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POWERPLAY 3

Return of the native

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LEADERBOARD: Jagmohan Dalmiya makes a return at the behest of BCCI president-elect N Srinivasan and Shashank Manohar.

At a time when most sports bodies in the country are struggling to keep their existence, 30 'good' men in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on Wednesday voted unanimously to not only pull the plug on Lalit Modi, the flamboyant erstwhile chairman of the Indian Premier League, but also empower their bosses to redefine the contours of the world's richest cricket body.

The spontaneity shown by the members of the board, which is besieged by a series of scams, in severing Modi's last remaining links with the parent body clearly reflects the changing power equations within the BCCI. In its chequered 81-year-old history, no BCCI president had been elected unopposed till 2007 when Shashank Manohar, a lawyer from Nagpur, went on to become the first president-elect totally unchallenged. Now, Narayanswamy Srinivasan, a cement baron from Chennai, has repeated the feat, ensuring that he will take over the mantle from Manohar.

There is nothing sinister about the manner in which these two middle-aged gentlemen, as different in nature as chalk and cheese, operate. Their ruthless efficiency has already reduced the 'mostvisible' face in Indian cricket to the 'most-despised' one in the game's history and earned them the sobriquet: SS.

In Nazi Germany, SS may have referred to a crack unit especially set up to protect Adolf Hitler, but in the BCCI's panchayati raj, it simply translates as Shashank and Srinivasan, who are now in the process of cleansing the system and introducing various checks and balances to prevent its abuse in future.

History also has it that whenever any individual has tried to buck the institution, board members, cutting across the political divide, have joined hands to crush any such move.

Ask Jagmohan Dalmiya, the erstwhile president of the ICC, who found out the hard way five years ago when he tried to turn the BCCI into his personal fiefdom by anointing himself as its lifelong patron-in-chief. If last week's AGM in Mumbai showed that the democratic fabric of the BCCI was still intact, the minor concessions handed out to the tainted Dalmiya suggest that political equations are still paramount in Indian cricket's corridors of power.

It also exposes the soft underbelly of our cricket administrators, who excel in fire-fighting, but are loathe to take precautionary measures. Five years ago, shamed by the Pilcom scam, the BCCI mandarins had gone after Dalmiya with all guns blazing. They didn't quite succeed in nailing the wily administrator, but managed to hustle him out of power with none other than Modi leading the charge. Both Dalmiya and Modi are essentially products of a rotten system that lends itself nicely to anyone wishing to manipulate it. It is therefore a touch ironical that the BCCI has now gone soft on Dalmiya even as it pursues Modi with a jehadi zeal.

Dalmiya may tout it as a 'vindication' of sorts, but the truth is that ground realities have not changed for the man who still presides over Bengal cricket. The BCCI may have withdrawn its civil suit against him in the Pilcom case, but the criminal case continues to be heard in a court of law. And by accepting his written plea to lift the expulsion order three years down the line, the BCCI has finally put an end to its own embarrassment. After all, Dalmiya has been a regular at Board meetings, having got a stay order from the court soon after he was expelled.

In cricketing parlance, BCCI's benevolence gives Dalmiya a bit of width to 'free his arms' and his followers, who have all been lying low, will be hoping that he will resume his networking with a view to foisting his 'own' candidate in 2013, when it will be East Zone's turn to elect its president to take over from Srinivasan in 2014. BCCI rules don't allow Dalmiya, who has already served as president, secretary and treasurer, to return at the helm, but it sure leaves the 'king-maker' with enough time to cobble together a simple majority (16 votes) needed to put his candidate on the hot seat for him to 'rule' by proxy.

Unlike Modi, who had no representation in the BCCI after being ousted from his 'home' association in Rajasthan, Dalmiya still controls two votes, that of the CAB as well as the NCC. For him to be relevant in the BCCI's votedriven politics, Dalmiya must woo back his one-time allies like Brijesh Patel (Karnataka), Amitabh Choudhary (Jharkhand), Goutam Roy (Assam), C K Khanna (Delhi) and Ranbir Singh Mahendra (Haryana), who are all happily swimming with the tide these days.

It is hard to see Shashank and Srinivasan losing the vice-like grip they currently have on the Indian cricket administration. But in BCCI politics, there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. This perhaps explains why Modi, prior to his ouster, was cosying up to his one-time sworn enemy Dalmiya.

The BCCI's soft-pedalling on Dalmiya may not have much bearing on the immediate future, but it could well be a forebearer of a new power struggle in 'Cricket House', the headquarters of Indian cricket. But the game is well and truly over for Modi, who succeeded in fooling a few people for a while before his misdeeds caught up with him.

The meteoric rise of Modi as a marketing whizkid and his subsequent fall from grace make for a wonderful case study for management gurus to hold up before their students, but the masterplan drawn up by the BCCI bosses to checkmate Modi also makes for compelling reading.

The swift and efficient manner in which Shashank and Srinivasan carried out the rescue operations in the wake of the IPL scams ensured that the casualty list included just Modi and a few badly bruised egos. The game plan was simple - to make Modi irrelevant in the context of the BCCI. Legal options were kept open, even used as a threat, but never really seriously explored. When Modi played the bias card, it was trumped as the president recused himself from the disciplinary panel and filled the slot with Jyotiraditya Scindia. It was a masterstroke, executed with the grace of a Laxman and the punch of a Dhoni. It stumped Modi's battery of lawyers who at one point of time numbered more than 50!

The last nail in Modi's coffin was hammered in when Sony Entertainment broke ranks to fall in line with the Board and took World Sports Group (WSG) to court over the $80m facilitation fee they paid for IPL rights. With a watertight case against Modi, all the BCCI needed to do was to remove him from his existing posts without violating its constitution.

A couple of amendments to its constitution were all that was required to consign the maverick Modi to a footnote in history. A three-fourths majority at the AGM was needed to push it through, but all hands went up when the matter came up and the suspended Modi was left facing possible expulsion from the BCCI when the disciplinary committee concludes its hearings and submits it findings in a few weeks' time.

It was an inglorious exit for a man who was once rated among the 10 most powerful men in India, but then people who live by scams are often consumed by them - even though one Suresh Kalmadi may beg to differ.

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