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Whether it's Dhoni, Kumble or the legendary Gavaskar, they've all put propriety aside for personal gains.
Dominant trends in society get uncannily reflected in its popular culture. In Hindi cinema, for instance, the villain's persona has changed over the years from the oppressive landlord to the swindling smuggler, to the unconscionable underworld don, and now to the rabid terrorist. Societal trends are reflected in cricket, too. It should not therefore surprise us to discover that the phenomenon of conflict of interest has beset Indian cricket, irrespective of the brazenness of the recent transgressions.
Conflict of interest refers to a situation in which a decision a person takes has the potential of enriching him or his relatives or friends. It implies the person can't take a rational decision based on objective criterion, motivated as he is to nurture his personal interests. A conflict of interest doesn't always mean the decision-maker is guilty of financial impropriety. But it almost always raises questions whether the decision he took had the impulse of personal gains driving him. In other words, the issue of conflict of interest is pertinent as its absence helps evade situations conducive to corruption.
The Indian inability to comprehend the idea of conflict of interest explains why cricket administrators and players accused of it often express their innocence, in a tone simultaneously poignant and hilarious. Remember what Sunil Gavaskar said at the time it was first revealed his role as commentator was in conflict with his personal interest?
Gavaskar has a Rs 3. 6-crore contract with the BCCI, which entitles him to a slot on the panel of commentators for its tournaments or matches involving the Indian team. Was this the reason why he refused to discuss the IPL as a factor in the Indian team's disastrous tour of England in 2011?
The Indian great earnestly declared, "There's a conflict of interest in everything in life. If your editor doesn't agree with a story you want, what do you do? You drop it, right? I'm exactly in the same situation with the BCCI. " While admitting it wasn't unfair for people to expect a high standard of ethical behaviour from him, Gavaskar retorted, "But they have got to remember that achievers (him included )... have...a stomach (to feed)! " He still argues in the same vein.
Gavaskar forgets that a journalist's story can be dropped because of its poor quality and, two, it is the editor - or the media-owner - who is guilty of suppressing a story. Indeed, a conflict of interest applies only to those who have the power to take decisions, not to those who simply must accept the diktat of their bosses. By contrast, Gavaskar did seem to have options. For one, he was paid a daily professional fee (estimated to be Rs 50, 000 to a lakh a day) by the channels for which he was commenting. Might he not have foregone the lucrative contract with the BCCI to protect his independence? It is possible the BCCI could have axed him from the panel of commentators, but there were other avenues available to him for earning a livelihood, considering his stature and his prolific writings.
The impulse to earn more money is human. But this impulse becomes illegitimate in situations in which you could exercise the power vested in you to promote the larger good, to further your interests. This fact Anil Kumble failed to grasp, insisting his role as president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) did not conflict with his owning Tenvic, which mentors cricketers. Was it inconceivable that he might help pick those to represent Karnataka who would also agree to sign for Tenvic, earning him a neat commission? No doubt, the KSCA job is honorary, and Kumble, therefore, argued: "At this stage of my career, I have to do that. Otherwise, you would have to become like Gandhi and give up everything. "
Who are we, earning merely thousands, to question the lifestyle of Kumble, whose career earnings probably have a bewildering number of zeroes? It is for the same reason we can't quiz Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who has or had a stake in Rhiti Sports. Dhoni hasn't spoken yet on the controversy, but you can well predict what his response would be - haven't Suresh Raina, Pragyan Ojha and Ravindra Jadeja, who constitute the Rhiti Sports portfolio, justified their selection in the Indian team?
Indeed, they have, but there is also the curious case of R P Singh, who had signed up with Rhiti Sports in 2011, and who was mysteriously called to bolster the Indian attack on that year's tour of England. He proved to be a disaster. As for N Srinivasan, well, he too will have an explanation why as BCCI president he owned an IPL team: the rules, you see, were amended to legitimise what was a flagrant case of conflict of interest.
Perhaps therein you can see why we care two hoots for conflict of interest. Extremely hierarchical as our society is, duly reflected in its institutions, power is vested in a few. They employ the power not only to enrich themselves, but to also buy out dissenters or oust them from their fold. The opponents wait for their chance to indulge in the same practices. A conspiracy of silence ensues. Nobody in the BCCI ever questioned Srinivasan in his heyday, just as nobody even in the BJP, let alone Congress, has demanded a probe into how Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, Robert Vadra, overnight amassed properties worth crores. As we love to say, we Indians are like that only.
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