Former Bengal captain Ashok Malhotra was known as a gutsy middle-order batsman who once held the Ranji Trophy record for the highest career aggregate (7,274 runs, including 18 centuries). The former India player and national selector, who turns 63 on January 26, minces no words as he, as president of the Indian Cricketers’ Association (ICA), makes his frustration clear on the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) sitting for long on the initial funding of the ICA, as enumerated in the Supreme Court-approved new BCCI constitution. Malhotra points out that the BCCI has always crushed with iron hands whenever players have formed national-level associations. Under Malhotra, from Punjab/Haryana and a Kolkata resident for many years, current BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, played in the Ranji Trophy for Bengal in the 1990s and batted together. Now, in a role-reversal, Malhotra these days sits across the table to Ganguly, seeking the initial funding so that the ICA takes off. The ICA election results were announced on October 13, but since then there has been nothing except promises on the funding issue. In this exclusive interview, Malhotra candidly shares his views.
It’s almost six months since the BCCI announced recognition of the ICA and over three months since the ICA elections were held. How much of progress has the ICA made since then?
The only progress we have made is that more members have joined us. When we started we had about 1,200 members and now we have 1,600 or 1,700. We have put two people in apex councils of every state association. Some of them are elected and most of them are nominated by the ICA. We have talked to the BCCI about players’ pension (monthly gratis), insurance, inclusion of players who have played 10 to 25 first-class matches for pension etc. See, BCCI itself is not in a working condition. As of now, they haven’t done anything (for the ICA). First and foremost, we have to get funds from the BCCI, because we have to get an office and recruit people to run the office. We have had two-three meetings with the BCCI, but nothing concrete has come out of it. They have given assurance but they’ve done nothing so far. I believe they are going to do it by the end of this month.
What kind of assurance has the BCCI given?
They have given us the assurance of giving us the funds. Once we have the funds, we can have an office. And once we will have an office, we’ll start working – whatever paperwork we have to do, and whatever it is. And then we have to have a meeting (with the BCCI) and request them to increase the players’ pension and increase the medical thing (insurance) etc. The same thing we are going to talk with the state associations, and also regarding the salaries of cricketers in the Ranji Trophy and all that.
ICA doesn’t have an office but is it working from someplace?
We have an office address (in Mumbai). We have a secretary, Hitesh Majumdar, treasurer (V. Krishnaswamy), and other directors also, Yajurvendra Singh and Ms. Rajesh Nayyar Walia (woman). We are sending emails from our accounts. We are at different places but we interact with each other, by either phone calls or on WhatsApp. We all are, kind of, getting the information etc. We are still at the starting blocks. There are a lot of expectations from cricketers, and we would like to fulfil their expectations. But, at the end of the day, we can only request the BCCI. It is the BCCI that has to take the action. We cannot increase the pension of former cricketers, or give them medical insurance, or include people who have played 10 to 25 matches for pension, and also (initiate) pension for the wives of former Ranji Trophy cricketers once they die, because up till now what has been happening is that only international cricketers and their wives – after the death of cricketers – have been getting the pension. But when it comes to first-class cricketers it doesn't happen; the moment they die their wives stop getting the pension, and that is not fair. We have included this in our charter of demands given to the BCCI, and the BCCI wants to know what more we can do. It is categorically written in the BCCI constitution that the ICA would work on the commercial rights of the former as well as current cricketers. So, we have to speak to the current cricketers also. We have not done that. But till we don’t have an office we can’t start working. Hopefully, by end of this month (January), things will fall in place and we will probably give you better news. But the bottom line is: as of now, the BCCI (two office-bearers) itself is trying to get the extension of their terms. They are keener on that (smiles). As of now, that is a major, major problem because they (Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah) have only tenures of 10 months (or less) and if they want to extend it they have to put up a case in the Supreme Court (the amendments to the BCCI constitution have been submitted to the Supreme Court for approval).
But the BCCI is now a properly elected body. It is a different and an individual issue that two of the office-beers have shorter than full terms of three years, and that it depends on the court to approve the amendments. The Supreme Court is seized with very, very important matters, like the Citizen Amendment Act and other things...
Absolutely, and I don’t deny that. This case (of cricket reforms) was already put up in the BCCI and it's done and dusted. You don’t expect...I would say, it is not easy for them (judges) to revoke their (predecessors’) decisions; it won’t be easy. I don't know how it turns out to be. The bottom line is: the BCCI has always been run by two or three people.
Every time. Every time. That’s the norm that the BCCI lives with, traditionally. My funda is that even after almost four months of the terms of (some) the selectors have ended, they have not put a selection committee in place (The BCCI has since called for applications for the vacancies in the three national selection committees).
And so many other things...
And so many other things. That is what I am saying, there are so many other things still pending. See, the BCCI never wanted a cricketers’ association, let us put it this way. I am saying it very bluntly. They have never wanted over a period of 70 years (the Board is 81 years old, actually). A number of players’ associations were made and then they went defunct. We are like we (the ICA) have been shoved down the BCCI throat by the Supreme Court. So, you like us or hate us, so we are here to stay, because we are here by the order of Supreme Court.
Are the other ICA office-bearers or committee members on the same page as you – that the ICA are here to stay?
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. We've got two members in the BCCI Apex Council – Anshuman Gaekwad and Shanta Rangaswamy. And in every state association we got two members in the apex council. Whether or not we are accepted easily is besides the point; they are there. To accept an ICA member is not an easy thing because everybody wants his ways. If an Apex Council member asks some question it might not be comfortable for them. There will be some teething problem. Gradually, they will have to have ICA Apex Council members (in meetings) because if they don’t call ICA Apex Council members then your meeting is null and void, as it was done in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) recently.
Has it happened – that the ICA nominees were not called for meetings?
I believe in the DDCA is has happened.
I'm not talking about the DDCA, but the BCCI.
The BCCI did call and gave them all the respect.
Sourav Ganguly was elected as BCCI president on October 23. Since he is a former cricketer – and Mohammed Azharuddin is also there as the head of the Hyderabad association – it was widely believed among cricketers’ fraternity, especially those who are in favour of the ICA, that it was a huge advantage that a cricketer was going to head the BCCI. They had many hopes from Ganguly as he is a former India captain and cricketer. So has that been a disappointing aspect?
I would not say that. We are still hopeful, not to forget that he is the first cricketer-president. So, we all cricketers are very, very hopeful because it’s an opportunity not just for us, but even for Sourav to make history. He will be in the history books, if he increases the pension; gives us the medical insurance; raises the pension for players having played 10 to 25 first-class matches; insurance to the spouses of the former (late) Ranji Trophy cricketers. So the feather will not be in the cap of the ICA, but in the cap of the BCCI, headed by Sourav Ganguly. And he will be remembered forever by former cricketers. We are giving him time; we are waiting patiently for him to take the next step. Whatever we want from the BCCI we have put it across to the BCCI and to him and Jay Shah. They were very reasonable when they talked to us. So, let’s see. Things should fall in place. We all were hoping that Sourav will turn things around. He comes from the Ranji Trophy (background) and would have a soft corner for former Ranji cricketers. I still don’t know why our former greats cannot have respect for cricketers who have played for 20-odd years of first-class cricket. I understand they did not reach the heights of the former greats. But they also have played cricket, not gulli-danda. And these former cricketers are not as well off as modern-day cricketers, and they are the ones – say, a 60-year-old or 70-year-old guy – who need pension more. If a retired cricketer stays with his son or daughter, and if he starts getting Rs.30,000 or Rs.35,000 a month as pension, the respect in the eyes of his kids will go up. Now, he is dependent on them; then, he will not be dependent. And there are a lot of former cricketers who don’t get pension from their offices or have worked in private offices. One prime example is Kamal Juneja (former Uttar Pradesh player). He has done so well in Ranji Trophy (2,410 runs in 42 first-class matches from 1970-1981). I am sure he would need a good pension.
And he has also served as an umpire.
Yes. So, you should have respect for former cricketers. I keep reading articles, asking what the ICA was doing and that it needs current cricketers. Sure, we need current cricketers, but the former cricketers may grow to 1,600 tomorrow and might be 2,000 or even 3,000 later. You never had so many cricketers on one platform, ever. Let me make it very clear: the ICA is no riff-raff, whatever anybody might think. We are no riff-raff and we are here to stay, by the order of the Supreme Court.
You having played along with Ganguly for Bengal...
I captained him for six years (actually less), and I was the national selector when he got the India cap (in 1992). So, we go back a long way.
What I was asking was that has that personal bonding or personal relationship with Ganguly cut any ice, so to say?
It’s not that. He has got too many things on his plate – too many things. He has to get the BCCI rolling, get an increase in his tenure (beyond 278 days), look after so many state associations, to make selection committees...hundreds of things. I live in Kolkata as him, but we hardly meet. He doesn’t have time. He is trying his best, and he personally told me it (ICA funding) will be done and not to worry about it. But saying is one thing and doing it is another. I hope he does it. What we have heard is that by end of this month, or the first week of February, we will get the funds. That will be a very, very big start. It’ll be a shot in the arm for the ICA. And then we will probably set the ball rolling.
Since Ganguly is keen, as you say, to help the ICA grow, do you think his hands are tied by foreign agencies that are preventing him from doing his job?
I will not commit myself to that. But I would still expect him to do deliver, because it’s not me and it’s not the ICA; it’s the 2,000-odd former cricketers who are asking for it. They are asking questions to the ICA and the ICA is asking questions to the BCCI and Sourav.
It (delay) is not because of lack of funds, as the BCCI, according to in 2017-18 balance-sheet, is more than Rs.11,000 crore worth...
Probably more, probably more.
Yeah, and when the 2018-19 balance-sheet comes it will probably be more.
They have got a contract worth Rs.16,000 crore-Rs.17,000 crore (actually Rs.16,347.50 crore) from STAR Sports.
So, money obviously cannot be...
No, it cannot be an issue. Rs.2.25 crore worth of pension money is given per month [by the BCCI] to the cricketers. So, in an entire year, you pay about Rs.25 crores, and if you double it will become about Rs.50 crores. I say that is loose change for the BCCI. Look at the way you are gonna help former cricketers, who have played with (fee of) Rs.25 per match. I started with Rs.25 a match and retired with Rs.5,000 a match after playing for 24 years (1973-95).
But Ganguly could have put this ICA thing on top of his priority list because if he had wanted this could have been done quickly as money is not a problem.
We honestly thought so and believed so. But as of now, I think they have problems of their own; lots of problems of their own. So, they are sorting them out one by one. But we are not probably on top of their priority list. Still, we are there in their list of demands, or whatever you call it. All in all, things will fall in place. Wait for another 15-20 days; I am very, very hopeful.
What I have gathered is that the ICA had given the BCCI time till January 14, the day a hearing was going to happen in the Supreme Court in the BCCI reforms case.
That is what we thought, that there was a hearing that day, but we then found out that the court would that day decide which date to give. But they have so many more important cases that don’t have time for this case.
I also heard that ICA was mulling going to the court on this issue, if the BCCI didn't get back to it by January 14
No, not as yet. Going to court is a drastic step; it’s like confronting the BCCI. At the end of the day, the ICA is an independent body. But we are still dependent on the BCCI for getting things started. See, I cannot increase the pension of the players’ I cannot give the medical insurance to the players. We don't have money. That’s one thing. If the pension has to be increased it has to be done by the BCCI because all these players are on the rolls of the BCCI. But we have a separate identity of our own; we would like to have a separate identity of our own. And we have to grow; we'll have to get the current cricketers with us, because we have to be on the lines of the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) or the English cricketers’ association, as we would like to be a member of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association (FICA) and would interact with all the cricketers’ associations as well. We would like to grow because we cannot just restrict ourselves to these four demands that I am saying – because that is what Sourav asked: ‘After this, what?’ We can provide coaches to the Ranji Trophy [state] teams. They [state associations] pay so much of money, so why can’t they have from our pool [when it’s made]. We have experienced cricketers who have been coaches, umpires, trainers and seven selectors, if they want. So, we can help the state associations.
There's also talk among former cricketers, both those who are members of the ICA and those who aren’t, that there is probably a fear within the BCCI that the ICA might eventually become more powerful than the BCCI. So, that is one reason, they say, why the BCCI is not very keen or has still not helped the ICA (with funds).
I wouldn’t know that. But one thing is sure: the BCCI never wanted a cricketers’ association. Whenever it has come up it has faltered; it has failed.
But the present situation is very different because it has now come from the Supreme Court.
Absolutely. We are there by the order of the Supreme Court and we are in the constitution of the BCCI. It is categorically written that the ICA will be funded by the BCCI, but it doesn’t say by how much. Tomorrow they can give us Rs.50,000 and say ‘we have funded you’. But it cannot be like that. If it comes to that, and if we have to confront, we have to confront – if that is the last straw. But it is still early days, let me put it this way.
What is the status in terms of making present cricketers members of the ICA?
We will have to go to the respective state associations. Then, we will go to international players.
Has that started?
No, nothing has started...till we have an office. We only have emails going to and fro (between the ICA officials). We will have to ask the state associations what they think about it, and ask the Apex Council members to put this word across, and then I’ll speak to the presidents, secretaries, and treasurers of the state associations.
I am told the ICA’s present office is a rented accommodation.
No, it is not rented. The person who was looking after the ICA on behalf of the BCCI was there, when Kapil Dev, Shanta Rangaswamy, and Ajit Agarkar were the initial Directors. So, the address is still the same. We would like to change that.
There's also a provision in the ICA constitution, approved by the Supreme Court, that it can raise its own funds. So, can the ICA take that step without the BCCI initially funding it?
If there are people who can come forward and offer that then we will be very keen to do it because, ultimately, we will have to stand on our two feet. We cannot be dependent on the BCCI all the time. If we are dependent on the BCCI, we can’t work; we will then be under the BCCI all the time. Of course, we would like the BCCI to fund us and then we will take it from there. We will have to work that out how to raise funds.
So, at the moment you are only hoping that something would accrue, something would happen by the end of this month (January).
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