India’s spinning great, Bishan Singh Bedi, has been battling corruption in the Delhi and District Cricket Association for well over three decades. In this interview to Scroll,
Bedi alleges that the DDCA became a hotbed of corruption under Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s tenure as its president, rebuts his claim that he wasn’t involved in the organisation’s day-to-day functioning, and shares details of how Jaitley ignored complaints about misdoings.
Why do you and other former cricketers sound so disappointed, even bitter, about Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s tenure as DDCA’s president between 1999 and 2013?
We have had a fairly long battle with DDCA’s corrupt style of administering cricket. It just so happens that during Jaitley’s tenure as president, corruption in DDCA grew manifold.
In what sense did corruption grow manifold?
Documents have been obtained under the Right to Information Act and it is quite self-explanatory how corruption grew. The charges against DDCA are many, but let me cite a few of these. The contract for the reconstruction of the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium was awarded by DDCA to the Engineers Projects India Limited, a public sector undertaking, on May 12, 2003. It was supposed to have been completed in a year at a cost of Rs 24 crore. Subsequently, DDCA expanded the civil work to include construction of corporate boxes. The reconstruction was said to have been completed by December 15, 2008, at a revised cost of Rs 57 crore.
However, DDCA officials went on a contract-awarding spree – for supposedly more “civil work”, electric work, interiors and installing of generators. DDCA documents show that an amount of Rs 114 crore was spent on building the stadium till 2012. It is, however, alleged that another Rs 25 crore was spent between 2012 and 2015 on paying companies which had done little or no work. The question is: How did a stadium, envisaged to be built at a cost of Rs 24 crore, ended up costing Rs 140 crore?
One of the companies which bagged lucrative contracts was Kaushnik Buildcast Private Ltd and a related entity, Kaushnik Fab. Both were given contracts worth Rs 11 crore for “data cabling” and “interior work”! Documents reveal that Kaushnik Buildcast Pvt Ltd was incorporated as a company on June 29, 2009 – that is, a good six months after DDCA officially declared that work on the stadium had been completed by Dec 15, 2008. Then again, Kaushnik Buildcast Pvt Ltd turned out to be a front company with a fake address. Contracts were awarded without calling for competing bids.
The various inquiry reports have a plethora of information which suggests a web of financial transactions involving sham companies with fake names and even fake addresses. There are allegations of round-tripping, of contracts being awarded without tender, for work which allegedly did not work.
Apart from these charges of fraud in the reconstruction of Feroz Shah Kotla stadium, nepotism in selection and corruption in DDCA had always been there. Look, when I first met Jaitley…
Which was when?
It was when he just had an open heart surgery (in 2005). I went to see him in the hospital with Vijay Mehra (former Indian batsman who died in 2006). I thought Jaitley was reasonably good news for cricket. He was nice, suave and, in many ways, quite civilised, which is quite a rare thing to happen in DDCA. Since then, I have been acquainted with him, met him a few times to talk cricket. By and large, he was clear that Delhi cricket should flourish. I can say today that he didn’t realise the chaos he was getting into. I did think Jaitley would make a very sincere effort to clean up the mess in DDCA.
But, as the way things unfolded, we cricketers were very disillusioned. And that was because he allowed himself to be sucked into the system.
When he became DDCA president in 1999, did you support his candidature?
No, no, no, I had nothing to do with DDCA, never.
Before (in the 1980s), we had a fight with the Mehras (Ram Prakash Mehra and his nephew KK Mehra) and we were able to oust them. We then sought some political help. That help came from (Congress leader) Kamal Nath. We asked him to root out the proxy system through which officer-bearers of DDCA are elected. (DDCA is registered as a company. Under the Companies Act, members or shareholders can cast their votes through their nominees. In effect, the nominee becomes the voter.)
Kamal Nath said he would look into it. For two-three months, I was the sports secretary (of DDCA). It was an ad hoc arrangement. KC Sharma, an IAS official who was in the Home Ministry, was made the president.
Before the DDCA election, I reminded Kamal Nath that he had promised to remove the proxy system. He said, “Bishan, this is what will give us the numbers”. I said, “Nothing doing. My entire fight is to abolish the proxy system”. I refused to be party to it. I remember the meeting was at Kamal Nath’s residence at New Friends Colony. He said to me, “You should be the governor of the Red Cross”. I told Nath that he was no one to tell me what I should be or shouldn’t be. I declared I wouldn’t contest in the elections.
Sunil Dev (currently, honorary sports secretary and once one of India’s most powerful cricket administrators) grabbed the opportunity. There are good many people in India who are willing to wag their tails. What do you think is happening today? There are all wagging their tails. Kamal Nath, too, derived mileage out of cricket then. But I think he realised it was taking too much of his time. He opted out. So Sunil Dev and CK Khanna (currently, Vice-President DDCA) began to perpetuate their rule.
Jaitley has allowed the corruption to continue. As DDCA president, he is one of the signatories to the audited accounts, accounts which are fudged. The siphoning of funds has been happening right under his nose.
Jaitley came in 1999. Were you associated with DDCA then?
No, I was out of it.
But six years later, in 2005, you met Jaitley and you thought he would clean up the mess in DDCA.
Well, I was hoping. Honestly speaking, I did think he would clean up the system.
What happened thereafter?
There was a clamour against the manner in which cricket was being administered in Delhi. There were allegations of nepotism in cricket selection. The situation was terrible. It prompted someone to moot the idea of forming a Cricket Improvement Committee. To this committee, they recommended Madan Lal, Surinder Khanna, Kirti Azad, Maninder Singh (all former Test cricketers) and me. They made five of us members but also put in 16 of theirs in the Cricket Improvement Committee. We met three or four times, but didn’t get a clear idea of our role.
Subsequently, a meeting was convened at Jaitley’s residence. We (the five) were there, as were other members. Jaitley was chairing the meeting. Present there was this ill-mannered guy, (Vinod K.) Tihara (currently, DDCA sports committee member). You should have seen his behaviour – it was unbelievable. The way Tihara was pouncing on Jaitley, the abusive language he was using… it was shocking. He was behaving like a dada. Because Tihara is said to possess many proxies, I suppose he could be rude.
Ultimately, I couldn’t take it. I told Jaitley, “Mr. Jaitley, I take a very strong objection to his behaviour. This is no way to address you. I don’t think we will get anywhere as long as this gentleman remains sitting here”.
To this, Jaitley mumbled, “No, no… let us continue”.
I insisted, “To have this meeting, you have to chuck this man out. Or I am walking out.”
I walked out.
Didn’t Jaitley try to hold you back?
He sent a man behind me. I told the man I wasn’t going to sit in such a meeting.
Then Jaitley called me over to his residence, for a one-to-one. He started to speak against Kirti Azad. I told Jaitley I wouldn’t allow him to play the game of dividing us cricketers. Jaitley is a master at it – he would speak against me to Chetan Chauhan (former Test player and DDCA vice-president), and badmouth him to me. Jaitley was, basically, trying to wean me away from Kirti. Because I refused to hear anything against Kirti, the meeting with Jaitley ended.
We also used to take on Jaitley at Annual General Body Meetings. But the AGMs would get over in five-ten minutes.
Jaitley would be there, right?
He was the one who would to reply to our questions. The others didn’t have the courage.
What kind of questions?
About the maladministration, about how the funds were being utilised, about the shocking levels of corruptions.
But Jaitley says he wasn’t involved in day-to-day functioning.
Well, if he says he wasn’t involved, then he should tell us who was involved. Assume you are the boss of a media organisation. Can you claim you don’t know what kind of activities four-five journalists under you are involved in? The blame lies on you.
As per your experience, it seems Jaitley was very much involved in day-to-day functioning.
He knew about it.
Knew what? Allegations pertaining to ferreting away of DDCA funds?
Absolutely! Let me spell it out explicitly – the corruption in DDCA was because of Jaitley’s connivance.
What about nepotism in selection of players?
It was rampant. There were plenty of examples of overage boys playing in Under-14 or Under-19 teams.
Jaitley didn’t respond to such allegations?
He shut himself off from things that were right. CK Khanna would appoint selectors and they would choose the boys they wanted. Khanna is not only the vice-president of DDCA, but also of BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India). Can you believe it, he is the convenor of Under-14 cricket.
What’s the game here?
It is because Under-14 cricket, or junior cricket, keeps the kitchen-fire of many officials burning.
Are you saying that you can get into a junior team by paying officials?
Absolutely. Why do you think Nikhil Chopra resigned as chairman of junior cricket, and so did Sunil Valson? And Chetan Chauhan (laughs)…
Chetan Chauhan was a stroke-less wonder of cricket, but is seen a deft player in politics.
It was I who brought him to Delhi. His father was a colonel and he requested me to give him a chance in Delhi. This was because Chetan wasn’t getting ample opportunities in West Zone. I was quite impressed by his hard work and dedication. He was limited, but he was solid within his limitations. I could never imagine he would spread himself (that is, acquire influence) the way he has.
You are said to have written 200 letters to Jaitley complaining about the functioning of DDCA.
Yes, I did. But he never replied. In fact, last July, I wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. I didn’t receive any reply.
So what did Jaitley gain from allowing DDCA to become a cesspool of corruption?
Tell me, what hasn’t he gained from it? On Thursday, Dec 18, he said he was president of DDCA till 2013. But even today, not a leaf stirs in DDCA without his permission, not even in BCCI. Who do you think has appointed Rajeev Shukla as chairman of the IPL [Indian Premier League] governing council? Do you know who are among the directors of Hockey India? The answer: Rajeev Shukla, Arun Jaitley and Narinder Batra. Could you tell me why? If there is nothing to gain from all this, then why do they indulge in so much of manipulation?
In other words, contrary to Jaitley’s assertions, you are saying he is guilty of the corruption in BCCI?
Tell me, who appointed Sneh Prakash Bansal as the current DDCA president? I will narrate to you a recent incident to demonstrate Jaitley’s clout. It happened in the recent Test match against South Africa in Delhi.
The Delhi government decided to felicitate some of the former Test cricketers. I advised them not to. It was amidst a Test match. I was principally opposed to diluting its sanctity. But the government was adamant – it said the BCCI had felicitated (former Test player) Virender Sehwag, why couldn’t they? The Delhi government wanted to honour the Delhi players who were part of the Indian teams which won the World Cup in 1983 and 2011 plus a few of us former cricketers. Since the government was insistent, I agreed.
They sent a car to fetch me at an unearthly 7 am. It was on the fourth day of the Delhi Test. I reached early because my mobility is a bit restricted. Sehwag was on his way, so was Kirti and Sharmila Tagore (representing Tiger Pataudi). But when I reached there I was told the programme had been cancelled. I was told Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had fallen ill. I was puzzled.
I called up Kejriwal and I inquired after his health. He said, “I am fine, but they (DDCA officials) told us at 10.30 pm the previous night that they wouldn’t host the programme”. I inquired as to what had happened. The night before the Deputy Chief Minister (Manish Sisodia) was present at the Kotla to do a recce [reconnaissance]. But AJ (Arun Jaitley) instigated Board members to disallow the hosting of the felicitation programme. All three – the DDCA, the BCCI and the ICC (International Cricket Council) – raised all types of objections. I had anticipated it. The Aam Aadmi Party hadn’t. Kejriwal is inexperienced, but he is very sincere. He will commit mistakes but he will own them up. At the same time, he is very clear in his mind what he wants to do.
Anyway, at night, Ravinder Manchanda (Honorary Treasurer), CK Khanna and others kept raising objection. They also told AAP people to speak to Jaitley. There you are – they, the DDCA officials, can’t do anything without Jaitley’s consent. Personally, I was very glad that the felicitation programme didn’t happen. You don’t muck up with a Test match.
(Laughs) Now the way the CBI raid was conducted (on Kejriwal’s Principal Secretary), Jaitley has ended up axing his own foot.
Why do you say that?
It has backfired on him. I find it funny. But it was waiting to happen. The mess in cricket is simply enormous. This is happening in Delhi, mind you. Imagine what is happening in Hyderabad, Goa and such other places. The BCCI is registered under the Societies Act, but its affiliates – Punjab Cricket Association, Himachal Cricket Association, Haryana Cricket Association – are registered as companies.
What is the purpose behind having such a structure?
The idea is to stay in power. It is this structure which allows proxy votes.
Jaitley didn’t try to reform the system, did he?
Ha, he perpetuated his rule through this system. There are groups in DDCA which command a very high number of proxies. He had to listen to them, agree to what they wanted to do.
So to stay at the helm of DDCA, Jaitley compromised himself?
Of course, compromise is the only word. In my worldview, the person who compromises is very weak himself. I didn’t compromise with even my father, that too, when I was in school. My father was brought up and educated in Uttar Pradesh. My mother was illiterate. My father was a social worker and people would come to visit him. In front of 20-30 of them, my father wouldn’t refrain from scolding her. Away from the gathering, my poor amma would cry.
When I was 12 or 13 years old, I told my Dad that even if he had to reprimand my mother he shouldn’t do it before others, that he shouldn’t make her cry. He got angry, began to shout at me. I said he could call me names, but he ought not to never, ever scold or shout at my mother before others. He got the message. This element of not compromising is built into human personality.
I remember another incident. I was picked up for North Zone Schools. I was the solitary player from the Punjab team. I was sitting in the long-room of DDCA, wondering how I was to travel to Madras. After about three hours of waiting, RP Mehra walked in. I stood up and did namaste to him. RP Mehra looked through me. I told myself, “I will never wish this man again.” Come on, couldn’t Mehra have shown some warmth, warmly responded to a 14-year-old child? Subsequently, Mehra would wish me first. And I would chuckle to myself and say, ‘The man has learnt his lesson.’
But I must also add that RP Mehra was an angel compared to this lot.
RP Mehra ran DDCA for long, didn’t he?
Yes, but his heart was for cricket. He would tell me, “Win the Ranji Trophy in my lifetime”. We won in 1979. We had proved ourselves. I got the boys together and we wrote down points for reforming cricket administration. There was a furore. Mehra would say, “It is Bedi’s Magna Carta”. He was ultimately ousted from DDCA.
How would you rate Jaitley and other officials’ knowledge of cricket?
Zero. They wouldn’t be bothered. All that they are interested in is to have their own selectors, their own boys in the teams, their own people as team managers, even as team’s coach. When we were fighting RP Mehra, there was not much money in cricket. Now there is enormous money. Tell me, have you seen any event to promote cricket in Delhi? I came to know this morning (Dec 18) that DDCA for the first time made money out of a Test match. And that was because they didn’t run the show.
How do you compare the reconstructed Feroz Shah Kotla stadium with such facilities elsewhere?
It is horrendous. You should see the stadiums in Nagpur and Mohali. The Feroz Shah stadium is very unfriendly for spectators. From parts of the stadium you can’t even sight the ball. Facilities had never been very good at the stadium. I remember I was once the captain and I instructed no one – relatives or autograph hunters – were to enter the long-room. My team was batting and I was snoozing. Suddenly, I awoke to find people bustling around. I was told that the President of India (Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed) wanted to use the toilet. There wasn’t a toilet available even for the President of India! Can you imagine what the facility must have been for the spectators?
But that was then. Hasn’t it improved now?
It is more or less the same. Go to the toilet located to the left of the Willingdon Gate. MCD [Municipal Corporation of Delhi] is a chor (corrupt) organisation. But even they wouldn’t have constructed such a toilet as is there.
What about the toilet on which Rs 4.5 crore was spent
(laughs) That is the toilet I am talking about. You should see it. The whole bloody place stinks. In his blog Arun Jaitely has written that the Commonwealth stadium was constructed for Rs 900 crore. Well, I’d want to tell him that the person (Suresh Kalmadi) who was responsible for constructing the stadium has many cases pending against him.
So what is the step forward?
This company called DDCA has to be abolished. It has to be registered under the Societies Act. You have to introduce secret ballot voting by the members or the clubs. They do it in Karnataka, Mumbai and Tamil Nadu. It is not that people don’t perpetuate their rule there. But they do care about cricket.
Do you think the Delhi government would be right in instituting a commission of inquiry into DDCA’s past misdeeds
Why not? Listen, we play cricket for the state of Delhi, not for the Centre. Sport is a state subject. So the Delhi government will be well within its right to constitute a commission of inquiry. There are all these allegations and you need to prove or, alternatively, disapprove them.
Can the Ministry of Corporate Affairs conduct an inquiry considering that Jaitley heads it? Wouldn’t it constitute a conflict of interest?
That is an understatement. Jaitley has damaged cricket immensely. None of the officials in DDCA could have done anything without his approval. Not only in DDCA but even in BCCI. Even (former BCCI president) N Srinivasan used to come to meet the Finance Minister. He wouldn’t have gone to meet Jaitley to invite him to a birthday party. Delhi cricket has touched such a low ebb only because of Jaitley.
Did you and others play an active role in getting the Delhi government to investigate DDCA?
We met Kejriwal once or twice. He wanted to know what the furore was all about in DDCA. Lawyer Rahul Mehra was instrumental in raising the issue of corruption in DDCA. He has been at it for a long time. The DDCA issue came up because it owed the government Rs 24 crore in entertainment tax.
So when Kejriwal called you all, what did you all tell him?
We gave him all the papers. We cricketers used to hold press conferences, show them the documents, but no one cared. If the nation today has sat up and taken notice, it is only because Kejriwal has jumped into the fray. Another politician has jumped into the fray, and that is why everybody is taking notice. It has become a political issue because of Kejriwal. But I must also say cricket isn’t political. Yet, it is because of Kejriwal we have succeeded in exposing the scam in DDCA. For that, we are grateful to Kejriwal and company. It has never happened before that the chief minister of Delhi would get so involved in finding out the happenings in DDCA.
Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is available in bookstores.