After nearly an hour’s interaction in November with the Justice Mukul Mudgal panel, appointed by the Supreme Court to probe spot-fixing and betting allegations in the IPL, I got the feeling that a meaningful and significant attempt was being made to uncover the Indian cricket board’s malfunctioning. The three members of the panel — one a distinguished former chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court, and the other two lawyers of repute — Nageshwar Rao and Nilay Dutta — made you feel at home, listened with patience and intervened subtly and tactfully so that one did not feel intimidated.
As I stepped out of the business centre of the five-star hotel in Delhi, my mind went back many years, 17 to be precise, when I had ‘deposed’ before a former Chief Justice of India, the late YB Chandrachud, who was at that time probing similar allegations against Indian cricketers.
The man’s stature was high, though unlike now that probe was instituted by the Indian Board after coming under severe pressure from the public and media for remaining a mute spectator despite many substantiated and many wild allegations in the media.
The probe was the result of some sensational disclosures in the Outlook Magazine, and a story I had done for the Pioneer newspaper from the West Indies, where I was approached by a bookmaker to facilitate his access to the players in return for handsome monetary rewards.
Even today, much wiser and aware of the dodgy ways of the world, I recoil in dismay and horror at the experience I had that day at Mumbai’s Cricket Club of India. Chandrachud was not interested in knowing anything about the veracity of my encounter with the bookie. Instead, he was keener on talking in generalities and looking at the game through the prism of the romantic British elite worldview, where cricket meant fair play and high moral values! When I did make an attempt to tell him about my encounter with the bookie, he just uttered “leave it” to signal the conclusion of our meeting.
The next day’s Pioneer, where I still worked, had a front page story by me, headlined: You bet, this probe will be a sham. Its findings turned out to be exactly that as it came to the conclusion that a few disgruntled elements were trying to defame the “great game of cricket”.
Three years later, Hansie Cronje happened, and subsequently half a dozen Indian cricketers were named in the CBI report for being involved in fixing matches and this “great game” has never been the same again.
Today, the Mudgal panel has very meticulously and cleverly exposed the underbelly of Indian cricket and its nexus with the rich and powerful in the Indian Board.
That its job is unfinished, which its findings duly recorded in a sealed envelope to the Supreme Court suggest, is clear from the SC now wanting it to go a few steps further and bring this probe to its logical conclusion.
That it needs help from outside agencies with legal authority to probe has been accepted by the SC, and hopefully they will pass an order soon which will give the panel the teeth to bite.
It goes without saying that nobody is guilty till proven so. We too presume all those named in the secret envelope innocent till proved otherwise.
And we trust this panel to arrive at a conclusion based on fair play, sound interpretation of laws and without any bias or favouritism, to tell us what the actual truth is.