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Earth Calling BCCI: Anyone Home?

December 20, 2002 03:41 IST

There are times when I find myself wondering why they make such a fuss about the Sphinx. I mean, what does it do? It sits there among all those pyramids and looks mysterious -- and how difficult is that to do for an outsized stone?

If you really want to celebrate 'enigmatic silence', then it is time to shove the Sphinx aside -- and install, in its stead, the Board of Control for Cricket in India and its president, Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya.

The International Cricket Conference has just announced what it calls its final offer, to the Indian board. In his statement, the ICC speaks of prolonged negotiations; of the BCCI taking one position, then shifting away from it...

For the past hour and more, I've been sitting here going through the entire history of this dispute -- and what strikes you, when you do that, is the complete, utter, prolonged silence the board has maintained.

Within those pages, linked to above, are statements from the ICC. From various international players. From Tim May, who fronts the players' association. Even the Indian players, who believe in not saying anything about anything at all unless they are pushed to it, and even then speaking in the most innocuous of platitudes, have had their say.

But not the BCCI, not once, not ever.

Correction -- the BCCI did make one statement. Dalmiya said he is with the players, that he supports them fully.

The BCCI then demonstrated this 'full support' by allowing the players, then in England, to fend for themselves, to split their time and attention between preparing for and playing Test cricket against England and negotiating with the ICC. During this period -- which several of the Indian team members later described, in private conversation, as traumatic, the BCCI never once sent a single representative over to England to participate in these negotiations, or to ease the load on the players.

The BCCI also demonstrated this 'full support' by then holding a gun to the heads of the players, telephonically telling them they either sign the contract ahead of the Champions' Trophy or else; and just three days after offering full support, by openly declaring that if the players did not sign, they would be dropped and a standby team would be sent in their stead.

Some 'support'.

Since then, negotiations have swung back and forth. The beleaguered players were, for the first time in Indian cricket's history, forced to actually form a union, to elect Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi its president, and Anil Kumble its vice-president.

The BCCI refused to acknowledge this body. In unity, they say, is strength -- and the last thing the board wants is a united body of players. As long as it can practise the British strategy of divide and rule, the board can control the players, the game, and the millions that flow from it.

Today, judging by the ICC statement, Indian cricket is on a brink, and time is running out. And yet, the BCCI refuses to utter one single word. It refuses to say what the terms of the contract are that it is objecting to, it refuses to discuss the details of its negotiations with the ICC, and with the players, it refuses to explain, to elucidate. It sits, Sphinx-like, in stony silence.

It raises the question -- what does it have to hide?

It also raises a larger question -- India, we thought, was a democracy wherein everyone, up to and including the prime minister, and the president, are answerable. Even P V Narasimha Rao, that peerless exponent of the pout, has had to open his mouth, answer questions raised in Parliament, or by the media.

So since when did the board, and its president, create this little dictatorship; this banana republic within the larger republic with players for its slaves and the public -- which, by walking through those turnstiles or sitting in front of the television screens -- for its fools?

Does a country that demands transparency from its leaders afford what is, when all is said and done, a collection of less than a dozen individuals who believe they are above all norms of accountability, of transparency, of public responsibility?

The Contract Issue: Complete Coverage

Prem Panicker