Exactly four months after being asked to take charge of the investigation in October 2013, the Mudgal Committee was ready to submit its report on the IPL spot-fixing scandal on 9 February 2014. Besides all else, three central questions needed answering by the Committee: Was Gurunath Meiyappan the team principal or owner of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and had there been an attempted cover-up by the BCCI and its president N. Srinivasan? Did Raj Kundra, owner of the Rajasthan Royals, guilty of betting, bring disrepute to the game? Finally, what was to happen to these two franchises with the 2014 IPL less than six months away?
It was around 10 p.m. on 8 February that I got a call from someone closely associated with the Committee. My wife was eight months pregnant and it hadn’t been a great health day in the family. I remember telling her to try and get some sleep as I attended the call. ‘There are two reports, not one,’ the caller said. ‘The reports will be submitted to the Supreme Court tomorrow morning at 10.30 a.m.,’ he concluded and disconnected the line.
Now, this was big news. Why should a three-member committee submit two reports and what did this mean? Would this impact the credibility of the work done by them and how would the apex court deal with it?
‘Advocate Niloy Dutta wanted to submit a separate report and both Nageshwar Rao and I felt he was within his rights to do so,’ Justice Mudgal mentions.
Despite the two reports, however, the central point of contention had been unanimously agreed upon. Meiyappan, the Committee contended, was CSK’s principal/owner/official and had defamed the game. In arriving at this conclusion, they had spoken to a crosssection of people including players and administrators. Legends of the game like Sachin Tendulkar and M.S. Dhoni were also spoken to and Dhoni, the report declared, held the view that Meiyappan was a mere enthusiast who had little to do with the franchise.
‘Representatives of India Cements, who appeared before the Committee, contended that Mr Meiyappan had no share holding in India Cements and hence cannot be considered as an owner of CSK. Further, Mr M.S. Dhoni, Mr N. Srinivasan and officials of India Cements took the stand that Mr Meiyappan had nothing to do with the cricketing affairs of Chennai Super Kings and was a mere cricket enthusiast supporting CSK.’
This testimony, interestingly, was rejected and the Committee concluded that ‘Mr Gurunath Meiyappan formed an integral part of Chennai Super Kings and most persons viewed him as the face of the team. Though the de-jure ownership vests in India Cements, the Committee finds that Mr Meiyappan was, in fact, acting as a team official, if not the de-facto owner of CSK.’
While there has been much talk in the Supreme Court over Dhoni’s testimony with senior advocates Harish Salve and C. Aryama Sundaram, arguing over it at length, suffice to say the Committee had found Dhoni not forthcoming when they questioned him on the role of Meiyappan in the day-to-day running of the franchise.
It was only when he was asked how an auction scenario worked did he explain in detail that the franchise held sessions prior to the bidding, where it was decided how much to bid for a particular player. When a Committee member asked how the franchise reacted if the bid amount went beyond what had been initially decided, Dhoni said that it was decided on the table by Meiyappan, among others.
Why would Dhoni do this and did it not bother him? Should it have bothered him in the first place? Can we label this an ethical issue and judge him by the same standards of ethics that applies to us all? Or is it unfair on our part to expect that he would say things against Meiyappan when he was/is an employee of India Cements and captain of CSK? Finally, do moral questions like these impact his legacy in the long term? While Dhoni is certainly one of the greatest Indian captains of all time, the question remains that when it came to the spot-fixing scandal did India’s best white-ball finisher lack the courage of conviction?
For the Committee, however, Meiyappan was culpable in spite of what was said by Dhoni and Srinivasan.
The report also included serious observations on Raj Kundra and asked for further investigation on the matter.
Finally, having come across multiple allegations of sporting fraud in the course of the investigation, all of which were in the nature of allegations with no conclusive proof, it was suggested that further investigation was needed on the role of 13 individuals, names that were submitted before the Supreme Court in a sealed cover.
In a subsequent hearing, the Supreme Court asked the BCCI to come up with possible names for a three-member committee that could continue the investigation on the lines suggested by the Mudgal Committee, a suggestion that prompted the BCCI to convene an emergent working committee meeting in Mumbai on 20 April.
Manohar and Dalmiya were hopelessly outnumbered in the meeting and, to Srinivasan’s credit, the members, who were in constant touch with him from inside the venue, mooted the names of Ravi Shastri, former Justice Jai Narayan Patel and former CBI Director R.K. Raghavan, as three possible members of the new committee. Each of these, the grapevine had it, were Srinivasan’s choices.
The Court, however, rejected the BCCI’s suggestion and asked the Mudgal Committee to carry the investigation forward, in what was considered a blow to the Board. The Mudgal Committee meant business, and based on its earlier findings, it was clear that it could not be compromised with or influenced upon and this neutrality was something Indian cricket badly needed at the time.
When I asked Justice Mudgal if there were attempts at outside interference, he was cautious with his response. ‘I wouldn’t say so,’ were his exact words. ‘They knew we would do our work with integrity and honesty and it was better they stayed away,’ he emphasized.
Unlike in October 2013, when the main question was whether Meiyappan was team principal, this time around the real interest centred around the 13 names handed to the court in a sealed cover, including that of Srinivasan. The other issue of consequence was the committee’s take on the future of the two teams, CSK and Royals, and, in a way, the very future of the IPL was now under the scanner.
The 13 names submitted remain concealed and away from public knowledge to this day under Supreme Court orders. While Srinivasan and former IPL CEO Sundar Raman were investigated and cleared of any personal wrongdoing, one wonders why the yardstick is different for players? Why should Srinivasan have to go through intense media and public scrutiny while some players, mentioned in the sealed cover report, continue to get away without being investigated?
While I am in no position to conjecture on some of the names mentioned—and will not, because it is a Supreme Court mandate—I must say that all the sources interviewed for the book point out that one of the names indicted for corruption is a World Cup-winning icon with a massive fan following. He was investigated at length by former CBI official B.B. Misra (who had been added to the Committee) and was eventually pitted face to face against a bookie who spilled the beans. It so happened that the interrogation took place in rooms adjacent to each other, one of which had the bookie and the other the player in question. While the player continued to deny involvement in betting and fixing, eventually he was brought face to face with the bookie and that’s when his guard collapsed. Those in the know say he ended up pleading with the investigators to care for his reputation and let things be. Former BCCI president Inderjit Singh Bindra, who had testified before the Committee, is said to have mentioned this player at length and how he had to intervene to foil an attempt at wrongdoing in a ODI match at Mohali against Sri Lanka. Could it be that in case the names are ever made public, he is the one cricketer whose reputation will be in tatters? Again, it remains a matter of conjecture.
Excerpted with permission from Simon & Schuster