India news December 18, 2013

Supreme Court clears Modi's candidature

Lalit Modi is set to contest the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) elections on Thursday, marking his first step towards a planned return to Indian cricket. A Supreme Court-appointed observer cleared Modi's nomination for the presidency on Wednesday, pitting the former IPL chairman who has been banned for life by the BCCI, against Rampal Sharma in a straight contest.

Modi has already claimed to enjoy the support of 24 of the 33 district associations that will vote in the election. The results of the elections will be announced by the Supreme Court at a later date, after the sealed ballot box is opened in Delhi.*

A win for him is likely to create problems both for the RCA, which faces expulsion by the BCCI, and for the board itself, because Modi's presence could unsettle the fragile balance of power among its senior most officials.

Modi's candidature had been in some doubt following objections by Sharma, who cited the BCCI's threat to take stringent action against RCA if Modi won. However, Narendra Kasliwal, the retired judge appointed to oversee the election, rejected the arguments.

The bizarre situation is due to the fact that the RCA is governed by the Rajasthan Sports Act, enabling Modi to contest, but the association is a BCCI affiliate and subject to its directives. The BCCI is likely to "withdraw privileges" - as stated in secretary Sanjay Patel's letter to the RCA president earlier this week - offered to the RCA and withhold financial aid if Modi wins.

A large part of the income of any state cricket body in India comes from its share of the BCCI's revenues from broadcast rights. Ever since the advent of IPL, the BCCI annually disburses at least Rs 200 million to each of its affiliates. The RCA also gets additional revenue for all the IPL and CLT20 games it stages. The BCCI is also reportedly mulling suspending RCA's participation in its tournaments - the Ranji Trophy and various age-group and women's events.

The consensus is that the matter could go to court, and opinion on a legal outcome is split. Some observers feel it won't be easy for the BCCI to initiate action against the RCA. "It has now become a legal battle. If the Supreme Court validates Modi's election, how can the BCCI stop him from taking charge?" said Aditya Verma, the Cricket Association of Bihar secretary who has been involved in a legal battle with the BCCI ever since the IPL corruption scandal broke in May.

Modi's return to Indian cricket administration may also galvanise any latent anti-N Srinivasan lobby within the board. Though Modi has not spoken about his plans, some BCCI old-timers expect him to rejoin hands with his mentor Sharad Pawar, the former BCCI and ICC chief who recently returned as the Mumbai Cricket Association president, and start rallying opposition to Srinivasan.

That, though, will bring its own problems. One Pawar aide said any anti-Srinivasan lobby would be wary of the various legal battles Modi already faces. And Pawar, currently also trying to sort out his election as the MCA chief, won't have enough power and time to start any opposition till he has settled into his own job.

While Modi, who has been based in London for more than three years, didn't respond to queries from ESPNcricinfo, his attorney Mehmood Abdi said it would be "premature" to discuss Modi's foray into the BCCI again. "Only he can tell you if and when and how he plans to return to the BCCI. Right now, all of us are focussed on the RCA elections," said Abdi, who will contest for the deputy president's post from Modi's group.

*0537GMT, December 19, 2013. The article was updated with information regarding the Supreme Court's supervision

Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo