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Aditya Verma used to stand outside the BCCI's offices, trying to get his case heard. These days he and his powerful friends are rather more of a nuisance for the board
April 29, 2014
Most reporters start their careers standing outside the big iron gates of big offices. Their first friends in the profession are security guards outside those offices. Legal reporters spend their early days standing outside courts, political reporters outside party offices, crime ones outside police stations. The idea, at least in the days before the mobile phone, was that the people who mattered would be hard to get hold of otherwise, and that they should know your face, should know you are working hard for information. Old-school editors still demand reporters spend hours outside courts, political party offices and police stations. Admittedly cricket reporters don't do work as important, but they spend a sizeable number of hours outside the BCCI office.
In 2007 and 2008, as cricket reporters stood outside the BCCI office in Churchgate, Mumbai, shooting the breeze, making friends with security guards, making their faces known to officials, they would notice a non-journalist standing there, holding some papers. Sometimes he would be granted an audience with the big men, but mostly he would be shooed away. Those few meetings didn't yield much either.
Nobody then paid much attention to the man, Aditya Verma, the secretary of the unrecognised Cricket Association of Bihar (CAB). He was fighting, legally and personally, for full-member status for Bihar in the BCCI, though he wasn't himself the undisputed representative of the state's cricket. Two other bodies had laid claim to such status.
A bitterly disappointed Verma is now the face of the legal battle that has brought the mighty, brazen even, BCCI to its knees. How the board might love a quiet meeting with Verma today, to set everything right. How they would love to have settled the issue back then. However, to be fair to the BCCI, it was and is not such a straightforward issue. And it involves a state that is anything but straightforward.
Once was Bihar
Bihar, the ancient seat of learning, is the third-most populous state in India. It used to be bigger before 2000, which is when the Indian central government divided three states into two each. Uttar Pradesh gave up Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh yielded Chhattisgarh, and Bihar let go Jharkhand.
When it came to cricket, though, the BCCI, mostly independent of the government, continued with the same bodies. So there arose an uncomfortable situation of one body controlling cricket in two states on the one hand and on the other three teams each coming out of the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, and amorphous bodies such as the Cricket Club of India and the National Cricket Club having voting rights.
Like UP and MP, Bihar too stayed a Ranji team - one that India's most successful captain used to represent. MS Dhoni played the last first-class season Bihar played, in 2003-04.
The problem with Bihar cricket, though, was that it was always dominated by Jamshedpur, in Jharkhand, and Tata Steel. Jamshedpur provided a ground and facilities, and employment for players came through Tata. Most of the big Bihar players weren't Bihari at all; they were Tata employees stationed in Jamshedpur. None of Ramesh Saxena, Daljit Singh and Hari Gidwani was from Bihar.
Under Jagmohan Dalmiya, around 2004, the BCCI tried to change the name of the Bihar Cricket Association (BCA), a BCCI member since 1935, and in 2004 led by the controversial chief minister of Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav, to Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA), a move that didn't sit well with Bihar, the bigger state.
According to Ajay Sharma, secretary of the BCA, this happened because their vote was never going to go to Dalmiya, who favoured Amitabh Chaudhury, an officer in the Indian Police Service, who led JSCA. Legal wrangling followed, committees were formed, external investigations came about, the BCCI's rule moved from Dalmiya to Sharad Pawar and then to Shashank Manohar. And then another body - Association of Bihar Cricket (ABC), led by former India cricketer Kirti Azad - came up, claiming to represent Bihar.
Azad and the ABC settled for associate status in 2005, as former election commissioner TS Krishnamurthy recorded when conducting the controversial BCCI elections of that year. That, Sharma says, allowed the BCCI to prey on the division in the ranks.
Two years later, the BCA suffered a bigger blow. This was when the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) came around. Yadav was the union Railways Minister by then. The ICL was struggling for venues to play its tournament in. Yadav promised them grounds owned and maintained by the Indian Railways. The ICL tasted the BCCI's vengefulness soon, as has Bihar since.
Another two years on, a third representative of the cricket of Bihar emerged, the CAB. Its secretary, a man self-admittedly often mocked as "habitual petitioner", and considered by others to be "khurafati" (mischievous), determined and stubborn, was Verma.
|Verma says the lowest point of his current fight came when his son, who plays U-19 cricket for Bengal, asked him how he would play at higher levels if his father antagonised everyone who has any sort of power in the BCCI|
The making of a thorn
Patna is a tough place, meant for tough people. It is 40 degrees in April, and summer proper is yet to arrive. The Ganga is dry as far as you can see. The kothis (bungalows) you saw in Prakash Jha movies have long since given way to apartment buildings coming up unplanned out of nowhere. The distance between A and B is never straightforward here because you have to keep going around these buildings that have sprung up. You need a thick skin to survive here, and you need to know your way around obstacles.
Verma and his family moved here from Chapra, a district 80km from Patna. In Patliputra Colony on the outskirts of Patna, he and two of his brothers live in three two-bedroom apartments in the same building. During the frequent power outages, they walk up six floors. Inside Verma's apartment, the dull green paint is coming off in many places, and the minimal furniture has seen better days. A treadmill suggests sporting leanings. There is nothing flashy about this house, nothing that evokes the headquarters of the operation that has pushed N Srinivasan, albeit perhaps only temporarily, out of the BCCI.
Except for one wall in the living room. It has many pictures of Verma with cricketers, politicians, Bollywood actors. Three of them are of him with a young Ravi Shastri, the man Verma recently accused of always reading "Srini Chalisa" when Shastri was proposed as a member of a panel to probe the BCCI scandal.
Srini is Srinivasan, Chalisas are songs written to glorify Hindu gods.
What is Shastri doing on the Verma wall?
"Ravi used to be a good friend," Verma says. "I had him down in Chapra for the prize distribution for a cricket tournament I had organised around 1993-94. But I don't have anything personal against him, I am just fighting for principles."
Verma is 51 years old. Like Shastri, he has put on some weight, which shows on his face, but he is on the light side of stocky. With hair dyed brown and a thick moustache, he looks a quintessential Indian middle-class man pushing 50. His voice is loud, crisp and clear, and his tone slow and deliberate. He wouldn't be out of place in a college, as a professor.
Before he organised tournaments in Chapra, Verma played for his college, and was the only man from his district to have represented Bihar University in the All-India Universities meet.
The cricket gene he got from his father, a wealthy wholesaler and retailer of pharmaceuticals in Chapra. Verma says his father used to fly out to watch Test cricket, staying in the same five-star hotels as the teams. It was unheard of in a small town such as Chapra. When he got back, he would listen to commentary on the radio. That was Verma's introduction to cricket. "That's where I learned that if you turn the wrists on the ball, it is called a flick."
On 12 April 2005, Verma senior shut shop early to come home and watch the ODI between India and Pakistan in Ahmedabad. Two of his favourite players shone that day. Sachin Tendulkar scored a century, and Inzamam-ul-Haq hit the winning runs in his unbeaten 60. "While watching that match, sitting on a sofa, without any indication, pain or noise, he passed away," says Verma. The four sons - one of them is a lawyer and doesn't live in the same apartment building as the others - then moved to Patna for a better education for their kids.
Verma played cricket and worked for Tata for ten years. When they put him on the night shift, Verma says, he took his kit and left because he had got the job on the sports quota and now "some people who didn't like me" were not letting him play sport. Verma says the lowest point of his current fight came when his son, who plays U-19 cricket for Bengal, asked him how he would play at higher levels if his father antagonised everyone who has any sort of power in the BCCI.
Over the years, the inter-Tata meets used to take Verma to Mumbai, where he went up to and made friends with Bollywood actor Shatrughan Sinha just because he too is a Bihari. When Sinha moved into politics, Verma became his press co-ordinator during an election campaign. He did the same for Yashwant Sinha, a one-time finance minister of India, and for another actor, Shekhar Suman.
Verma admits to having good networking skills. Slowly he built enough contacts for "some bureaucrats" to back him enough to come up with the CAB in 2007. The president of CAB now is a member of the state legislative assembly, Prem Ranjan Patel.
Verma claims Sharad Pawar helped him when he ran into legal trouble in the course of trying to get the association registered. Once the CAB was registered in Patna, he had a leg to stand on.
The best the BCA could muster from the BCCI was associate status, which got the association a total of Rs 50 lakh (about US$82,000) in cash, and equipment worth Rs 1 crore ($164,000). Full-time members are granted close to Rs 25 crore every year by the BCCI, and this could rise to Rs 40 crore a year if the ICC reforms are ratified.
Verma says he was never going to settle for anything less than full membership, and continued to stand outside the BCCI's offices.
Being an annoyance, though, is one thing. To be able to hire three of the biggest lawyers in India to fight a long Supreme Court case is quite another. Litigation in India is infamous for its slowness and its cost. Verma says he was once stranded at Mumbai airport because he was Rs 5000 short and couldn't buy a ticket. How does he afford such big cats for his lawyers?
One of Verma's lawyers, Nalini Chidambaram, was the counsel of Srinivasan's Tamil Nadu rival AC Muttiah. Another counsel, Harish Salve, was also Lalit Modi's legal aide.
About the lawyers, he says, "If you are looking at these connections, why don't you look at who Harish Salve's father was? I emotionally blackmailed him into fighting to clean up the board whose president once upon a time was his father, NKP Salve. Why don't you see NKP Salve was a Congress minister? Why don't you see Nalini Madam is Congressman P Chidambaram's wife? Why don't you see Abhishek Manu Singhvi [another of the lawyers] is a Congress spokesperson?
"Why don't you look at how my friend and godfather Subodh Kant Sahay has convinced them to fight for me? He is also a Congress minister and MP.
"He looks after the lawyers. I haven't paid them a penny. I don't know what he does. I don't ask him what he does. Why should I question the one man who is helping me?"
A friend in a high place
Sahay is a Congress MP from Ranchi. He was the cabinet minister for tourism till 2012. His house in Ranchi, humble by an MP's standards, is decorated with posters of the "Incredible India" tourism campaign. One of his opponents for the Ranchi constituency in the current general election is the JSCA's Amitabh Chaudhury.
Sahay has also served a term as the president of the unrecognised CAB. He says he has always loved sport. He oversaw the National Games in Jharkhand, and talks of the hockey potential of schoolgirls in Khunti, a town 50km from Ranchi. He talks of the Gumla Rural National Games in 1978, when the girls from Khunti impressed, playing almost barefoot. He says he is in this for the cricket, and cricket only. "I never mix my politics and sport," he says.
"How can they give this membership to a smaller state just for the votes? And I am not happy that cricketers from Bihar have to go to other states and play like refugees," Sahay says. "It has now moved on to a larger fight. How can you be allowed to run cricket when your company owns a team and your son-in-law is one of the accused in the scandal? How can you be expected to run a fair probe?"
Verma says Sahay books him into guest houses, gets him his flight tickets, and takes care of the lawyers, who all have a Congress connection. Verma says Chidambaram, who once saw a client of hers lose a legal battle to Srinivasan, was so impressed with his doggedness that she drafted his first public-interest litigation document, which he filed in the Bombay High Court.
Sahay says it is the well-wishers of the game who have come together to launch this fight. "We have been able to mobilise and motivate people. Obviously you need lawyers. But the way the lawyers approach normal cases and this is different. I haven't yet paid Manu [Singhvi]. If I say, 'Manu, just see this', he doesn't treat us as clients, he treats us as colleagues. Same with Mr Salve. Madam Chidambaram has always been supportive."
Point him to the Salve-Modi and Chidambaram-Muttiah connection, and he says: "The names that you are taking, they have never been in touch with us. We keep communicating with board members. And the board people who were suffocated in the BCCI, they have given us moral support, and they are benefiting from our action."
Suffocated people such as?
"Such as everybody. Many people. Sharad [Pawar]. Shashank [Manohar]. Dalmiya. Even Dalmiya was not happy. Srinivasan's sight is set on becoming the next president through nominations from east zone."
Sahay says the assistance stops at moral support. Such moral support and such big lawyers were absent when the fight was only about Bihar.
In 2011, just after Srinivasan had assumed office as BCCI president, the CAB thought it had hope. Sahay was invited for a meeting in Chennai. He was asked to stay in a hotel close to Chennai because Srinivasan was also flying in. He took Verma along.
They never heard from Srinivasan. "Don't know when his flight landed and left," Sahay says.
"Sahay sahib is a very serious person," Verma says. "He has never let the disappointment of that day show, because he was such a big minister."
Sahay jokes it is good that he never met Srinivasan, because "now knowing the kind of man he is" he would soon have wished he hadn't. Verma says, "I bet Srinivasan regrets that day when he called him to Chennai but didn't meet him."
Cleaning cricket up incidentally
The BCCI will point out that Verma is merely a pawn for the board's bigger enemies. Verma and Sahay will deny it, but even if Verma is doing somebody's bidding he is still doing something for cricket that no one else has had the gumption to do. Of all the state associations, none has found Srinivasan's conflicts of interest and the farce of a probe into corruption objectionable enough to move court.
"Who knows what my considerations would have been," Verma says when asked what he would have done if he was the secretary of a recognised, full-member CAB. "Who knows, even I might be in some conflict of interest, if only to safeguard cricket in Bihar. I can't exactly say what would have happened, but somewhere it is possible I would not have had the same passion that I have today."
The Bollywood adaptation of Macbeth, Vishal Bhardwaj's Maqbool, is set in Mumbai's underworld. The three witches are two corrupt police officers, who through the movie side with whoever is powerful, while making sure the opposition is not completely destroyed, so that it can periodically resurface to check the ruler's power. "Balance of power is very important in this world," they repeatedly say. "Fire should always be afraid of water."
Even as Srinivasan has moved towards absolute power, streamrolling the opposition, winning the unstinting loyalty of a majority, and possibly planning another stint as BCCI president through two east-zone allies - Ranjib Biswal, the IPL chairman, and Chaudhury, the representative of what once was Bihar - the circumstances, those witches, have left open one door: the CAB's court cases. There is a high chance now that the balance of power might be restored. The cleaning up of cricket, if it happens, might be incidental.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Sidharth Monga
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