Rajasthan's triangle of power, politics and personalities
The board outside the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) academy is rusted, tilts backwards, and the lettering, originally dark blue, is faded, so you can barely read the sign: "Ready to battle. Chak de India."
The swimming pool is empty, the floor surrounding it chipped. The indoor academy looks like an old warehouse, not like a state-of the-art one built in 2006. The Astroturf is torn in patches, especially near take-off points at the bowler's crease. Bowling machines gather dust in a corner. The walls are damp and cracked.
Across the road stands the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur's ground for international matches and nearly all its domestic matches. The stands in the SMS, as the ground is popularly known, are dusty.
This was the ground from where Lalit Modi launched himself into the BCCI. Within six months of laying the foundation stone, he managed to build not only an international stadium but also a world-class academy. Now this showpiece of Modi's empire lies in disrepair. Whichever group comes to power in the RCA elections has a task on its hands: return to Rajasthan cricket some of the pride and glitter it enjoyed just a few years ago.
The recent messy history of Rajasthan cricket can be squarely put down to politics and personal clashes. A few names crop up repeatedly.
"The RCA has been in limbo ever since CP Joshi took over as the president," a former RCA managing committee member, says. Joshi, a former federal minister from the Indian National Congress, became the RCA president in December 2009 after he ousted the incumbent, Sanjay Dixit, a straight-talking civil servant, from the elite Indian Administrative Service. Dixit had lasted barely nine months as president after defeating Modi, who, people felt, had in the end been distracted by the BCCI's politics and power.
Dixit's ouster, in turn, was engineered by Modi, who formed a group within the RCA that made it difficult for Dixit to function freely. Modi used his clout to ask the BCCI to allow two representatives from the RCA - one from Dixit's group and the other from the faction - to attend board meetings. Dixit's position was further undermined when, at the BCCI AGM in 2009, it was decided to shift an ODI against Australia from Jaipur to Vadodara. The divide in the RCA prompted the Rajasthan government of the time to appoint an ad hoc committee before holding fresh elections, where Joshi - whose Congress party was in power in the state - became the president and Dixit its secretary.
Dixit lasted in the new position for two years, but his relationship with Joshi became strained with time. "Joshi had no interest in cricket," the committee member says. "He came here for glamour and visibility and favours that he could extend to people."
Joshi further curtailed Dixit's powers by passing an order that a committee had to ratify all decisions, which made the secretary's position virtually redundant. Dixit says that among the reasons he and Joshi fell out were his decisions not to allow non-Ranji cricketers to become selectors, unqualified persons to become coaches, marks to be fudged in umpires' exams, and to not tolerate any interference in player selections.
Eventually Dixit was forced to step aside, and was replaced by Joshi's choice, KK Sharma, then the secretary of the Bhilwara Cricket Association. Dixit then realigned with Modi - two old friends-turned-foes united once again in their aspiration for power.
ESPNcricinfo tried contacting Joshi, KK Sharma, and Mahendra Sharma, the treasurer until last month's elections, but they weren't available for comment. Joshi said he "did not want to talk about cricket" while the RCA election matter was being heard in the Supreme Court.
There's a third axis in this battle for power in Rajasthan. Kishore Rungta is a member of the family that ruled the RCA for 32 years before Modi won the 2005 election by a solitary vote, thanks to a new law passed by the Rajasthan government that abolished the voting rights of individual members and allowed only the district associations to vote during elections in all sports bodies.
Till then the voting rights had lain with 67 individual members and 32 district associations. Rungta has challenged the law and the matter now rests with the Supreme Court, with Modi's fate tied to the outcome of the case.
"According to us, voting is a fundamental right," Rungta said. "RCA is a private body, so you cannot prevent somebody from voting in order to benefit one individual. No other state has such a law."
The district associations, Rungta says, are run by individuals. "In each district ten to 12 clubs registered in each district form the association. Out of these, three would belong to the president, few to the treasurer and the rest to the secretary. Barring Jaipur no new members have come into the district associations."
Rungta said one of the main reasons why his family held power in the RCA for three decades was because the managing committee then comprised not only individual members but also former cricketers, including former BCCI president Raj Singh Dungarpur, Hanumant Singh and other senior Ranji cricketers.
Modi and Joshi continue to head the two major groups that control the RCA. Rungta supports neither, but agrees with others that Joshi's lack of involvement has had a negative impact on the RCA and that things have stagnated.
Rajasthan have won the Ranji Trophy twice during Joshi's presidency, but Rungta says the association is run on auto-pilot. "Whatever tournaments we started still carry on. There are no discussions on cricket as such. There is no thought process and application of minds on how to improve cricket in Rajasthan. Cricketers are never assured about their places. There is no talent hunt. While I have seen eminent people of RCA mingling with Bollywood actors and attending BCCI meetings, I have never seen them going to the districts and attending Under-19 matches or encouraging U-16 boys."
Rungta says that under Modi, rival though he may be, the administration gave priority to cricket. "To the credit of Modi, at least he built the infrastructure. At least there was some concentration, took the ground on lease. There were some positives. But during the time of CP Joshi, nothing happened."
A former RCA official agrees with Rungta that the players have suffered in the absence of proper administration. "The casualty was cricket and the players," he says. "Pankaj Singh missed out on being picked in the national squad. Youngsters like Ashok Menaria, Deepak Chahar, Robin Bist lost people who could provide guidance and nurture them.
According to him, some of these players often in the past needed mentors who could raise their confidence, pinpoint areas of weakness, show the best way forward, and try to promote their names during selection meetings for Duleep Trophy and Challenger Trophy tournaments. During Rajasthan's triumphant years in the Ranji Trophy, it is said that no official from the Joshi administration talked to senior players about their concerns.
Players say they never met Joshi during his four-year term other than for a few handshakes at functions. One player says that when he asked Joshi if he could do something for Rajasthan's performers at the national level, the president asked him to fax the request to him. "I am talking to my state cricket president , not a politician," the player says.
To some sceptics it's surprising that Rajasthan managed to win the Ranji Trophy in succession in that period. One reason could be that during 2010-11 season, when they won their maiden Ranji title, Dixit was in charge and closely involved in cricketing matters. The following season Joshi did not alter anything.
"The good thing is all the administrative heavyweights are so busy fighting among themselves that they just don't have time for us," says the player. "It results in the captain and coach getting a free hand, and perhaps that's what has resulted in the team's success. There have been occasional changes in the selection panel based on change of guard in RCA. But never ever have the office bearers made sweeping changes, which tends to disrupt the consistency in team policies. And with the captain having been an integral part of selection panel meetings, even the odd pushover by the ruling faction has been avoided."
In contrast, Modi inspired confidence in the players. "Whatever we have experienced is because of Modi. We are still using the same indoor academy and the same Astroturf that was installed during his years," another Rajasthan player says.
The general perception among most cricketers from the state side is that Modi had the power and voice in the BCCI to get them an opportunity to play for an India team, whether it was Emerging Players or A tours. "Regardless of whether he was after power, and that is why he wants to come back to RCA now, Modi at least at times would ask us what he could do," the player says. "Forget performers like Pankaj, even a youngster like Deepak Chahar, during his debut season, when he took 40 wickets, was not even in Challenger Trophy. Let him at least be in the squad. Allow him to dream big. Look at Imtiaz Ahmed [Uttar Pradesh]. He did well last season and was part of the India A squad," the player says.
The Supreme Court is likely to declare the RCA election results on January 17. The general feeling in Jaipur is that Modi will win, with only three district associations voting against him.
It does not seem to matter to his supporters that Modi is banned by the BCCI, a target of Indian government investigations for several alleged foreign exchange violations during his IPL term, and the holder of a revoked passport, which makes him liable to be arrested if he lands in India.
Even if he wins, with his inability to travel to India, he will be an absentee president. People acknowledge that his absence could affect the day-to-day administration, especially given his propensity for the outrageous and unprecedented.
There is also a feeling that Modi will not enjoy the same level of political support in Rajasthan that he had in his previous stint as RCA chief. His old friend Vasundhara Raje Scindia, the sister of the former BCCI president Madhavrao Scindia, is back as Rajasthan chief minister. It was her government that framed the law that helped Modi unseat the Rungtas. But Scindia's victory in the recent Rajasthan legislature elections was due in no small part to her senior party colleague Arun Jaitley, the former Delhi and Districts Cricket Association president, who, along with BCCI president N Srinivasan, is a bitter enemy of Modi. Jaitley was part of the BCCI disciplinary committee that took the decision to expel Modi from the BCCI for various charges of misconduct. Modi has challenged that ban in the court and continued to publicly oppose Jaitley.
The players remain optimistic. "It is not like if Modi comes we can play for India. I know he will overhaul the cricketing structure at grassroots. At least he is a person who will listen to you. That will be an advantage to everyone."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo