When a steno popped his head in, Chandrachud said there was no need: he would call him if needed. He stressed that the entire meeting was "between you and me", meaning not for publication. Presumably, the condition applied to both sides. But the party of the first part evidently didn’t think so. So here goes.

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It became clear very early on that cricketing knowledge was not Chandrachud’s strong point. He swooned over the time he posed with the great Sunil Gavaskar. So, much time was spent providing a primer of sorts on the location of the press and TV boxes vis-a-vis the dressing room, et cetera.

That’s why it became necessary to point out that we had, without motives, conducted a very serious investigation on a very serious subject. That we were not accusing all the players in all the matches of throwing it away. That the Board was trying to muddy the waters by mischievously wording his brief.

That’s why it became necessary to tell him that naming names, as everybody and his uncle in the country wanted Manoj Prabhakar to do, would serve a very limited purpose. The point, really, was that somebody had stood up and given the BCCI a great chance to clean up its Augean stables.

But the heart of the matter, I told Chandrachud, was that there was a public interest side to the issue which the Board thought nothing of: millions were watching—punting—without knowing what was happening, or had already happened behind the scenes. That needed to be stopped.

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Chandrachud made pleasing noises. As he did when I said the Board was being myopic in ignoring the other issues Outlook had raised: of journalists and TV commentators misusing the press box, of stars—desi and videsi—collaborating with nefarious forces beyond the boundary. Call journalists bodies’ representatives, call the TV companies, get them to take a stand, I said. He said he would. He didn’t.

A punter himself, Chandrachud said he understood the essential difference between betting and match-fixing and that the former was really a law and order issue and something unavoidable. Every punter has his favourite betting story. Chandrachud had his. "I was going from Mumbai to Poona in a car with three friends. No sooner had we passed the city outskirts than they began reeling out random numbers—5964, 310, 8725. I didn’t understand what was happening. It turned out they were betting on the registration number that would overtake them next," he recounted with great relish on the first day of the probe. And he recounted it on the last, and every other day in between.

Why do they do it, he asked of the players. I told him of the stinginess of a cash-flush board which, according to the aide of a top cricketer, was paying its moneyspinners just Rs 10,000 for a one-day match till as recently as the quarter-finals of the 1996 Wills World Cup. The implication: there was enough motivation for those who wanted to stray from the straight and narrow.

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Chandrachud appeared to be taken in by the argument. That’s when I provided him with the breakup of the official earnings of a cricketer, whose name the honourable judge admitted he had heard in connection with the issue at hand. And I gave him a loose list of the said cricketer’s unaudited assets. Chandrachud took a long, hard look and said: "Yes, I know, this is the worst case. The player will, of course, claim they were gifted to him by friends. But how many people have friends who give away flats and cars and expensive watches without expecting anything in return?"

 "Can I keep these documents," Chandrachud asked. It was then that he agreed that it was impossible to pin down the culprits in the act without proof of payment. He agreed it required concerted action—from the revenue intelligence agencies, from enforcement authorities, from the income tax department, from VSNL—to bell the black sheep.

 "Let’s meet again after I’ve met the rest," Chandrachud said. "This was just to get to grips with what’s happening. Meantime, apply your mind and send me a note on what the Board can do to correct the situation. You don’t have to sign it."

The call never came. Seeing the results of the six-month probe, the first thought that comes to me is the first thought that struck me when he was appointed to investigate the malfeasance. Chandrachud okayed the hanging of Kehar Singh when everybody felt he was innocent in the Indira Gandhi murder case. He has absolved the cricket setup when everybody thinks there is reasonable scope for doubt. In the Kehar Singh case, Chan-drachud regretted his action three years later.

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