Nero fiddled as a soloist when Rome burned. But when the Indian Premier League (IPL) went up in flames, there was a whole orchestra in attendance. Ironically, this 13-member orchestra meets today to decide on the fate of its own conductor, accusing him now of distorting the same tune to which they had all willingly swayed and performed.
What was sweet music till the other day has now become a cacophony of threats, allegations, and salacious speculation that is being played out in the public domain without break. The orchestra a.k.a. the Governing Council of the IPL has already closed ranks against the conductor a.k.a. Lalit Modi. But if Modi’s tweets over the weekend are an indication, he is unwilling to go down without a fight.
There seems to be common consensus now that Lalit Modi was running amuck as both commissioner and chairman of the IPL. If even 10 per cent of what is being alleged is true, he has a heck of a lot to explain and, perhaps, a long time to spend in confines less salubrious than the 32nd floor offices of a five-star hotel in mid-town Mumbai where he was parked in for the past few months. If he has broken the laws of the land, of cricket, of corporate governance and of propriety, then that is how it should be.
But questions have to be asked about how Modi managed to get to his omnipotent position and why he was allowed to operate with such impunity for three years. What were his minders doing for the last three years as he was apparently not just making the IPL an enormously successful commercial property, but also a personal fiefdom full of financial irregularities? In other words, why was the IPL Governing Council not governing?
The council is a mix of politicians, industrialists, lawyers, former cricketers and a few ubiquitous board officials who have the incredible ability to be on the right side of power at all times. Farooq Abdullah, Rajiv Shukla, Arun Jaitley, Shashank Manohar, K. Srinivas, Chirayu Amin, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri are some of the luminaries on the governing council.
It now seems that since the IPL appeared to be such a fabulous success it just sort of ran away from them, as they did not bother to check. Yet, each one of the complaints that are now being made about the way the IPL was run could perhaps have been fixed had the governing council been on the ball or, at least, a bit more diligent.
If it is financial fiddling or legal irregularities that are at the foundation of the problem, then there were experienced lawyers and industrialists on the council, who surely had the knowledge and the experience to deal with them. All they had to do was read the balance sheet, look at how the deals were structured, cut down on needless expenses and favours and rework or revoke arrangements which transgressed corporate ethics.
If it was political favours that were the real cause of the rot, then all those politicians of different political persuasions and dispensations should have known — or made it their business to know — what was going on. And if it was the debasement of the principles of cricket that is the core issue, then three highly respected former captains could have stepped in and put their feet down: we are okay if you want to shorten the length of the boundaries from 75 to 65 yards, but no parties, more discipline, less fun and more cricket.
What these various areas of neglect seem to show is that the IPL’s success became its biggest downfall. Since the tournament hit the ground running and went straight to hyper-acceleration, no one bothered to check how the organisation worked, whether it had a culture or if it followed any core values. Instead, it appears Modi was allowed to work how he liked: ambitious deals that skirted the law, a few sops here and there to family and friends, a run-in last year with the Union home minister over security, another one this year with the external affairs ministry after a diplomatic fracas with Pakistan, and finally — what precipitated the crisis — an attempt to control (or protect, as he claims) the outcome of an auction that did not go to the party he believed was deserving.
The selective leaking that Modi did about the Kochi franchisees certainly opened that proverbial can of worms. But events beg the question: why were no questions asked about the composition of the other consortiums and the credibility of their franchisees for so long? How come blatant conflict of interest was allowed in the case of one governing council member who also became a franchise owner? Modi’s head deserves to be on the chopping block. But there are few other heads here which need to do some talking.
Meanwhile, there’s the future to consider. It is absurd to let the IPL collapse because of managerial impropriety, as nihilists and the lynch-mob would suggest. The biggest casualty in this sordid drama is not who will lose out to whom in national politics, financial deals or the ego battles between pompous cricket officials but public trust. The cricket lovers of India are the biggest stakeholders in the game in India, and they are anguished.
The power struggle for control of the fastest growing sports property in the world may end in a whimper or reach a higher octave today, depending on the resolve and arsenal either side possesses. But that is not now germane to the issue. It’s public trust. To restore this, it is imperative that the act of cleansing is demonstrative, not merely symbolic.