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Judicial overzeal to fix what wasn’t broken cuts Rajasthan cricket’s rise, leaves it a mess

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The two-time Ranji winners fell to the bottom even as the judiciary-run state body, with the shadow of Lalit Modi still looming large, is riven by divisions.

Jaipur: The judiciary’s bid to reform Indian cricket has pushed a once-flourishing Rajasthan cricket into disarray, rendering it almost dysfunctional. The current state of affairs is a far cry from the time Rajasthan cricket was in the ascendancy, capped by Ranji trophy titles in successive seasons (2010, 2011). Now, the faction-ridden Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) is struggling to hold even district-level selection tournaments.

Although the RCA was one of the first state associations to comply with recommendations from the controversial Supreme Court-appointed Lodha committee, it is now marred by infighting, blatant government intervention, and litigation including criminal cases. It is more or less entirely run by retired judges.

“We are not playing cricket on the field but in the courts,” R.S. Nandu, secretary, RCA, said. “Every day there is a hearing in one matter or the other.”

The judicial intervention has taken over nearly all aspects of the cricket body’s functioning. Such is the factionalism in the RCA, that two retired high court judges have been appointed as arbitrators to resolve matters, while there are several petitions involving the association being heard in the Rajasthan High Court.

A Joshi-Modi split

The rift is between two factions — one owing allegiance to current RCA president, Congress leader C.P. Joshi, and the other his predecessor, former IPL commissioner and one-time BCCI vice-president Lalit Modi.

Modi lost control of the RCA in the 2017 elections, in which retired Supreme Court judge Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra was a poll observer.

Ruled out by the Lodha panel norms, which barred existing members from contesting in the following election, Modi fielded his son Ruchir, who lost to Joshi.

The Modi faction, however, managed to bag the posts of secretary (R.S. Nandu) and treasurer (Pinkesh Jain), while three RCA joint secretaries belonged to the Joshi camp. Jain has since been removed due to alleged discrepancies in his election affidavit and a report from an arbitrator, retired HC judge Shiv Kumar Sharma, in this regard.

The factionalism appears to have taken its toll on the team’s performances. In the last Ranji Trophy season, the team failed to register a single win, ending up at the bottom of Group B. Its four draws earned it six points; Gujarat, which topped the group, finished the preliminary stage with 34 points.

The team had a similarly poor outing in the Vijay Hazare trophy this year, finishing second from bottom in its group, but it sort of redeemed its season by reaching the final before losing out to Delhi in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament.

While the Modi faction blames Joshi and his men for the dismal state of affairs, Joshi’s camp alleges that its members are being falsely implicated in criminal cases with an aim to fracture its majority.

The Congressman’s supporters also allege that Modi’s men, in connivance with the Vasundhra Raje government, are trying to dissolve several district associations, just to be able to place their own men in there and somehow win the next RCA elections due in 2021.

Legal struggles

The 2017 elections themselves continue to undergo legal scrutiny. Jain’s ouster came after his opponent, Azad Singh, from the Joshi camp, challenged his appointment on the grounds that he is the secretary of the district kabaddi association of Pratapgarh, his home town. As per Lodha panel norms, a candidate cannot hold a post in any other sports association.

RCA secretary Nandu has also approached courts alleging that his opinion is not being sought in important matters such as in drawing up the IPL advisory, scrutiny of salaries and demarcation of work. He has sought fresh elections. His plea is being heard by arbitrator Karni Singh, a retired HC judge.

ThePrint has also learnt that it is the court that appointed the selectors of Team Rajasthan for conducting trials and picking players for matches after the RCA was suspended in 2013. The team of selectors headed by one convener, K.P. Rao, comprise of three junior and three senior members from Rajasthan.

“C.P. Joshi won under the supervision of the high court. The court even picked the selectors of Team Rajasthan. These selectors come and ask the players to play a few shots, based on which they make their decision. How can someone judge a player by just asking them to play two balls? Is it fair,” asked an RCA official.

“The courts should stay out of cricket. But in a place which is marred by infighting, everyone runs to the court. Not to seek solutions but to stall activity and in the process cricket suffers. The court should just announce a re-election and pull itself out of all other fights,” the official said.

A dearth of selection tourneys

It’s been a deep downward spiral for Rajasthan, the two-time Ranji Trophy champions, since its highs in the early part of this decade.

The RCA had not conducted a single selection tournament in the state between May 2017, when Joshi was elected, and June this year. When the RCA executive committee finally announced under-19 and under-23 tournaments for June, it was challenged by secretary Nandu on the grounds that he was not consulted.

The state ended up having two under-19 tournaments, one held by the RCA executive committee that saw the participation of 22 district units, and another called by Nandu, which saw the participation of the 18 district units. Some of the district units played in both tournaments — the state has 33 district units in total.

This, as expected, has caused uncertainty among the players.

“If they don’t allow us to function democratically such things will happen,” Nandu said.

“Our Ranji team’s performance has gone down considerably. We now don’t even figure in the top 10 teams. When players who require 10 months of practice, do not even get 10 days to play cricket, how will they perform,” asked Mahender Nahar, joint secretary, RCA. “When C.P. Joshi was the president in 2010, 2011 seasons, we won the Ranji trophy. Ever since Lalit Modi started disturbing the administration, cricket started deteriorating.”

Joshi camp alleges political pressure

An RCA insider alleged that ever since Ruchir lost the elections, Modi’s men, in alleged connivance with the Rajasthan government, have been trying to fracture the majority by either implicating Joshi’s supporters in frivolous criminal cases or by attempting to dissolve district associations that support the Congressman.

ThePrint tracked the criminal cases filed against two of Joshi’s supporters. One, filed on 15 June, is against Azad Singh, who has replaced Jain as treasurer after the arbitrator ruled in his favour.

Singh and one Raju Singh Choudhary are accused of preparing fake papers and occupying government land located next to the Barmer club. Though the main accused is Choudhary, the club’s former secretary, Singh, an executive member of the club, has been named in the FIR. Choudhary was arrested but was granted bail the same day. Singh was granted relief from arrest by the high court in June.

Following the incident, the Barmer club’s office was sealed.

“This complaint was made only because Azad Singh and Raju Singh support C.P. Joshi and voted against Ruchir Modi. In fact, when the matter went to court, the judge said that it was a civil matter and does not require a criminal case. It is just an example of Modi using the state machinery to scare Joshi’s supporters,” an RCA member on condition of anonymity said.

“That piece of land under question was taken by Singh on a lease of Rs 20,000 per month for which, he has supporting documents. It is a fake case,” an RCA member said.

The other case involves Mahinder Singh, a close aide of Joshi, who has been accused of breaking into the house of RCA secretary Nandu and threatening him with dire consequences.

“He (Mahinder Singh) came to my house in an inebriated condition. My daughter opened the door and he asked for me. When she told him I was sleeping, he told her to warn me to get out of their way. He told her that I would pay heavily for countering C.P. Joshi,” Nandu alleged.

“My daughter quickly shut the door and alerted us. Singh was soon joined by three to four men armed with sticks who then started banging on my door. When I refused to open, they began abusing and left. A few minutes later I received a message on Whatsapp saying ‘papa ko kehna galat fehmi main mat rahe’ (Tell your father not to be under any wrong impression). I have saved this message as evidence and also have the CCTV footage from the neighbours that show the men entering the building,” Nandu said.

Joshi’s supporters alleged that two of their men were even accused of stealing from the RCA office.

“These men complained against two of our close aides accusing them of stealing documents and equipment from inside the RCA office. They have still not found any evidence in the case but this is just a pressure tactic,” RCA vice-president Mohammad Iqbal said.

Battle for associations

ThePrint learnt that in the last six months, three associations — Barmer, Jhalawar and Churu — have received notices from the district deputy registrar of the Rajasthan co-operative service, for alleged irregularities.

Joshi supporters claimed that the Modi faction is using the state machinery to pressurise associations that voted against Ruchir.

“Modi is making sure that RCA doesn’t function. Before the next assembly election, they want to place Ruchir Modi as the president. For that, they will need their own men in associations across districts. So now their target is to dissolve these associations and place their own men to manufacture a majority. Sadly, the government is helping them do that,” an RCA insider said.

“C.P. Joshi won the mandate by six votes. Now to change the game, they need to topple just three of our supporters. By dissolving three associations and placing their men, they can achieve that,” he said.

“They just want to place puppets in each district so that they win the elections the next time. What they are doing is vengeance,” Vivek Vyas, district secretary, RCA, said.

Speaking to ThePrint, Sushil Sharma, secretary, Churu Cricket Association, said the registrar had sent the notice on the grounds that the association had not submitted its balance sheets for auditing and that it had been slacking in organising events.

“A group of 24 clubs complained against the association alleging that they were not given a chance to be a part of any activity here. It was alleged that I did not utilise the money for conducting activities, did not hold elections by proper means and that I did not submit my balance sheets. It is a fact, that I have submitted all my balance sheets and documents for auditing,” Sharma said. “The Modi faction just wants to destabilise me so that it can place its own men here and this is being done in connivance with the government.”

A similar notice was also sent to the Jhalawar association, ThePrint learnt.

“These are baseless allegations. First, they will not do their work properly and then accuse us of conniving with the government to overthrow them. It is the most convenient thing to do. They should not forget that C.P. Joshi became the president during this government’s tenure,” Nandu said.

Current situation

The RCA, which was suspended by the BCCI in 2013, was only reinstated in June 2018. The BCCI had sought an undertaking from the office-bearers of the district cricket associations that they would ensure that Modi cannot return to the state body in any capacity in the future.

The HC too had asked the RCA president and secretary to give their undertakings, as demanded by the BCCI, at the earliest, so that its activities could resume.

According to RCA officials, however, only 20 districts have given the undertaking, while the remaining 13 are yet to do so.

The RCA also has to now battle for its office inside the Sawai Mansingh Stadium after the state government, on 14 June, took over its premises. The government has sealed the office on the grounds that a MoU, for the control of the North and South blocks of SMS stadium, had run its course on May 19.

RCA President Joshi is yet to speak to the government regarding an extension to the MoU. If an agreement is not reached, it could put in doubt the hosting of IPL matches in the stadium.

Between the court, its chosen retired judges, a faction led by politician C.P Joshi and another controlled long-distance by Lalit Modi, a takeover by a seemingly partisan state government, Rajasthan cricket, flourishing until recently, has been demolished. Confirming again, this time to the judiciary, that the road to disaster is paved with good intentions.

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