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If cricket administration were the subject of a drama, the plot twists couldn’t get more suspenseful than this. Close to midnight on October 13, as over 50 cricket officials from across the country waited anxiously in the Sunset Hall of Trident hotel in Mumbai, former cricket supremo N. Srinivasan got “the honour” of announcing the ‘unanimously’ chosen candidates for the impending Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) elections. A compromise had just been reached after many days of backroom lobbying, in which Union home minister Amit Shah was closely involved.
The irony was that of Srinivasan, 74, disqualified by the Lodha panel-written BCCI constitution, making the announcement. Another irony was that MoS for finance Anurag Thakur, who headed the largest, BJP-backed, group in the BCCI, had also been sacked by the Supreme Court, like Srinivasan, a few years ago. Both were in the fight to control the BCCI.
The BCCI elections were being held after four years, and after the 33-month tenure of the SC-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA). The stakes were high, making all four groups in the BCCI determined to avoid contests. But putting up consensus candidates was a herculean task, as it transpired later. After intense parlays, former India captain Sourav Ganguly, 47, became the 32nd man to head BCCI; former India batsman Brijesh Patel, 66, was elected chairman of the IPL governing council. Patel was Srinivasan’s original choice, and Ganguly was ‘offered’ to become boss of IPL GC, while there was no dispute about the candidature of Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah for the secretary’s post.
As per the new BCCI constitution, all cricket administrators have a maximum nine-year tenure each at BCCI and in state bodies, with a mandatory cooling-off period after six years at both places. Thus, Ganguly has only 278 days left in his six years—he spent the rest as CAB president and joint secretary—before he takes a breather from July 26, 2020. But Ganguly and others may get a lease of life if the Centre brings the Sports Bill. It is being speculated that the Bill’s stipulations would provide longer tenures for sports administrators than nine years.
So, what really happened behind the scenes? There was hectic lobbying, acrimony and high drama before the October 14 nomination deadline. Thakur led the biggest group that comprised almost all of the 17 BJP-ruled states. Srinivasan controlled southern states. Ganguly derived his strength from the eight loyal Northeast states—Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Assam. The weakest group, but no less crucial, was headed by Rajeev Shukla, perhaps the only individual acceptable to all factions.
There was intense lobbying before the nomination. Thakur, Ganguly, Srinivasan and Shukla led the four groups.
On October 14, Ganguly and seven others filed their nomination papers at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai. In a comic interlude, a few people, quite bizarrely, forgot who they were proposing/seconding at the filing stage—signifying a lack of communication and how the main protagonists had kept everyone at bay. “One person didn’t remember what the [candidates’] names were.... Thereafter, people came with slips when we called them,” Electoral Officer N. Gopalaswami, a former Chief Election Commissioner, reveals to Outlook (Received 75 Complaints During BCCI Election: Electoral Officer N. Gopalaswami).
Chhattisgarh cricket president Prabhtej Singh Bhatia, at 28 the youngest to be elected to the BCCI apex council, recalls the confusion around candidatures. “There were ongoing discussions, but nothing was final till the night before the nominations. A lot of random talks were happening. There were too many things that everybody had to consider,” Bhatia tells Outlook.
Another official admits: “There are only five BCCI office-bearers’ posts and there are 38 state associations in five zones, and everybody had to be accommodated. So, naturally it took time.” Eventually, out of the eight apex council seats, east zone got two (president and IPL GC member), central two (vice-president and councillor), south two (IPL GC president and joint secretary), west one (secretary), and north one (treasurer).
The ‘game of thrones’ started in earnest on October 10, when Thakur visited Guwahati. With state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, he met representatives of seven of the eight Northeast states to garner support for the BJP group. When contacted, Sarma declined to comment; Thakur did not respond.
The scene then shifted to Delhi, where the North East Cricket Development Committee (NECDC), an independent body comprising Arunachal, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Sikkim, with Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio as convenor, met on October 12. The NECDC “unanimously decided” that Sikkim Cricket Association president Lobzang G. Tenzing would file his candidature for the joint secretary’s post. But, as Tenzing would later state, “due to the pressure of certain influential groups” he was instead offered the post of IPL GC member, which he “gracefully declined”. Mizoram secretary M. Khairul Jamal Majumdar was chosen for the IPL position.
Soon after that, BCCI stalwarts had several meetings with Amit Shah in Delhi. “Srinivasan, Ganguly, and Thakur met him separately. Then, there was a joint meeting at which, Himanta, former Saurashtra secretary Niranjan Shah, and Shukla were present, besides Srinivasan, Ganguly, and Thakur. The whole idea was to avoid contests,” says a source.
The decisive round of parleys began around 3 pm on October 14 at the Trident. The dramatis personae, among others, were Thakur, Himanta, Srinivasan, Niranjan, Shukla, Jay Shah, Ganguly and former Meghalaya cricket secretary Naba Bhattarcharya, who represented the Northeast states. Interestingly, Vidarbha, controlled by ICC president Shahshank Manohar, and Delhi, which had recently lost its mentor in Arun Jaitley, were not invited by the main players.
Srinivasan, despite health issues, stuck to his guns with certain demands, before he was forced into a compromise. An observer said that despite the numbers, the Thakur-Ganguly-Shukla combine were slightly shaky as Srinivasan reportedly “threatened” to move court if things wouldn’t go his way. More nerve-racking moments ensued when Ganguly refused to accept the IPL GC chairman’s post, because if he had contested, all groups/alignments would have been starkly exposed, embarrassing many. However, the situation was saved in favour of Ganguly, the candidate acceptable to all.
It was speculated that one compromise was that Thakur-Ganguly and Srinivasan had agreed on the latter representing the BCCI in the ICC Board, headed by Manohar. If that happens, Manohar reserves the power to disallow Srinivasan to attend, much like he had recently ignored a CoA request to not allow acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary to sit in an ICC meeting.
Ganguly faces many challenges. He has said that his priority would be to make life comfortable for first-class cricketers by introducing a contract system for them and enhancing match fees. He has also said that the BCCI would try and get its money due from the ICC, estimated to be around $372 million. He will have to make his mark as smoothly as his free-flowing, silken cover drive.