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The Super King's stigma
These are dark days for N Srinivasan, whose iron grip on cricket is being gradually prised open. Having consistently thumbed his nose at those who questioned his policies or pointed out dubious conflict-of-interest situations, the fiercely ambitious BCCI chief may find the betting shame involving his son-in-law too tough to handle. The India Cements supremo is slowly discovering that building a corporate empire through cold efficiency and ruthlessness is no bulwark against public scorn. Still used to getting his way by any means, the country’s latest hate figure continues to fight the odds, hoping to pull off another coup like he has so often in the past.
Defiant. Arrogant. Unflinching. Tenacious. Ruthless. Narayanaswamy Srinivasan, the venerable president of the Board of Control for Cricket India (BCCI) and the most powerful man in world cricket today, is all that and much more. The man who controls the financial fortunes of world cricket - by virtue of being the ringmaster of Indian cricket - is as tough as nails.
No cricket official has ever been under such intense public scrutiny as Srinivasan. The demand for his resignation, following the alleged involvement of his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan in a betting scam, is getting shriller by the hour with new voices joining the chorus. True to his character, Srinivasan continues to stonewall every voice of dissent with a poker face even as this is being written.
Much as one may dislike his arrogance and propensity to bulldoze through situations where deals can be sealed even by a conventional shaking of hands, one has to admire his remarkable ability to withstand the choking pressures arising from a distinct conflict-of-interest situation. He is, after all, also the owner of the Chennai Super Kings franchise.
Propriety demands that Srinivasan step down from his post pending the outcome of the inquiries, being simultaneously conducted by the police and the BCCI's own IPL governing council. Not known for niceties, Srinivasan, who has all along maintained that he has done no wrong, is in no mood to relinquish his hold over Indian cricket even briefly.
As a top industrialist he is known to be honest, efficient and ruthless. That's how he has made his money and built a corporate empire. Cricket, the opium of the masses here, is his favourite drug. It gives him a kick and he finds the power to control the collective destiny of generations of cricketers too hard to resist.
From gagging Team India's captain to dropping a top player like Virender Sehwag or forcing stalwarts like Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman into retirement, nothing happens in Indian cricket without the consent of the BCCI chief. It is like playing god to cricket's demigods. It is this obsession for power that is preventing Srinivasan from upholding a very basic tenet of public life.
The BCCI may not be a government body but it operates like one. It is powered by the force of brute majority translated into numbers. Srinivasan understood the importance of numbers, and how it can be manipulated, very early in his innings as a cricket administrator.
His tryst with governance of the game dates back to 1995-96 when he first entered the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) as one of the six vice-presidents, but it was not until the turn of the century that Srinivasan started making his presence felt in the corridors of power in the BCCI.
It was a twist of fate that pitchforked the India Cements supremo into the limelight. Srinivasan became the biggest beneficiary of the power struggle in the national cricket body in 2001 when sitting BCCI president and TNCA boss AC Muthiah was unseated by the wily East Zone 'strongman' Jagmohan Dalmiya.
The bloodless coup denied Muthiah a legitimate third year in office and left the BCCI smeared with bad blood. Muthiah's great fall paved the way for Srinivasan's rise to the highest seat of power in the TNCA the following year. It didn't take him long to make his presence felt at the national level.
Dalmiya's hunger for power and his dubious ways to hang on to it were excellent lessons in the fine art of manipulation that Srinivasan absorbed like a sponge. Soon he became so good at it that he was being referred to as "Chhota Dalmiya (Little Dalmiya)" in BCCI circles. Srinivasan didn't see it as a compliment because he had ambitions far bigger than his unacknowledged mentor.
He proved his mettle by plotting Dalmiya's downfall in the BCCI in 2005. After Sharad Pawar was stymied by the Dalmiya group by a casting vote in 2004, it was Srinivasan and Shashank Manohar who masterminded Pawar's successful campaign a year later, bringing the curtains down on the Dalmiya era in the BCCI. The meticulous planning of the entire operation and its precise execution bore a strong resemblance to India Cements' hostile takeover of Raasi Cement in 1998.
If the takeover of Raasi Cement had established Srinivasan's credentials as a fiercely competitive businessman, the victory over Dalmiya and Co highlighted his killer instincts. He rose quickly in the BCCI hierarchy, serving as BCCI treasurer under Pawar, then secretary when Manohar became the chief before being elected unopposed as president of the richest cricket body in the world.
The IPL, though, changed many equations. It turned friends and colleagues into foes and ushered in a climate of distrust in an organization that was ill-equipped to handle the money-spinning monster it had created. The decision to allow board officials to own/hold posts in IPL franchises, taken by the Pawar regimen ostensibly to protect state associations from being taken over by promoters of 'cricketainment', gave rise to conflicts of interest.
Srinivasan's decision to buy the Chennai franchise through India Cements dragged him into a major controversy. He was taken to court by erstwhile BCCI and TNCA president Muthiah over the ownership of CSK and the matter continues to be sub-judice. Undaunted and unfazed by criticism, Srinivasan made Dhoni a vice-president in India Cements earlier this year, triggering a national outrage. But what Srinivasan had clearly not bargained for was his son-inlaw's arrest over betting charges and his alleged link with bookies and the underworld.
He may have firmly distanced himself from Meiyappan, even instituted an 'independent' inquiry into his alleged misdeeds in a bid to deflect pressure even as he continues to fight for his own survival, but it is hard to fight public perception. The spontaneous boos from the stands at the Eden Gardens during the presentation ceremony of the IPL final was a clear indication that the stigma is hard to wash.
In a fractured BCCI, there will always be votes to manipulate. No one knows the numbers game better than Srinivasan himself. If he continues to be so smug in the face of adversity, it is because he knows that the threat to his chair is unlikely to come from within the BCCI. He is, however, alive to the fast-changing ground realities that present a clear and present danger to his immediate survival in the BCCI and his ambition to head the International Cricket Council in the near future.
Only time will tell whether Srinivasan is able to tide over the present crisis but it can hardly be denied that 2005's 'Chhota Dalmiya' has metamorphosed into the 'Big Boss' world cricket loves to hate but can ill-afford to underestimate.
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