What is an undemocratic institution doing representing the Republic of India?
The Shashi Tharoor vs. Lalit Modi fracas raises several questions on the turpitude, excesses and indiscretions rampant in the governance of an organization claiming to represent India to the outside world. Mr. Tharoor ultimately paid the price, and rightly so, for errors in judgment; however, the disproportionate pressure exerted by some sections of India’s news media on the government was both distasteful and inappropriate.
Insofar as Mr. Modi and the BCCI are concerned, the Tehelka exposé presents a grim picture of the muddled madness that is the business of cricket in India. Commercial successes and unquestioned adoration of the game and its stars have essentially given the BCCI a carte blanche in how the organization conducts its affairs, even as it “represents” India on the world stage of cricket, which it largely dominates. Greater transparency and accountability are, of course, important and must be demanded, but cannot be realistically expected in the absence of structural reform.
It is here that the fundamental questions of the role and composition of the BCCI need to be answered. Structurally, the BCCI is incorporated as a private charitable society under the Tamil Nadu Registered Societies Act, 1975, but for almost all other intents and purposes, makes representation on behalf of the Government of India. It uses government-owned stadiums (for which it pays a very nominal amount) and receives tax concessions as a charitable society promoting cricket in the country. Powerful politicians such as Madhavrao Scindia and Sharad Pawar have held the position of President, BCCI, during their tenure as union cabinet ministers. Operating as a charitable society, the BCCI is not required to disclose its balance sheet to the public.
The ambiguity, convenient as it may be for some, must end — either the BCCI is government-owned and operated, or it is a private organization sanctioned to oversee cricket affairs in the country. If it is a government-owned entity, it must fall under the ambit of the Right to Information Act (RTI) and the Comptroller Auditor General (CAG).
If it is a private organization like Cricket Australia (CA), or the English Cricket Board (ECB), and charged with overseeing cricket affairs in the country, then structural reform is necessary to remove any ambiguity — politicians holding public office have no business heading the organization. Both CA and ECB are incorporated as companies limited by guarantee. If this ambiguity is to be removed, the BCCI must be restructured along similar lines, as provided for by the Companies Act, 1956 (Table C, Schedule 1). Regardless of whether it is a government-owned entity or a private corporation, its books must be open for public scrutiny.
Additionally, what is a “charitable organization” doing running a $2.4 billion (2009) private cricket league? There is a conflict of interest between being a organization charged with governing India’s cricket affairs and running a multi-billion dollar competition of private clubs. Simply put, this cannot go on. The IPL, if it is to continue, must be spun-off and incorporated like other sports leagues around the world. Its private clubs can then enjoy the benefits of private enterprise as well as assume all its risks, including the prospect of bankruptcy. The IPL then would function as an association — much like the NFL or NHL in the U.S. — where each franchisee operates as an independent business unit, but functions under shared revenue generated from broadcasting, merchandising, ad sales, etc.
In 2006, the BCCI announced that it would constitute a Constitutional Reforms Committee to examine the structure and functioning of the BCCI. Was this ever operationalized? Where is the committee’s manifest? Were any reports published? What were its recommendations? These questions can only be answered if Indian cricket fans and news media put them across to the BCCI and more importantly, to the government. In the absence of this, the BCCI will continue to operate a plutocratic shadow-organization in the good name of the Republic of India and the IPL will continue to remain the Commonwealth’s largest annual sleaze-fest, again as a representative of India’s citizenry.
Now, will those media persons who feigned mock outrage at Shashi Tharoor, demand accountability from the BCCI and the Government of India?