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Posted at: Oct 10, 2015, 1:38 AM; last updated: Oct 10, 2015, 1:38 AM (IST)

Kings of the cricketing world

Right from the colonial days, cricket in India was always ruled by the elite — the British and the Indian royalty. In recent decades, the new elite has taken over. Worryingly, two elements of monarchies have come into cricket — longevity of tenure and hereditary transfer of power.
Kings of the cricketing world
These players will never get bowled out: (From left) Jyotiraditya Scindia, Shashank Manohar, Sharad Pawar, CK Khanna and Niranjan Shah

Indian cricket administrators are democrat-monarchists. Much in the style of the kings of the past, they have long reigns, with a crucial difference — while the crowns of the kings passed from fathers to sons, the cricket monarchs gain power through democratic elections. 

They are cricket’s royalty, created by the democratic process.

However, the biggest and the most powerful of this royalty become immune to misfortunes of the democratic process — they never or rarely lose, and they last for amazingly long tenures. There’s no limit on tenures in the state associations — mercifully, the BCCI does have limits.

Consider this — Niranjan Shah of the Saurashtra Cricket Association has been in power since 1972, either as secretary or president of the association. He had deposed Y.S. Shatrusalyasinhji, the last Maharaja of Nawanagar. Shah, who played 12 matches for Saurashtra, was a staunch anti-royalist when he was opposing Shatrusalyasinhji — but Shah himself ended up as cricket’s royalty. 

Jagmohan Dalmiya was either a top Cricket Association of Bengal official or controlled it fully, with a brief interruption, for 36 years, from 1979 to his death last month. Increasingly, the cricket officials are acquiring a crucial element of monarchy — the inheritance of power and the continuance of rule through bloodline. Shashank Manohar, the new BCCI president, is a member of the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA), which he controls through a trusted lieutenant, Prakash Dixit. Dixit is 10 years older to Manohar and had earlier served Manohar’s father, V.R. Manohar, the VCA president in the 1980s and 1990s. In the future, Dixit might well end up serving Shashank Manohar’s son, Adwait Manohar, VCA’s vice-president.

Shashank and Adwait Manohar are among those elite of cricket administration — and indeed, those elite of India — who embody Warren Buffet’s model of the “Lucky Sperm Club”. 

Many members of Indian cricket’s ruling royalty were actually from the luckiest ever sperm club, the royal families, who were rulers by birthright. They included Madhavrao Scindia, Maharajkumar of Vizianagram, Fatehsinghrao Gaekwad, Raj Singh Dungarpur and Srikantadatta Wodeyar. 

In the years following the Independence, the royal families began to lose ground in cricket administration — they were being overtaken by the new royalty, ie business leaders and politicians. They included M.A. Chidambaram, P.M. Rungta, S.K. Wankhede, N.K.P. Salve, Siddhartha Shankar Roy, Rajeev Shukla, Arun Jaitley, Jagmohan Dalmiya, Lalit Modi and N. Srinivasan. Most of these men were fortunate to be blessed with the right male parent; the rest used their political power to gain power in sports administration.

Then there were those who were patronised by powerful politicians — for instance, Punjab’s I.S. Bindra and V.R. Manohar and Shashank Manohar of Vidarbha. Bindra was a bureaucrat who was very close to Punjab Chief Minister and later India President Giani Zail Singh. Bindra controlled the Punjab Cricket Association for close to 40 years. 

The Manohars are lawyers from Nagpur who had and still have the  support of Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar. The home team of the Manohars, Vidarbha, never did anything noteworthy in Indian cricket — which, surely, is a reflection on the capabilities of its administrators. Yet, the Manohars became very powerful administrators because of the Pawar connection.

Soon after the death of Dalmiya last month, the Cricket Association of Bengal named Sourav Ganguly, the former India caption, the president. The post of the joint secretary, vacated by Ganguly, needed to be filled — and what better choice than someone who had a famous father? Indeed, Avishek Dalmiya was promptly marched in as the new joint secretary.

Avishek Dalmiya, Adwait Manohar and Jyotiraditya Scindia are the youngest members of Indian cricket’s Lucky Sperm Club. Ominously, Shah too has a cricketer son.

This club has/had older members too — the prominent names are Farooq Abdullah (son of Sheikh Abdullah), Anurag Thakur (son of Prem Kumar Dhumal), Ranbir Singh Mahendra (son of Bansi Lal) and A.C. Muthiah (son of M.A. Chidambaram), for instance.

None of the men named above, with the magnificent exception of Sourav Ganguly, was a good cricketer. Some of them were not cricketers, and some were pathetic cricketers. Some became cricketers or played a match or two just because they had the power to select themselves — Anurag Thakur has played one first class match, when he was the president of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association. He simply selected himself into the team and named himself the captain — his father was the chief minister and Thakur could do as he wished. That’s called entitlement powered by the “will of the people”, ie democracy.

No top-class cricketer has headed the BCCI. Among the state associations, there have been some cricketer-rulers, especially in the southern states. Karnataka is the prime example, with Brijesh Patel and Anil Kumble as presidents. Shivlal Yadav is the president of the Hyderabad Cricket Association, and Dilip Vengsarkar the vice-president of the Mumbai Cricket Association. But Vengsarkar couldn’t ever become the MCA president, always pipped by a politician.

In the north, former Indian captain Bishan Singh Bedi has chosen to remain a rebel. He did gain power in the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association once, and did some very effective work there. But the complex proxy-based voting system of the DDCA has kept him at bay since then, and power has been shared by politicians and small-time businessmen.

Kapil Dev had run-ins with the Haryana Cricket Association but his attempt to have a say in the running of the association didn’t bear fruit. Nearly 20 years ago, Kapil highlighted the ills of the so-called “democratic process” used by the state associations. “Most of the life members have no cricketing background and are relatives or friends of the secretary,” Kapil had alleged. He was upset that these life members had the “right to vote at par with the district cricket associations”. 

This hasn’t changed till date. Kapil’s rants bore no fruit, and he probably realised the futility of taking on entrenched, immovable powers. He is now a BCCI-approved commentator, and the Haryana Cricket Association continues to be controlled by the descendants of former Chief Minister Bansi Lal.

In his India: A Portrait, Patrick French noted that India was moving back towards monarchy, through parliamentary democracy. This seems to be happening in Indian cricket as well — using democracy, the political and business elite and their progeny have taken a vice-like grip on the sport.

rohit.mahajan@gmail.com

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