REVERSE SWEEP TURNS THE GAME
By propping up Jagmohan Dalmiya and persuading N. Srinivasan to step aside, Arun Jaitley has secured his own chances of heading cricket’s richest organisation
Leaning back in his black leather chair at his home- cum- office in Kailash Colony, south Delhi, Arun Jaitley steals a minute from some important papers and glances at the 81cm LED screen broadcasting the India- Australia Champions Trophy warm- up match on June 4. “From a hopeless situation at 55 for 5, ( M. S.) Dhoni and ( Dinesh) Karthik have helped us cross 300. It’s a great recovery,” he says, with a satisfied smile. Off the field, the BCCI vice- president tried to script a similar recovery in the past week while negotiating between an adamant president who failed to see logic and board members who sought N. Srinivasan’s resignation after his son- in- law was arrested for alleged betting and spot- fixing.
Yet, his handling of the crisis has not won him any brownie points, either with the cricket- loving public or within political circles. He didn’t bother to attend the emergency working committee meeting in Chennai on June 2, preferring to communicate via videoconferencing from a Delhi five- star hotel. Addressing the working committee, he spoke about how the recent arrests had affected the credibility of the board and asked Srinivasan to “step aside” in a bid to placate the warring faction led by Punjab Cricket Association President I. S. Bindra and ostensibly backed by former BCCI president Sharad Pawar. It was not enough. Bindra recorded his dissent in the meeting, saying there was no rule in the constitution for the president to step aside. “Srinivasan should resign and come back if exonerated. I said this sham will not satisfy the public,” Bindra said after the meeting.
To pacify Srinivasan and his group, Jaitley propped up the name of 73year- old Jagmohan Dalmiya, the former BCCI and ICC president who had been kept out of the board for embezzlement of 1996 World Cup funds and slapped with a recovery notice of Rs 47 crore. Dalmiya was accepted back into the board in 2010 after a complaint against him regarding the World Cup accounts was withdrawn, and has been soft on Srinivasan over the entire issue, given their common rivalry with Pawar.
Jaitley says people are wrongly interpreting his actions, and insists he has no vested interest. “I just saw a role for myself in putting the board back in place with Srinivasan stepping aside to ensure a free and fair probe. That is all I wanted from all of this,” he tells INDIA TODAY. But 1983 World Cup winner and BJP leader Kirti Azad says he is “extremely disappointed” with the way Jaitley handled the issue. “The events have proved that BCCI is actually Brotherhood for Control of Cricket in India.”
Although Jaitley has said he wanted former board chief Shashank Manohar at the helm— that proposal was shot down outright at the meeting by Camp Srinivasan— BCCI officials believe that by turning down the offer to step in as interim head and throwing the ball in Dalmiya’s court, Jaitley has played a masterstroke. As someone who sees himself as a possible prime ministerial candidate and a BCCI presidential nominee in September 2014, Jaitley, leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, wasn’t keen to take over a troubled board at this juncture, especially with the General Elections next year. “Sport, especially cricket, is my passion. But my priority right now is politics. This is election year, so I declined, saying I have no interest in taking up any responsibility at this time,” he says.
“MY PRIORITY RIGHT NOW IS POLITICS. THIS IS ELECTION YEAR, SO I HAVE NO INTEREST IN TAKING UP ANY OTHER BOARD RESPONSIBILITY NOW.” Arun Jaitley BCCI VICE- PRESIDENT
Sources in BCCI say the sudden elevation of Dalmiya has an intriguing back story to it, and Jaitley merely exploited it to everyone’s benefit. In September 2012, Srinivasan had mooted an amendment in the BCCI Rules and Regulations clause 15 ( iii), which allowed any two affiliates of a zone to propose a candidate from another zone, to reportedly allow Jaitley’s candidature for president from east zone in 2014. Dalmiya, who already had two votes of his own as Cricket Association of Bengal and National Cricket Club president, apart from wielding clout over the east bloc, had already agreed to pitch in for Jaitley, who otherwise would have to wait until 2017, when it will be the north zone’s turn to nominate a president.
BCCI officials believe that by proposing Dalmiya’s name, Jaitley has cemented his goodwill with the east zone, and by coaxing Srinivasan to ‘ step aside’, he has provided a face- saving formula, thus securing votes from the south. Within the 30- member body, Jaitley has secured 16 votes, in addition to five from the north. Bindra says Jaitley had his way in the meeting. “Most of the suggestions came from Jaitley, including the appointment of Dalmiya,” he says.
Jaitley, who had publicly asked for resignations of central ministers on moral grounds in recent weeks, claims he reiterated his sentiments privately to the BCCI president over the phone at least thrice between May 27 and 29. On May 31, after Secretary Sanjay Jagdale and Treasurer Ajay Shirke quit, Jaitley dialled Srinivasan again at 11.30 p. m. Srinivasan said he would get back to him the next day. It was the first sign of Srinivasan melting. Srinivasan called back with two conditions— of retaining his position in ICC and deciding who would fill in as BCCI secretary and treasurer— but later relented to ‘ step aside’ unconditionally.
After 15 years, Jaitley’s supporters feel the BCCI president’s post is a logical conclusion for his career as a cricket administrator. He declined it, perhaps because he knew the opportunity would come again. In 2014.