Probe into sexual harassment allegations against Rahul Johri returned a split 2:1 verdict, deepening divide between CoA chief Vinod Rai & member Diana Edulji.
Bengaluru: In cricket, the benefit of doubt used to go to the batsman, until technology stepped in and left the matter in the hands of the umpires.
Off the field, however, in Indian cricket administration, Rahul Johri, the BCCI chief executive, has become perhaps the first person to be reprieved by the benefit of doubt.
In a summation of the investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Johri issued by the CoA – the Committee of Administrators supervising the functioning of the Indian cricket board – it became abundantly clear just how divided the BCCI house was.
First, the independent probe was divided on the merits of the complaints made against Johri.
One one hand, you had Justice Rakesh Sharma, a former judge of the Allahabad High Court, and Barkha Singh, former chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women, who found the allegations “false, baseless” and “fabricated and manufactured with an ulterior motive to harm Mr Rahul Johri and throw him out of BCCI”.
They gave him a clean chit.
The third member of the independent committee, women’s rights lawyer Veena Gowda, found sufficient evidence to recommend that Johri undergo “gender sensitivity counselling/training”, because “the conduct of Mr Rahul Johri at Birmingham, as CEO of an institution such as BCCI, (was) unprofessional and inappropriate which would adversely affect its reputation and the same has to be looked at by the concerned authorities”.
Also read: CoA split on Rahul Johri sexual harassment charges shows Vinod Rai has dropped the ball
The division in the probe panel, in turn, led to the deepening of the difference of opinion which existed within the CoA, with chairman Vinod Rai batting for Johri’s immediate reinstatement while former India women’s captain Diana Edulji found it difficult to stomach the findings of the committee.
Rai, who is perceived to be an out-and-out Johri supporter, in this matter and others, was quick to underscore this reputation.
“In the considered opinion of Justice Rakesh Sharma (Retd.) and Smt Barkha Singh, Mr Rahul Johri may be permitted to function as the CEO of BCCI as before,” was Rai’s opinion.
“Justice Rakesh Sharma (retd.) goes on to add that no adverse action needs to be taken against the CEO on the basis of these mischievous, false, fabricated, unsubstantiated complaints, emails, tweets, etc. on social media.”
Further, Rai highlighted the fact that Gowda, who took the evidence on hand — including photographic — to be more credible than her other two colleagues, did not classify Johri’s behaviour as sexual harassment.
“The finding of Ms Veena Gowda in respect of Mr Johri is that his behaviour in Birmingham was unprofessional and inappropriate. However, she has not found him guilty of sexual harassment. Ms Gowda has recommended that, in light of his conduct at Birmingham and in light of certain photographs which Mr Johri submitted before the Committee, it is essential that Mr Johri undergo some form of gender sensitisation counselling/ training. The clear inference from this recommendation is that, going forward, Mr Johri needs to be counselled as aforesaid but there is no recommendation to take any other action against him.”
Edulji, the other half of the CoA, disagreed with the committee’s findings and renewed her calls for Johri to tender his resignation.
“She alluded to the finding in Ms Gowda’s recommendations to the effect that as a CEO of an institution such as BCCI, the unprofessional and inappropriate conduct of Mr Johri would adversely affect the reputation of BCCI.
“Ms Edulji pointed out it has been her stand right from the beginning that the reputation of BCCI is of prime importance. In the circumstances, Ms Edulji said that the fact that Ms Gowda has recommended that Mr Johri should undergo gender sensitisation counselling/ training is sufficient for her to arrive at the conclusion that he is not fit to be the CEO of BCCI.
“Accordingly, she expressed the view that the report of the committee is actually a split 2:1 verdict and Mr Johri should be asked to tender his resignation with immediate effect.”
Rai, as chairman, overruled Edulji’s objections, and “reiterated that Mr Rahul Johri should continue as the CEO of BCCI and resume his duties, as a natural consequence.”
Also read: Fresh allegation of sexual harassment against Indian cricket board CEO Rahul Johri
BCCI treasurer sides with Edulji
Board treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry weighed in on the issue later in the evening, siding with Edulji’s stand that all was not well.
“This is clearly not a clean chit as is being propagated by a section of officials. Ms Veena Gowda has observed that the conduct of Mr Rahul Johri at Birmingham, as CEO of an institution such as the BCCI, is unprofessional and inappropriate, which would adversely affect its reputation,” Chaudhry said. “The same has to be looked at by the concerned authorities.”
“This is extremely shocking, to say the least, and this cannot be willed away by someone just because one may be in a position of authority,” Chaudhry added, taking a thinly-veiled shot at CoA chairman Rai.
“What makes it even more serious is that the time period referred to is one where the Hon’ble Supreme Court was monitoring the administration of the BCCI through the CoA. We cannot lose sight of the fact one member of the CoA, i.e. 50 per cent of the CoA appointed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court believes this to be serious enough to make the position of the CEO untenable in an organisation such as the BCCI,” he added, referring to Edulji.
Edulji not resigning
While this concludes the sexual harassment case for the moment, it raises questions on the manner in which the probe was conducted, and indeed, on how a two-person CoA that is so fundamentally divided can continue to serve Indian cricket efficiently.
In the normal course, a person such as Edulji, a former India captain, might have been tempted to tender her resignation, given how little her opinion was valued by the CoA chairman, but a source close to her said she was not considering this course of action as it would play into Rai’s hands.
It’s worth remembering that it has been nearly 18 months since Ramachandra Guha resigned from the CoA, and was followed soon after by Vikram Limaye. Neither has been replaced, allowing Rai to take control of the body that effectively controls all aspects of the running of cricket in India.
The alarm bells that rang loud and clear when Guha resigned in June 2017 reverberate just as loudly in November 2018.
Some phrases from Guha’s resignation letter are worth revisiting.
On the matter of coaches being given contracts that allowed them to work 10 months of the year with the BCCI and two months with an Indian Premier League franchise: “Despite my warnings, no action has been initiated in the several months that the committee has been in operation.”
On BCCI officials being enamoured with former cricketers and wanting a quid pro quo where each was in the other’s good books: “Surely a Supreme Court-appointed body should not be intimidated by the past or present achievements of a cricketer, and instead seek to strive to be fair and just.”
On the non-extension of Anil Kumble’s contract as coach despite the team enjoying tremendous success in his one-year tenure: “Clearly, the issue has been handled in an extremely insensitive and unprofessional manner by the BCCI CEO and the BCCI office-bearers, with the COA, by its silence and inaction, unfortunately being complicit in this regard.”
Read the words: “despite warnings”, “fair and just”, “silence and inaction”, “complicit”.
Sounds similar to l’affaire Johri?
This article has been updated to include BCCI treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry’s comments on the issue.