Indian sport is in an unfathomable churn, if not in total mess. The cricket board officials are in cyclic hostility and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is in an internecine war of its own with most national federations in a moribund state.
A noteworthy coincidence, brothers Narayanaswamy Srinivasan and Ramachandran have worked their way up to occupy the two topmost positions in the country’s sport around the same time, the elder one as the cricket board president and the other as the IOA chief.
And both suddenly seem to have fallen on evil days. Srinivasan no longer enjoys the ruthless sway on the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), while Ramachandran’s equally autocratic handling of IOA affairs has united his enemies who are now out to oust him.
Srinivasan knows how quickly equations in the board can change. One of the protagonists in Sharad Pawar’s camp in unshackling the board from Jagmohan Dalmiya’s clutch early in the new millinneum, Srinivasan got his pound of flesh when he forced the Maratha strongman to use his prerogative as board president to get his corporate house India Cements to own a franchise in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the board later rubber-stamping the decision.
The same Pawar, after welcoming Supreme Court verdict against Srinivasan in the conflict of interest case, said it was a collective decision of the board, not his alone, to allow India Cements to own a franachise.
Soon Srinivasan as board secretary moved on from strength to strength to form a powerful group of his own with Arun Jaitley, now union finance minister, as his key adviser with board president Shashank Manohar a willing ally.
The three essentially got together on a one-point agenda of getting rid of the highly motivated Lalit Modi, the man who gave the world a lucrative Twenty20 tournament. Their hatred for Modi was such that even Pawar could not save the dynamic tycoon.
The next move of Srinivasan was to distance himself from both Pawar and Manohar and form a powerful clique with ambitious upstarts with strong political connections.
The Supreme Court verdict in spot-fixing and conflict of interest case saw Srinivasan’s cabal disintegrating. What hurt him most was Anurag Thakur, Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament (MP) and joint secretary when he was president, deserting him and defeating his candidate for the secretary’s post.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) sent a letter to the Indian board raising questions over Thakur’s contacts with a well-known socialite on the Chandigarh-Punjab-Haryana circuit and who it suspects to be a bookie.
It is intriguing how this so-called contact got public now, though the franchises were warned in 2013 – the year the spot-fixing case surfaced – against meeting the suspect.
Thakur was quick to hit back, first for making the ICC letter public with “unverified” information about the antecedents of the so-called “bookie.” He would not stop there, in a tongue-in-cheek asked his former boss to share the information on bookies with his “own family members whose involvement in betting has been proved.”
Dalmiya has watched the fun from the sidelines. Having experienced Srinivasan’s wrath a decade ago, he doesn’t want to rush in. Thakur also knows Srinivasan, too, well to go whole hog against him. The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association president obviously called the media over to make conciliatory noises, insisting that the board is not on a witchhunt or vendetta and that it’s job is only to promote cricket.
As luck would have it, Dalmiya and Thakur got a handle to attack Srinivasan on the demerger of the Chennai Super Kings for a mere Rs.5 lakh! They also have the carrot of ICC chairman’s post to dangle. A cat-and-mouse fight is on.
Thakur and others in the board know that Srinivasan’s fate is in the hands of the Supreme Court appointed committee and once the report is out a fresh flare-up is expected.
If Srinivasan could keep his flock happy doling out the board’s money, Ramachandran has no such cushion to buy out loyalty, except obliging his cohorts with a place in the official delegations to the major multi-discipline international events like the Olympics and the Asian and Commonwealth Games.
Ramachandran’s opponents are up in arms for the way he and the sports ministry arranged the one-day visit of the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi without taking into confidence even the secretary general.
What angered the IOA members, and also the IOC, is his inability to put together a bid for the 2024 Olympic Games after assuring Bach that he would have something to discuss with the Indian prime minister.
Worse, the whole visit was an embarassment for the prime minister, the IOC chief as well as the IOA. Bach clearly told the government that India was not in a position to bid for the Games.
The immediate offshoot is that maverick president of Hockey India Narendra Batra raised the banner of revolt against Ramachandran, using Bach’s visit. It is to be seen whether the rebellious group could muster a two-thirds majority to unseat the chief with a no-confidence motion, but the egotistic Batra has a long-range plan of grabbing power himself.
Normally, the tenure of the IOA president is for four years, between two Olympics. In 2012, Abhay Chautala was elected president and Lalit Bhanot the secretary general, but had to vacate their chairs under the new IOC charter which barred charge-sheeted officials from contesting elections.
The ruling group put up Ramachandran as its candidate, thinking they could manipulate him and run the the IOA by proxy.
Ramachandran will have none of it. He started acting on his own and that led to friction. The Olympic bid fiasco has only worsened matters.
Now, Ramachandran insists he should get a full term of four years in office from 2016 since he is now only serving as a stop-gap president. True to the Indian style, a lot of unseemly factors are vitiating the atmosphere.