Sixteen years ago Jagmohan Dalmiya held the same position that he does now: president of the Board for Control of Cricket in India, more familiar to everyone as BCCI. His return is so richly symbolic of the way the richest sports body is run in India. Far from being an organisation run by cricketers, BCCI is the playing field for politicians and rich businessmen, and the election on March 2 was realpolitik at its best, with the participants being Dalmiya, politician Sharad Pawar and industrialist N Srinivasan.
That Dalmiya got the chance to harrumph "those who had once expelled me are now cheering for me" was entirely because circumstances had conspired to make the 74-year-old from Kolkata the beneficiary of the frayed relations between two former compatriots who had both turned against him since.
The dynamics of his equations with the duo are still playing out. Soon after he completed his three-year term as BCCI president in 2004, he managed to get his proxy, Ranbir Singh Mahendra, elected as president against Pawar through the expedient of casting three votes for him: two as president of two regional cricket associations and one as a casting vote when the contestants were tied at 15 votes each.
"The umpire was the bowler," Pawar smirked after the results. The acrimony of that election carried on for a year, when a new election was forced and Pawar triumphed over Mahendra. Neither did Pawar forget the humiliation of 2004 nor did Dalmiya forgive Pawar for what happened a year later.
After Pawar's election, Dalmiya found himself a victim of the irreconcilable rifts he himself had created in BCCI. Pawar charged Dalmiya with financial irregularities during the 1996 World Cup jointly hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which he had overseen as convenor. BCCI filed a police complaint against Dalmiya in Mumbai and expelled him from the board. He filed a slew of cases against the board and BCCI was caught in a prolonged litigation. In March 2008, he was arrested after the police claimed to have unearthed evidence of a defalcation of World Cup funds, but the case was dropped in 2010, when BCCI pleaded that it would be unable to prove misappropriation in the court.
Till that 2005 contest, Dalmiya was a larger-than-life presence that had steered Indian cricket through a transformation of enormous implications. Born in a Marwari family of Kolkata, he not only took his genetic capacity for business to grow his father's construction business, but also brought his financial acuity to change the ledgers at BCCI. In 1993, Punjab bureaucrat I S Bindra and Dalmiya, then the president and secretary, respectively, took on state-owned broadcaster Doordarshan. Till then BCCI paid Doordarshan around Rs 5 lakh to televise each Test or one-day match. Dalmiya and Bindra saw no purchase in that. James Astill describes him in his book, The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India, as "suspicious, Machiavellian and committed to monetising Indian cricket's growing popularity."
The duo sold the television rights to TransWorld International ahead of the India-England series for around Rs 18 lakh. Later, when Dalmiya organised the Hero Cup in Kolkata as part of the Cricket Association of Bengal's diamond jubilee celebrations, even the state unit hawked the TV rights to a private broadcaster. The floodgates had been opened. It is because of Dalmiya that cricketers in India, even those who play the Ranji Trophy, get salaries that national football and hockey players can only dream about.
Recognising the importance of Dalmiya's achievement, in 1996 BBC declared him one of the world's top six sports executives. He even impressed the charmless Ian Chappell, who said, "He has a vision for the game's progress that I haven't heard enunciated by any other so-called leader among cricket officials."
And yet, it was the commercial successes of BCCI that also muddied the waters in the administration. With over Rs 1,000 crore in its coffers, the fight for control of the board became more conspiratorial, and often required Dalmiya to keep his supporters, the state cricket associations in particular, happy through financial allurements. Today's murky finances of the board were born in those days when placatory grants were entered into books of accounts under generic heads like "promotion", "other expenses", etc.
Dalmiya was elected president of the International Cricket Council in 1997. He took his brusque ways to the boardroom in London. There, leveraging India's new-found financial muscle, he got the hegemony of England and Australia completely diluted. As in BCCI, he had ICC deeply riven, again using fiduciary rewards to keep ICC members and associate in his court. He used the Asian countries against ICC in 2001, when he took on Mike Denness, the match referee who had penalised six Indian players, including captain Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, in the Port Elizabeth Test during India's tour of South Africa. No wonder, Malcolm Speed, who became CEO of ICC in 2001, later described Dalmiya in his book as "without doubt one of the most resolute, able, difficult, prickly, and unpredictable men".