How does one carve out India and Indian institutions The simplest mechanism is to adhere to the political map and the territorial boundaries of the 29 states.
How does one carve out India and Indian institutions The simplest mechanism is to adhere to the political map and the territorial boundaries of the 29 states. Yet, many Indian civil society and public institutions have existed before the creation of the current network of states and can explain their organisational geography independent of it. For example, a categorising of the Indian film industry would see clear geographical clusters — Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, to some degree Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram. In this reckoning a Bhopal or a Lucknow would not figure, though the odd film may be made there.
The film industry is a loose framework. Civil society institutions, whether industry associations or sports federations, are more formal and rigorously organised. The Confederation of Indian Industry, for example, began as a body of engineering companies based in Kolkata (then Calcutta), the industrial capital of India at the time. Gradually it grew to become representative of other industrial zones. While notionally an all-India institution, some regions and cities are clearly more important within the CII than others. That is only natural.
So it is with sport. Bengal and its football clubs have punched well above their population in soccer. In the United Kingdom, this is true if the once-industrial towns of northern England and of the greater London region. On the other hand, a Gujarat doesn’t have much of a football culture. In contrast, much smaller states like Nagaland — which threw up the doctor-sportsman T. Ao as the Indian team’s captain in the 1940s — Meghalaya and Mizoram have proud and deep soccer traditions.
In the case of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), affiliate units reflect this geographical clustering of the sport. Gujarat has three cricket associations — the Ahmedabad-based Gujarat cricket body, the Baroda cricket body and the Saurashtra cricket body covering the erstwhile princely territories of Kathiawar, an early nursery of cricket in India. In Maharashtra, there are separate associations for the Pune region (Maharashtra association), for the Vidarbha region and for Mumbai city, recognising the contribution of the cricket tradition and infrastructure of the Mumbai metropolitan area.
In united Andhra Pradesh, there were two Ranji Trophy teams — the Hyderabad team and the Andhra Pradesh team. This was an acknowledgement, like in the case of Mumbai and Maharashtra, of the city’s autonomous identity as a cricket centre. Today, with the birth of Telangana, the Hyderabad team is in a different state. It is now the Ranji Trophy team from Telangana.
As part of the judicial jihad against the BCCI, the Supreme Court and the Justice R.M. Lodha Committee have challenged this geography of Indian cricket. The Lodha Committee report, which the apex court insists must be implemented in full, without any discussion, says one state must have one vote in BCCI elections and matters. However, multiple cricket teams from the same state can continue to play domestic cricket. As such, Gujarat will have one vote in the BCCI elections but can continue to have three teams in the Ranji Trophy: Gujarat, Baroda and Saurashtra.
Holding that the primacy of the political division of India into states is supreme and unexceptionable, and must take precedence over all other modes of regional categorisation, the Supreme Court has insisted that all 29 states be given a vote in BCCI elections. Other than being a clear infringement in the internal matters and autonomy of a civil society organisation, and therefore unwarranted, this judicial order throws up serious paradoxes and challenges.
Smaller states with an inadequate cricket capacity — say Mizoram or Manipur or Sikkim or Chhattisgarh — will now have state cricket associations that will have a vote in BCCI elections and a say in governance of cricket. The court admits, however, that these states may not yet be ready to play first-class cricket and not be in a position to actually enter teams in BCCI or domestic cricket tournaments. They need not play, but they must vote. The cart must come, the horse can follow.
What will this lead to It will mean about a third — roughly eight to 10 — of state cricket associations the Supreme Court insists will now be the only voters in a BCCI election will essentially be letterhead associations with very little to show in terms of actual contribution to the national cricket endeavour. Yet, those who run these associations — and inevitably a cartel will form — will have as much power as a major cricket centre (or three times the power of a major cricket centre, in the case of cricket associations in states such as Maharashtra).
How difficult will it be for a buccaneer with a hefty bank balance to build a coalition of paper cricket associations and bargain and blackmail himself into a position of authority in the BCCI and in the lucrative enterprise of Indian cricket In deciding that the current system is imperfect — and it may well be — is not the Supreme Court sowing the seeds of a future problem
The BCCI is an infamous and opaque body. It has its achievements but it certainly has its great failures. It has allowed conflicts of interest to persist and institutionalise. It has presented its case before the Supreme Court in the most abrupt, supercilious, ridiculous and clumsy manner possible. In a sense, it invited this mess upon itself by surrendering the governance of cricket to a clique of self-serving businessmen led by N. Srinivasan, the former BCCI strongman. Those individuals may have gone, but that mindset has not.
All this has ensured that when the court dismisses the objections of the BCCI, there is little sympathy for the board in the public. Nevertheless that does not mean all of the BCCI’s arguments have no basis. BCCI president Anurag Thakur may be wrong, but Chief Justice T.S. Thakur need not be the last word in the administration of cricket either. Some maturity, some nuance is necessary — especially when it comes to mindless tinkering with the geography of Indian cricket, a geography representing regional cricket roots, traditions and cultures that may be older and more important than the BCCI itself.
The author is distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org