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RETROFIT by Sandeep Bamzai: SPY vs SPY in the mad BCCI world

LONG YEARS AGO AS A CHILD, Spy versus Spy was one of my favourite comic characters in MAD magazine. The two characters -- one dressed in a white trench coat and other in a black one -- would  try their level best to outfox one another. As a metaphor for the Cold War, they were constantly  sparring with one another, laying booby traps, trying to blow each other. It was a wordless comic, yet absolutely hilarious. 

Earlier this year, when I heard of N Srinivasan's latest shenanigan on using a London-based private spy agency to keep an eye on fellow BCCI members, I said wow, what was he smoking when he ordered this? Spending upwards of $900,000 of BCCI's money, the Chennai Super King wanted to keep tabs on phone calls and emails of fellow members. The BCCI, under Srinivasan's stewardship was definitely the theatre of the absurd, but phone taps and mail intercepts was a bit much. N Srinivasan managed to wrong foot his compatriots in Indian cricket board politics till the Supreme Court finally nailed him and ousted him.

What convinced Srini to take such a big step and order black ops against fellow board members? Did he actually believe that he wouldn't be caught out? How were systems, processes and security protocols waived for him to take such a decision? How could he be so blasé? This decision alone tells you that Srini was an insecure despot who could go to any lengths to protect himself. Did he actually think the cricket board was his personal fiefdom. Power as we know can do strange things to men and women. But how did he ever think he  could get away with this decision in an organisation which is audited and has to present a statement of accounts at its AGM. 

Even though the BCCI is registered as a charitable organisation and is autonomous, there is some level of accountability. Brazen abuse of power is the only answer to the questions that I have raised. More importantly, I think Srinivasan had deluded himself so much that he actually believed that he  was indestructible and infallible. His behavioural patterns  for most of his tenure seemed to suggest that. The level of opacity and intrigue practised by Srini and his team was scary and this itself allowed cronyism to flourish across the IPL.

With the apparently fair and transparent, no-nonsense Shashank Manohar having taken over as helmsman, the BCCI was expected to take decisions on conflict of interest and it has done just that. On Thursday, however, things took a dramatic turn when the BCCI called an emergency meeting in Mumbai where it was formally revealed that a payment of $900,000 (close to Rs 6 crore) was made in 2013-2014, to UK-based security and investigations company, Page Protective Services (PPS). Then board secretary Sanjay Patel, and treasurer Amitabh Chaudhury, who continues in his position even now, were both quizzed on the payment and its authorisation. 

The Super King's snoopgate is unexplainable. PPS carried out a a 24x7 real-time monitoring surveillance on top cricket board officials and other known rivals of Srinivasan in cricket politics.  The timing of snoopgate is crucial as it overlapped the Supreme Court-appointed Justice Mukul Mudgal committee which was probing the gargantuan IPL spot-fixing and betting scandal. The new board president is investigating unauthorised pay-offs. Patel, a close associate of Srinivasan, as secretary signed off on the work order for payment and Chaudhary, as treasurer, released the payment on the basis of this order. 

Something as significant as this could only have been done  with Srinivasan's approval which makes his position even more tenuous than before. Bete noire Lalit Modi provided media with a heads up earlier this year when he took to tweeting -- his known modus operandi for startling disclosures -- "What I just learnt seems straight out of a spy movie thriller. Apparently someone authorised an agency in London... a 24-hour surveillance..." And he was bang on. Amazingly, Justice Mudgal himself was in London during the duration of the real time surveillance commissioned by Srinivasan.

Srinivasan has  lost his chair twice over -- as BCCI president and ICC supremo -- he has lost his team CSK for two years in the IPL, but he cannot escape the dragnet after this disclosure was confirmed on Thursday.  Phone taps and internet intercepts involve criminality and the BCCI needs to file a FIR at the nearest police station. Moreover, a substantial sum of BCCI money was used for this black operation, something that gives the BCCI another handle to be able to prosecute the Chennai Super King. Manohar is cleaning the Augean stables, but it shouldn't stop there, he should name and shame Srinivasan and send him to jail for abuse of power and criminal conspiracy. Imagine that the same man runs a successful business enterprise called India Cements. God alone knows what happens there in terms of corporate governance and transparency.

(Sandeep Bamzai is a sports junkie, editor & author. Currently a Visiting Fellow at ORF.  Disclaimer: The views expressed are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of The Fan Garage)

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