If you have been around Indian cricket for a while, chances are you will have run into Niranjan Shah. He is an affable man with a wicked sense of humour who has been in cricket administration for the better part of three decades now. To call the Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) his fiefdom won't be too far off the mark. Except, now that suzerainty seems to be at an end.
As a "special invitee" on a panel to study the implementation of the Supreme Court-mandated Lodha reforms, Shah has been essentially asked to identify the difficulties that exist in evicting himself, and others in the same boat as him - who are disqualified from holding office since they are over 70 years of age, or have held office for longer than the nine-year cap stipulated by the Lodha Committee - from their posts. This seven-man panel has been set up to list the "difficulties" the BCCI confronts in implementing the reforms. It isn't hard to understand why Shah is kicking and screaming, unwilling to see the writing in bold letters on the wall.
"If the Indian president can be well over 70 years of age, why can't the BCCI administrators work beyond that age limit?" he reasoned the other day. "As long as you are fit, you can work even till the time you are alive. I call this age discrimination."
It is amusing to hear a crib about "discrimination" from an official who hasn't allowed any opposition to prosper on his home patch in Saurashtra for a generation (side note, Mr Shah: only one Indian president in history has been re-elected after five years in office). For a large number of India's entrenched cricket officials, getting their head around the basic premise of the Lodha reforms is an impossibility. Status quo is so much better than implementing reforms in terms of tackling corruption, nepotism, favouritism, and conflicts of interest.
"At a time when the BCCI needed distance from its old guard, it has chosen to embrace them instead. So as they enter court urging the judges to tweak their original order, to the world outside, the BCCI has been muscularly defiant"
Look no further than Saurashtra to understand Shah's resistance to reforms. Eyebrows have been raised over the years as, with Shah in control of the association, his son Jaydev has crafted perhaps the longest-running career in playing mediocrity in the Indian first-class system. In 113 matches since his debut in the 2002-03 season, Jaydev averages under 29. Has his spot in the playing XI ever come under scrutiny?
Instead, it would seem the other way round. For a significant part of his playing career, Jaydev has been captain. In fact, in 2015, he broke the record for most Ranji Trophy matches as captain. He even led an India A team to Israel once. IPL franchises too have found Jaydev worthy of contracting, though his T20 numbers don't exactly grab you by the collar. He has enjoyed stints at Rajasthan Royals, Deccan Chargers and Mumbai Indians, before the Rajkot-based Gujarat Lions gave him a deal in 2016. Jaydev has never played an IPL game, of course, despite being in four different set-ups, but that isn't up to him.
The intention here is not to pick on Jaydev. Moderately gifted players have every right to construct a career and submit themselves to the process that determines their fate. It is to highlight the larger point administrators such as Shah continue to miss, or choose to.
It is vital for the terms of administrators to be limited so they don't go unchallenged for years altogether when elevated to the highest echelons of administration. Jaydev's career, if only as an example, will forever be besmirched in that he will be spoken of as having enjoyed a sustained run because of the continued influence of his father throughout his playing days.
It is important that sports administrators retire at a certain stage so fresh blood can be introduced, to enable an infusion of new ideas and greater vigour. To call it "age discrimination", as Shah has done, is to equate a sports body with a family-run enterprise, where the onus is on the proprietor to call it a day only when he or she pleases.
However, to counter Shah and his BCCI colleagues on substance is pointless at this stage. As Justice Lodha himself tellingly observed in these pages, the legal process allows for an aggrieved party to argue its case vehemently and offers several stages of recourse. Having exhausted those options, it is bound upon citizens and organisations to submit to orders passed by the Supreme Court. That is the very core of the rule of law.
The BCCI, instead, has chosen an inexplicable route to shield themselves from adopting this new set of rules for their functioning. They have simply refused do so, citing severe resistance among members to come on board, especially on a few sticky matters. And as an unsubtle delaying tactic, now a panel has been set up to highlight "a few critical points" that they have difficulty in implementing. Surprise, surprise, if those critical points were implemented, they would end the reign of Shah and his ilk.
Let us draw a parallel for what the BCCI is planning to head to the Supreme Court with. Assume a telecom company, say, is in dispute with a vendor over having not paid for services rendered by the vendor, who moves a lower court and wins damages. Those damages are upheld by the High Court, and when the matter reaches the Supreme court, not only is the telecom firm fined but upon deeper examination, a few of its senior executives are found to be unfit for their roles. Orders are passed, not just for the vendor to be paid but also for these executives to be removed immediately from office. All petitions requesting a review of that order are dismissed as well.
Is it fathomable that a year from that order, it is not implemented? Could the telecom company rebuff the court saying it is willing to only pay a portion of the fine and can only implement the order after addressing "a few critical points"? How would the court view the situation if the company established an in-house panel to "study" the order? And ask one of the dismissed executives to be a "special invitee" on that panel? How about if that special invitee claims he is being "discriminated" against?
In essence, the BCCI is playing with fire, and when it stands up in court next, it faces the genuine prospect of being singed by irate judges, likely frothing at the mouth at their orders being willfully ignored. By permitting N Srinivasan, who is disqualified from being an office bearer on more than one count by these reforms, to represent his state unit, the BCCI presented the worst possible optics in the public domain. Here was the man who had set this chain of events in motion by refusing to take responsibility for his errant son-in-law's indiscretions, guiding the BCCI on the tactics it must employ in order to only partially comply with an order passed by the country's most eminent legal authority.
Surely nothing enhances the narrative of the "cosy club" than the continued relevance of, and in fact eminence accorded to, figures such as Srinivasan and Shah. At a time when the BCCI needed distance from its old guard, it has chosen to embrace them instead. So as they enter court with folded hands and bowed heads, urging the judges to tweak their original order, to the world outside, the BCCI has been muscularly defiant. It remains to be seen if, on the 14th of July, the Supreme Court is willing to simply let this brazen defiance pass and give them a patient hearing.