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Gaurav Kalra
Thursday , February 09, 2012 at 11 : 48

The squabbling conjoined twins


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I have never met Mr. N Srinivasan. In fact, I have never even had a conversation with him. But I do enjoy hearing him talk at press conferences or in those rare television interviews he agrees to do. He appears unflappable, speaks in perfectly constructed sentences with a voice that exudes calm, intelligence, logic and authority. I am reliably told he has a raging temper but his public persona is admirable. He is the sort of erudite man the BCCI presidency sits well on. Yet, he finds himself boxed in a corner these days - a corner of his own making.

It is ironic that the 'conflict of interest' Mr. Srinivasan has been reminded of over these last few years is now chewing away at his authority as BCCI president. Consider recent events. As his board's most valuable commercial partner was throwing a tantrum and walking out in a huff, Mr. Srinivasan wasn't even at the auction in Bangalore to attempt a salvage operation. Why? Because fearing allegations of a 'conflict of interest' as he is an IPL team owner too, he chose to keep a safe distance from the proceedings. While the gesture was noble, it actually prevented him from carrying out the primary function entrusted upon him: To lead Indian cricket, more so in a time of crisis.

So here was Mr. Subrata Roy, urging the BCCI to assuage his 'hurt feelings', demanding his concerns be heard, waiting for a solution he would find acceptable. And instead of negotiating with a man holding the eminence of the BCCI president's office, he was left dealing with office bearers and the like. Yes, Mr. Rajiv Shukla is chairman of the IPL but anyone around Indian cricket would tell you his word carries little weight and virtually no substance.

Mr. Srinivasan needed to be in Bangalore to soothe frayed tempers, calm frazzled nerves and perhaps massage the ego of the man who injects serious cash into the organisation he runs. Instead, he was in Chennai where all he did was have a quick conversation before possibly switching the lights off and going to sleep. All he reminded the Sahara boss was that he was 'hands-off' the IPL. "I own a team, you see," he presumably said, "so if I interfere, they will say I have a vested interest. Goodnight."

For the last few years, Mr. Srinivasan's 'conflict of interest' was seen to directly benefit him and his Chennai Super Kings. Now, it does the converse. It forces him to consider every action as BCCI president through that prism. He fears wielding stature and authority, as it may embolden the critics. From being an active participant in activities that allegedly favoured his franchise, Mr. Srinivasan now sits well beyond the fence. Allowing a state of flux to persist and transform into a termite that is gnawing away at the pillars of the BCCI. Yes, the very organisation he is meant to lead.

Lalit Modi I know better. When he was in India, I ran into him more than once. A bundle of limitless energy and contradictions, Modi was haughty and friendly at the same time. Forever in a hurry but never really short of time. He was devoted to building an edifice and let's admit, did a great job of it. Modi is fighting a different battle these days. It is a quest for validation. He knows the peak of his professional life is in the past. The IPL is the child snatched away from him. And these days, from across the seas, he can't bear to see it fall apart. So Modi in 2012 does what Modi in 2008 would never dream of. Concede a mistake. But admissions of guilt have a life of their own. And can trap the whistle-blower as well.

In his attempt to paint Mr. Srinivasan as the tyrant hell-bent on murdering the baby he produced and nurtured, Modi revealed he was 'arm-twisted' into a 'fix'. The object of Mr. Srinivasan's desire at the time was England's Andrew Flintoff. And Modi 'relented' to the 'pressure' brought upon him to deliver Flintoff into Chennai's waiting arms. Except, his version is just a play on shallow words. In truth, Modi was an accomplice in the fix. And once he conceded his 'mistake', the stark nakedness of how his regime functioned was laid bare.

In a terrific piece of investigative journalism, my colleague Sanjeeb Mukherjea exposed how Modi colluded with Mr. Srinivasan to deliver Flintoff. Writing this e-mail to Mr. Srinivasan - who was also the BCCI secretary at the time - on February 4, 2009 - Modi said, "What a nightmare to convince them not to terminate [Sohail] Tanvir and also not to take Flintoff. Warne went off the handle. But have managed it by using stick and carrot strategy. Thus they have 1.875 million dollars only. Much love, Lalit." To which Mr. Srinivasan had replied on the same day, "Thanks. You are most sweet. Srini."

So just why is this pithy exchange relevant? Ask the questions. Why is the IPL chief discussing the prospects of a player up for auction with a team owner? Why is another team open to discussing its auction strategy with the IPL chief? Is Modi being arm-twisted here? Or is he complicit in the skullduggery? How many 'arm-twists' are signed off saying "much love"? If Mr. Srinivasan was an upright team owner, why was he interested in ensuring Rajasthan's purse was reduced? Why he was not repulsed, as BCCI secretary, to the phrase 'stick and carrot strategy' to manipulate an auction? At the time, both Modi and Mr. Srinivasan were creating the muck together. Perhaps, they detested the sight of each other then as well, but this was strictly business. Respective backs needed scratching.

Look closely, Modi and Mr. Srinivasan are really the same. Conjoined twins if you will. Today, both are in a ferocious race to protect their legacy. Mr. Srinivasan believes by creating distance between him and the IPL, the accusations of 'conflict of interest' will somehow vanish. Modi believes by hollering from the roof-tops and conceding to the odd 'error' he will rid the BCCI of what he regards as its most damaging influence. And save his child from the clutches of evil.

Both are mistaken. Mr. Srinivasan needs to forsake his Chennai Super Kings and seize control of running this board. A job he has the capacity, intellect and experience for. It is an organisation crying out for strong leadership and statesmanship. Modi needs to come clean, not merely spit and hide. He was a path-breaker; he must not reduce himself to a road-block. They say friends are often alike. Here are sworn enemies, when you look real hard, you can't tell them apart. Not earlier ... and not now.


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More about Gaurav Kalra

Gaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
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