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Why are politicians baying for Srinivasan's blood?

By T V R Shenoy
May 31, 2013 22:33 IST
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The political class is howling for N Srinivasan's resignation as BCCI president because of what his son-in-law allegedly did.

Yet there is a conspiracy of silence, including the BJP, when allegations are levelled against Robert Vadra, says T V R Shenoy.

'Jamaataa dashamam graham' runs an old Sanskrit adage, meaning 'the son-in-law is the tenth planet'. While Hindu astrology recognises nine 'planets' the son-in-law is (jestingly?) considered a tenth, generally malefic, influence on one's life.

I encountered the saying decades ago, in K M Munshi's Krishnavatara series. (The Book of Bhima, the fourth book in the saga, as I recall.)

While several writers -- notably Amish Tripathi -- have tried to 'humanise' the divinities of Hindu tradition, Munshi's work is still a favourite.

This may be because the author had a grasp of politics that other writers cannot match as he was one himself -- home minister of pre-Partition Bombay, Sardar Patel's handpicked Agent General to deal with the Nizam of Hyderabad, and Governor of Uttar Pradesh.

Politics -- meaning manipulating others to gain the power to achieve specific ends -- is at the core of the Mahabharata. Politics is also at the heart of the ongoing brouhaha over the Board of Control for Cricket in India, BCCI.

Have you noticed a curious shift in the personnel reporting on the current saga? What began with the sports editor and the lowly foot-soldiers of the crime beat has now moved to the elite of the journalistic world, the political desk. That is not happenstance.

This is not about an alleged crime, nor is it about ethics. It is about the political class coming together to oust an uppity businessman from one of the few powerful posts that it does not control.

Please note that I have deliberately used 'political class', and not 'political parties' as this cuts across such divisions.

Rajeev Shukla is the Union minister of state for parliamentary affairs; he is also both the IPL commissioner and secretary of the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association.

C P Joshi is the Union railway minister; he is also president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association.

Jyotiraditya Scindia heads the Union power ministry; he is also president of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association.

Arun Jaitley is the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha; he is also vice-president of the BCCI and president of the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association.

Anurag Thakur is the sitting BJP Lok Sabha MP for Hamirpur; he is also joint secretary of the BCCI and president of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association.

Narendra Modi is both chief minister of Gujarat and president of the Gujarat Cricket Association.

This isn't limited to the two national parties. I have not mentioned politicians such as Dr Farooq Abdullah (both a Union minister and head of the Jammu & Kashmir Cricket Association) and the redoubtable Sharad Pawar (whose native Maharashtra has four votes in a 30-strong BCCI -- Mumbai, Maharashtra, Vidarbha, and the Cricket Club of India).

N Srinivasan, left, above, is a rarity, a businessman rather than a politician. As was Lalit Modi, father of the IPL, who was forced out after an imbroglio with the Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor. As was Jagmohan Dalmiya, who challenged Sharad Pawar in 2005.

Dalmiya, whose base was the Cricket Association of Bengal, also had the misfortune of angering another politician, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, then chief minister of West Bengal.

Jagmohan Dalmiya's foes could not prove their charges against him in court, but that was scarcely the point; he was powerless at a crucial juncture, and had to cede control to Sharad Pawar.

Jagmohan Dalmiya's alleged (unproven) acts concerned financial irregularities. The charge against the sitting businessman-president of the BCCI is an alleged (unproven) crime committed by his son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan.

There have been many reports that Gurunath Meiyappan was allegedly involved in 'fixing' matches. But, in his remand hearing, the Public Prosecutor, Wajid Sheikh, spoke only of 'betting offences', which isn't a major crime.

Media reports from anonymous 'sources' about 'fixing' are one thing; words must be chosen with care when speaking in court.

I cannot help wondering if this is a replay of 2005, a businessman being squeezed out of the BCCI after the political class whips up a public frenzy, followed by the charges being dismissed by the courts when the uppity businessman is out of the chair.

The media, driven by the frenzied 24/7 news cycle, becomes an unwilling tool, so eager to air breaking news that there is little time for checking to see if what a 'source' says actually adds up.

How would the political class act had it been a politician in N Srinivasan's place?

On October 5, 2012 Arvind Kejriwal accused Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, of participating in questionable land deals that allegedly gave huge benefits to the real estate developer DLF.

Kejriwal wondered aloud how Vadra's wealth had grown from Rs 50 lakh (Rs 5 million) to over Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion) in just three years.

Those were just allegations, but so are the crimes supposedly committed by Gurunath Meiyappan. But one is the son-in-law of a businessman and the other is the son-in-law of a politician. And so, predictably, they were treated differently by the politicians.

Digvijay Singh, the Congress general secretary, was brutally honest. 'There are ethics in politics. Never attack family. The Congress never attacked Atal Bihar Vajpayee's son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya.'

Arvind Kejriwal also stated that the facts that he brought out had been available to various BJP leaders, who refused to make them public.

Nobody in the BJP has denied this with any conviction, suggesting that Digvijay Singh's 'Never attack family' theory is shared across the political spectrum.

This is what passes in Indian political circles for 'ethics'. But shouldn't the same 'ethics' carry over when it concerns people outside politics?

I am not supporting N Srinivasan's case. It goes against the best corporate practices for him to be a member of the BCCI and simultaneously own an IPL team. But the double standards are sickening.

Is there conflict of interest in owning an IPL team while presiding over the BCCI?

Is there no conflict of interest when Rajeev Shukla and other MPs discuss a sports bill while being BCCI members?

A Suresh Kalmadi or an A Raja can get bail, and are seen sitting in Parliament. Gurunath Meiyappan is denied bail, and sits in prison.

Nitin Gadkari was accused of irregularities, yet he never resigned the BJP presidency and is still a member of the BJP Parliamentary Board.

Jagmohan Dalmiya was squeezed out of the BCCI, and could not return until he cleared his name in court.

The political class is howling for N Srinivasan's resignation because of what his son-in-law allegedly did (though the public prosecutor refuses to talk of 'fixing'), while admitting that the India Cements boss himself did nothing wrong.

Yet there is a conspiracy of silence, including the BJP, when allegations are levelled against Robert Vadra; the man is not even questioned. If anything, ministers like M Veerappa Moily, Salman Khurshid and P Chidambaram were queuing up to proclaim Vadra's innocence.

The 'tenth planet' may indeed prove unlucky for N Srinivasan. But the reverse is true for Robert Vadra, whose in-laws are proving incredibly lucky for him.

Perhaps Indian astrologers should recognise this, and add a beneficial 'eleventh planet'.

For more columns by Mr T V R Shenoy, please click here.

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