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Terms of endearment

November 26, 2003 03:59 IST

On November 29, Bar Council of India chairman D V Subbarao will, wearing the hat of the BCCI's official Commissioner of Inquiry, probe the Abhijit Kale bribery case.

Deposing before him will be three people -- national selectors Kiran More and Pranab Roy, the accusers in this instance, and Kale himself. (Kale's mother, who supposedly offered the bribe on her son's behalf, is not likely to attend.)

Complete coverage

The Selection Scam
Did you or anyone acting for you offer the selectors a bribe, Subbarao will ask Kale. No sir, Kale will reply.

Did Kale, or someone acting for him, offer you a bribe, Subbarao will ask More and Roy. Yes sir, those two worthies will reply.

That is all Subbarao will do, because that is all Subbarao is allowed to do.

Can he summon Jaywant Lele, and ask him to explain recent statements wherein the former board secretary has cast doubts on the integrity of the selection process? No.

Can he summon former Ranji player from Hyderabad Vanka Pratap, who has accused a former selector of demanding a bribe to include Pratap in the state team? No.

Can he summon Ritesh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh, who on camera accused a selector of demanding Rs 50,000 for a berth in the state under-17 team? No.

Can he summon former BCCI treasurer Kishore Rungta (nephew, incidentally, of Kishen Rungta, who was chairman of selectors during the period the selector hinted at by Vanka Pratap was part of the national committee), who is on record as suggesting that the integrity of the national selectors is not above suspicion? No.

Can he summon chairman of the national selectors Syed Kirmani, who says on record that he knew nothing about any of this? (Kirmani, after all, is head of the committee More and Roy were part of; shouldn't the two selectors have gone to him first with their complaint? Why didn't they?) No.

So, why will the lawyer not, during his inquiry, listen to these and other people who have light to shed on how the selection process is conducted at various levels?

'The terms of reference have been restricted, so it [the inquiry] will be limited to these persons,' Subbarao explained to the media.

It's like this -- my home is burgled. The cops land up, and examine the broken lock, and go away. Hey, I ask, aren't you going to come in, see the damage caused inside the house, inventory the stuff that has been stolen?

No sir, say the cops, that is not in our 'terms of reference', we were merely asked to look into the fact that your house has been broken into, and we can see that it has simply by examining the lock on the door.

Ridiculous? Far-fetched? No more than the charade that is due to unfold this weekend.

What does all this remind you of?

In mid-1997, the BCCI famously appointed a one-man commission of inquiry to probe the match-fixing scandal; retired Supreme Court chief justice Y V Chandrachud headed it.

He spent months listening to whichever players deigned to turn up and speak to him; in the process, he collected a lot of autographs. What he did not collect was pertinent information.

Manoj Prabhakar, the man at the centre of the storm, refused to name the colleague who had allegedly offered him Rs 25 lakh [approximately US $54,500] to play badly against Pakistan; there was nothing the former judge could do to compel Prabhakar to be more forthcoming.

The commission, during its sittings extending several months, did not speak to one single bookie. Asked why, Chandrachud said, 'That is not part of my brief.'

A sub-inspector of police in Mumbai told Outlook magazine -- again, when the commission was in session -- that he had been witness to conversations between a bookmaker and some Indian players and officials, while the team was playing in Sharjah; the cop said he had tapes to prove that the conversations had taken place.

Chandrachud did not summon the cop for a deposition, nor ask for those proofs, because it was 'not part of his brief'.

During the sittings, a police official called the retired judge from Calcutta, indicating that he had proof of bribery and match-fixing and that he was prepared to come down and depose before the commission.

The judge turned him down, because it was not 'part of his brief'.

While the commission -- inquiring, let's keep in mind, into match-fixing, bribery, and betting on cricket -- was in session, a major raid in Calcutta netted a big-time bookie; police officers participating in the raid said they had unearthed files and other items of evidence that indicated that bribery and match-fixing were endemic to Indian cricket.

The judge refused to summon them, arguing that it was not, wait for this, 'part of the terms of reference' of his commission.

'Terms of reference', 'brief', these are all nice, legal-sounding words; jargon, legal or otherwise, is daunting for us ordinary folk.

But just for a moment, let's pretend that Subbarao had used ordinary, everyday language to explain what he was being asked to do.

If he spoke sans jargon, this is what he would have said: 'No, I will not be examining whether the two selectors are themselves corrupt; no, I will not be examining allegations that corruption is endemic in the selection process. No, I will not be talking to anyone who has anything pertinent to say on the issue. I will not be doing all this because the BCCI has asked me to wear blinkers, and to only see what the BCCI itself has put in front of my nose.'

Isn't that what 'terms of reference' really mean -- blinkers? The governing body of cricket in the country has told the chairman of its own commission of inquiry that his job is to talk to just three people, and to submit a report based on that – and that alone.

Incidentally, assume More, or Roy, or Kale, lie before this commission -- and logically, at least one of the contending parties has to be lying. What is the commission going to do? No perjury laws apply to such private commissions. Not even a former chief justice of the Supreme Court could ensure that people told him the truth.

Chandrachud, in 1997, produced probably the most laughable report a commission of inquiry had ever turned in; how much are you willing to bet the Subbarao commission can do no better, because it won't be allowed to?

Postscript: The Kale affair is throwing up some of the most ludicrous statements I have ever heard, even in a lifetime spent following Indian cricket.

Item #1: The Maharashtra Cricket Association was the first to announce unstinted support for the beleaguered Kale. The MCA has now gone back on that statement of support. Why? Because, according to MCA boss Balasaheb Thorve, Kale had lost the association's trust by going to court.

Hullo? What was Kale supposed to do? Sit pondering the ruins of his first-class career, and tell himself, 'Never mind, what if I will never play cricket again, at least the MCA supported me!'?

Seeking redress from the courts is the inalienable right of each citizen, even those who fall foul of a J Jayalalithaa, or a BCCI.

Item #2: The Indian Express carried an interesting story today.

Facing flak -- not just from the public, but even from the likes of former great Kapil Dev, former chairman of selectors Chandu Borde, former team manager Madan Lal, and former board treasurer Kishore Rungta, among others -- for the haste with which Kale was suspended even before an inquiry could determine his guilt, BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya hauls out the constitution, which supposedly contains a clause whereby a player can be suspended pending inquiry.

Anyone seen the BCCI constitution lately? On many occasions, while I was in Mumbai and covering cricket full time, I have tried to get hold of a copy; officials -- up to and including the then secretary of the board -- have categorically told me that copies were 'not available'.

This should not surprise you. Not too many of the BCCI office-bearers have seen the document in question. The Constitution of India, yes, but then India is a democracy; the constitution of the BCCI, no, so what does that tell you?

The Express story, in fact, is a very good pointer to how the BCCI functions. Consider two statements: 1. A senior official of the board says he is 'not sure' if the board constitution in fact contains any such clause; which begs the question, what kind of official are you if you don't know the contents of the constitution on the basis of which your body functions? and 2. another senior official says the emergency meeting is because Dalmiya made the decision to suspend Kale in his 'individual capacity', and he would like to have his decision ratified by the working committee.

So that is how it is done. Dalmiya in his 'individual capacity' takes a decision; if the decision causes a stink, he whistles up his tame working committee to rubber-stamp it. Cool. The prime minister of India must be wishing he had half this level of autonomy.

Oh, in passing, since I haven't seen the constitution, I am as much in the dark as everyone but Dalmiya is about its contents. I find myself wondering -- is there anything in there that says selectors can be summarily suspended, pending inquiry, for their misdeeds?

If yes, is it applicable for instances of the kind various players and even officials like Rungta and Lele have been speaking about?

Prem Panicker