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There is no doubt that the comments made by Hardik Pandya on Koffee with Karan were questionable. Viewer opinions may vary on the extent to which they were offensive, but most will agree that they didn’t show him, and possibly the culture inside the entire Indian dressing room, in the best light. And hence in the politically correct and social media dominated world we live in, some sort of punishment was expected and justified.
However, Pandya’s, and Rahul’s, problems have been greatly exacerbated by the fact that the members of the COA and the BCCI are all at war with each other and trying to score political points. As a result, the players have got caught in the cross-fire.
The Pandya-Rahul controversy is the third major controversy in Indian cricket in as many months, and only one of them was related to the game. First, there were the sexual harassment allegations over BCCI CEO Rahul Johri, then there was the entire Mithali Raj-Ramesh Powar saga, and now this.
In the presence of a strong BCCI, all these controversies would be resolved largely behind closed doors with only the final verdict and a politically correct statement released to the media and the public. But with the two COA members caught in a game of one-upmanship, and the BCCI office bearers doing all they can to stir the pot, we have moved towards an environment of leaked emails, indefinite suspensions and public disputes over the mere composition of inquiry commissions and coach selection committees.
While the mainstream media is licking their fingers at the newfound BCCI “transparency” which allows them to get eyeballs, the fact of the matter is that this cat-and-mouse game is benefitting no one (other than the TRP-hungry media) and is in fact actively harming Indian cricket.
The COA was appointed by the Supreme Court on January 30, 2017, with the single objective of implementing the Lodha reforms. It is now almost two years old but seems to have done everything under the sun except doing what it was told to do. It has poked its nose in all sorts of matters ranging from the selection of coaches to determining whether wives of players should be allowed on tours to making speeches and picking out balls from a hat at IPL auctions. And it has never been free from controversy having started off with four members, but spending most of its term with only two. Two that have been at complete loggerheads with each other.
It may be the unpopular opinion due to her cricketing stature, but throughout these controversies, the person who has come across the most unflattering is Diana Edulji. To this writer, it seems like Diana first makes up her mind on what the end result should be and then does all in her power to get to that result.
The Johri Allegations
In the Johri case, it seemed like Diana made up her mind at the outset that Johri was guilty and wanted him fired outright. In her opinion, there was no need for any official inquiry commission or process, and the evidence against Johri was enough to take quick and decisive action. What evidence that was is of course not in the public domain. But whatever it was, it was enough for Diana despite the fact that the original accusation which kick-started the entire controversy was made in an anonymous tweet, and the accuser had actually already deleted her tweet and stepped away from the entire issue by the time it hit Diana’s desk.
But on the insistence of Vinod Rai, an independent committee was formed and provided their findings. Justice (retd.) Rakesh Sharma and Barkha Singh (former chairperson of Delhi Commission for Women) gave Johri a complete clean-chit, calling the allegations “mischievous, false, fabricated and unsubstantiated”. Barkha Singh went as far as to say that the “motivated and fabricated allegations will diminish the status of women” and will have “an adverse effect on the fight for equality for women”. Lawyer-activist Veena Gowda had her doubts about one lone incident in Birmingham and, calling Johri’s conduct in that incident “unprofessional and inappropriate which would adversely affect its [BCCI’s] reputation”, recommended “some form of gender counselling/training” for Johri, but no further punishment.
In essence, it was a 2.5-0.5 verdict. But Diana Edulji chose to focus just on that 0.5 and completely ignore the 2.5.
In fact, she outright said in her statement that she does not agree with Justice Rakesh Sharma and Barkha Singh, and that just Veena Gowda’s recommendation of counseling was enough to go a step further and fire Johri outright. In essence, what she wanted to do was what she had already decided long back and the inquiry commission didn’t matter to her. And as it turned out, the gender counseling also never materialized, possibly so that Vinod Rai could score a complete win over Diana.
The Mithali-Powar Scandal
Then came the Mithali-Powar controversy. Once again, Diana made up her mind early that Mithali was wrong and Powar was right and then did everything she could to get Powar to continue (Mithali’s direct attack on Diana, of course, would not have helped matters). She first said that the BCCI should wait for the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) – comprising Tendulkar, Laxman, and Ganguly – to become available, despite there being no timeline on their availability. However, Rai took the urgency of the situation into account and formed an ad-hoc committee of Kapil Dev, Anshuman Gaekwad, and Shantha Rangaswamy to select the women’s coach.
Then, Diana came up with the statement that if Virat Kohli could get his choice of coach, why shouldn’t Harmanpreet Kaur and suggested that Powar continue at least till the end of the New Zealand tour in early 2019. Of course, she conveniently forgot that while Virat was captain across all three formats, women’s captaincy is split between Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur. Further, no player in the team had any issues with Ravi Shastri, but, in the women’s case, the ODI captain and senior-most member of the team Mithali Raj had already publicly denounced Ramesh Powar (albeit via a “press leak”). And the NZ tour consists of 3 ODIs as well.
After all that happened, how, and why, did Diana expect Mithali and Powar to co-exist is known only to her. Essentially, in both the men’s and women’s cases, the former coach developed a grave conflict with one of the captains and was thus replaced. So, both the cases were actually dealt with in a similar manner. But, somehow, Diana Edulji saw it differently and, in fact, went to the extreme extent whereby, even after WV Raman was appointed as the women’s coach, she wanted to put the announcement on hold and render the entire coach selection process moot under the guise that they needed to wait for the CAC to become available and let Powar continue till then. And, it needs to be remembered that Powar was appointed only as an interim coach to begin with!
The Pandya-Rahul Saga
So, it is in this acrimonious environment that we now come across the Pandya-Rahul saga. Vinod Rai has scored two clear wins over Diana and, presumably, she is not happy. Once again, she has decided early that Pandya and Rahul are guilty and need to be punished severely and made an example of. Due to the offensive nature of Pandya’s comments, exacerbated by the fact that they were made on a widely popular TV show, all stakeholders agreed that a provisional suspension and inquiry was required.
However, while Vinod Rai wanted to do the sensible thing and take up the matter on highest priority to conduct a swift investigation, Diana Edulji is deliberately using delaying tactics, because in this case, a delay is in itself a punishment for Rahul and Pandya as they are missing on-going matches.
Rai wanted the investigation to be completed by January 15, and while that may be a touch too aggressive a timeline, Diana made an official statement that BCCI should be in “no hurry to conduct the inquiry as it would then look like a cover-up job being done”. So, basically, she wants the process to be purposely delayed so that it doesn’t look like a cover-up, player and team interests be damned. What cover-up can be achieved when the TV show has already been broadcast nationally is, once again, known only to Diana.
At Diana’s own behest, the BCCI sought an official opinion from its legal team. The legal team came back saying that, as per the new constitution, the BCCI CEO needs to issue a show-cause notice to the players and seek an explanation. He then forwards his report to the “Apex Council” which decides on the sanctions and forwards it to the Ombudsman, who makes the final decision on what sanctions are binding. But, the Apex Council doesn’t exist yet, and neither does an Ombudsman!! So the legal team suggested that the COA can substitute for the Apex Council and a temporary Ombudsman can be appointed.
But, as per the constitution, the initial inquiry still needs to be conducted by the CEO Rahul Johri. And, of course, while Diana agreed with the rest of legal suggestions which align with what she wanted (i.e., a long drawn out process), she decided that she can’t accept Johri’s involvement, irrespective of what the constitution says. In this situation, Diana does have a point that it is “bad optics” if Johri is involved, having been embroiled in sexual harassment allegations himself just a couple of months ago. But, he was given a clean chit and, thus, needs to be allowed to do his job. The only other logical option here is to use some diplomacy to get Johri to step away from this one voluntarily, but in an era of leaked emails and all-out public war or words, no diplomacy is forthcoming.
And, thus, we arrive at an impasse with no one knowing how to proceed. The COA members continue to try and outdo each other, while the BCCI office bearers sit back with their popcorn and make instigating statements just at the right moments to ensure that the BCCI administration remains a mess, with the COA taking all the blame and losing all credibility, in case anyone still thought that they had any left to begin with.
Essentially, we are in a situation where two players have been suspended provisionally, and indefinitely. They have been told by their organization that they will remain suspended until the organization can debate and deliberate on how exactly it will interrogate them because its own house is completely out of order!! If they miss matches in the interim, well then tough luck!
When the Lodha reforms were first announced and then the COA was appointed, many thought it was the best thing to happen to Indian cricket. Personally, though, I was never one of those many. While the efficacy of the reforms themselves is debatable, most will agree that the COA has had a horribly fractious tenure.
Thus, personally, I hope, and expect, that Rai overrules Diana once again and brings a quick end to this process. Fears that the controversy may affect the IPL or even World Cup prospects of Pandya and Rahul seem a bit far-fetched. Further, hopefully, Diana soon resigns in protest as her opinion seems to hold little sway in a 2-person COA where the other member is the chairman and has completely differing views to her, overruling her at every opportunity. And hopefully, that results in the dissolution of the COA as a whole. Those hopes though may be a pipe dream.
In all of this, the most unfortunate victim has actually been KL Rahul. While Pandya’s comments have been documented, I fail to understand what great wrong KL Rahul has done.
It seems like his only fault is appearing on the show without prior permission from the BCCI, and not actively grabbing a tape and plastering Pandya’s mouth. It seems like an offence deserving a slap on the wrist and a monetary fine, or at worst a one-two match suspension if the BCCI/COA wants to make a statement. But, he has effectively already been handed an 8 ODI + 3 T20I suspension.
In fact, those who actually watched the show may recall that Rahul actually said that Pandya is very uncool in a way that he has no ethics with respect to women and dating, but that has been conveniently forgotten. I also wonder how the BCCI and fan reaction would have differed had Rahul not been woefully out of form but seen as an important member of the ODI XI. Unfortunately, though, he has been a victim of circumstance, made worse by his own terrible form.