To say that the country’s top court has got its priorities mixed up would be stating the obvious. But nothing underlines this better than two recent, albeit unconnected, headline-grabbing events.
The first is the brusque manner in which the established old-guard that runs cricket in India, either by controlling the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) or the state associations, has managed to find ways to install its kin in important posts in several state associations, thereby making a mockery of the Supreme Court’s ill-advised attempts to run Indian cricket through proxy.
The second is how the ‘sexual intercourse not amounting to rape’ case against former BJP MP Chinmayanand took off only after the Supreme Court intervened following a plea by a group of lawyers to not allow the case to become another Unnao. But even then, it is the accuser-law student who is in jail on extortion charges while the powerful BJP leader, who was arrested briefly, is now in a hospital. Few people, if any, are actually aware of the seriousness of the former BJP MP’s medical condition.
Both events go a long way in illustrating how the country’s top constitutional court, one that has the duty and the responsibility to protect the rights of the citizens, has lost its way, even appearing feeble. The court, instead, chooses headline-hunting on lost or misplaced causes over real issues where its swift and strong intervention would send out a clear message regarding its purpose.
Those who haven’t been following the two events, here’s a quick recap.
The BCCI saga
Between 2014 and now, the Supreme Court has held countless sittings to hear the BCCI case. It began as a case where the petitioner, Aditya Verma of Cricket Association of Bihar, wanted a probe into the IPL spot-fixing. The Supreme Court soon turned the entire case on its head. First, by appointing a committee headed by former Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha to suggest ways to reform the BCCI. Second, by following the recommendations of the Justice Lodha panel to set up a committee of administrators (CoA) headed by former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai to oversee the running of cricket in India.
Incidentally, most of the recommendations made by the Justice Lodha panel, including the complete overhaul of the BCCI structure, limiting tenure of the office-bearers, and barring persons over 70 from holding any position in the BCCI or state associations, have either not been implemented or have already been circumvented by vested interests.
By allowing 71-year-old Vinod Rai to continue as the chairman of CoA, the Supreme Court has shown how (non) serious it is about implementing its own orders.
The court also showed little interest in ensuring that controversial BCCI CEO Rahul Johri, who faced serious charges of sexual harassment, is removed from the post so as to allow a fair inquiry against him.
More recently, the election of kin – sons and daughters – of state BCCI satraps and heavyweight politicians has again underlined how ineffective the SC intervention has been.
Here are just a few notable names who have conveniently stepped out of the shadows of their more illustrious and, in some cases, controversial family members, recently.
Union Minister of State Anurag Thakur’s younger brother Arun Dhumal (Himachal Pradesh), former BCCI president N. Srinivasan’s daughter Rupa Gurunath (Tamil Nadu), former BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah’s son Jaydev (Saurashtra), former BCCI vice-president Chirayu Amin’s son Pranav (Baroda), former BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele’s son Ajit (also Baroda, as secretary of the cricket association), and former Odisha Cricket Association secretary Ashirbad Behera’s son Sanjay (Odisha).
The Supreme Court, however, has maintained absolute silence on these appointments.
The Chinmayanand case
On 27 August, former BJP MP Chinmayanand was booked for kidnapping and criminal intimidation after a 23-year-old law student, who had accused the leader of sexual assault in a viral video and was missing at the time.
After the woman was heard in-chambers by a bench of the Supreme Court, which on 2 September ordered a probe by a special investigation team (SIT), the elusive BJP leader was finally arrested. Since then, he has been conveniently facing “serious” health issues and is lodged in a hospital.
But, while he is in hospital, the young woman who levelled allegations against him has been arrested by the SIT in an extortion case. Now, these are two separate cases – and in one of them, the young woman is also facing serious charges.
But the role of the SIT, with misleading statements by its chief, leaves a lot to be desired, especially since the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has a history of showing little interest when the accused belongs to the BJP. The SIT seems more interested in building a case against the victim than the former MP.
More importantly, the Supreme Court has shown little interest in ensuring that there is at least a sense of fairplay in the two cases. The court’s silence on this count is deafening.
When it comes to ensuring justice to the weak and downtrodden, especially when the other side is powerful, the wheels of justice should move swiftly. And, that is why the Supreme Court should be more involved in the Chinmayanand case and less with the BCCI matter. But that isn’t likely to happen, at least not anytime soon.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.