How Arun Jaitley Ignored Corruption In The DDCA During His Tenure As Its President

18 November 2015
For years, BJP MP and former cricketer Kirti Azad (second from left) protested against the corruption spreading in the Delhi District Cricket Association, of which Jaitley was president for over a decade.
Qamar Sibtain / India Today Group / Getty Images

Last week, on 12 November 2015, the Delhi government set up a three-member committee to look into alleged instances of corruption and financial mismanagement within the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA). This committee was established after former cricketers Bishan Singh Bedi and Kirti Azad approached Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and requested for government intervention in the matter. Yesterday, the committee recommended that the Board of Control for Cricket in India suspend the DDCA immediately. In this excerpt from Talk of the Town, his May 2015 profile of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Praveen Donthi examines Jaitley’s tenure as the president of the DDCA, a post he held for 13 years.

In January, the former cricketer Bishan Singh Bedi and others wrote a complaint to Narendra Modi about his finance minister. Jaitley had “misused his position as Leader of Opposition to prevail upon various ministries to spare DDCA of punitive action,” they wrote, referring to the Delhi and District Cricket Association. “Mr Jaitley is now heading two important ministries (finance and corporate affairs) which are supposed to take action against DDCA for infraction of various rules and norms of the companies act, as indeed criminal law.”

As the journalist James Astill wrote in his 2013 book The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India, “No Indian cricket administration is so notorious for nepotism and misrule” as the association that governs Delhi cricket, “also known as the Delhi Daddies Cricket Association, or the Delhi District Crooks Association.” Jaitley became the DDCA’s president in December 1999, less than two years after he became a member of the association and a few months after he became a union minister. He held the post for 13 years.

Ashok Malik, the columnist and Jaitley’s friend, told me Jaitley was driven by “his love for cricket,” and the “social cachet.” As Astill observed, “There is no surer way to be seen by millions of Indians than at a televised cricket match.” To be seen “ruling over the proceedings,” he said, “is especially useful for politicians, such as Jaitley … who are not directly elected to parliament … In such cases, prominence in Indian cricket is almost an alternative to electoral prowess.”

The DDCA is a company that follows an opaque electoral system, which allows proxy voting on behalf of its members, many of whom are small-time businessmen who are never present. In February 2000, Outlook reported that this voting could be easily manipulated, and claimed to have “two proxy forms signed by the same member—one of which is obviously a fake signature but is attested by the court—used during Jaitley’s election” as president. However, the association’s two rival factions, led by CK Khanna (known as “proxy king”) and SP Bansal, both supported Jaitley over the years.

The first clear sign of rot in the DDCA appeared in August 2009, when Virender Sehwag, then a star opener on the Indian team, and other cricketers including Gautam Gambhir, Ashish Nehra and Ishant Sharma, threatened to quit the Delhi team over rampant nepotism and corruption. This portended a major embarrassment that December, during the final match of the India–Sri Lanka one-day series at Ferozeshah Kotla stadium. The match was abandoned midway after the visiting team complained of dangerously poor pitch conditions leading to injuries. The DDCA apologised to irate fans and promised to refund their ticket money. The International Cricket Council banned the venue for one year, and the Congress demanded Jaitley’s resignation from his post. Jaitley’s response to the media was to play for time, saying, “We have to analyse in a cooler environment.”

Though the Ferozeshah Kotla stadium underwent a massive renovation between 2000 and 2007, the state of the DDCA only deteriorated. The former Delhi captain Surinder Khanna told me about the muck that emerged out of the renovation—a project Malik characterised as Jaitley’s greatest legacy. “He built the stadium which nobody else could,” Khanna said, “but we had to pay a heavy price as he created a mess.” He alleged that the annual general meetings, in which the association’s accounts were put to vote, became a sham due to manipulated proxy voting. The initial budget for the project was Rs 24 crore, but the eventual expenditure came closer to Rs130 crore.

For a long time, Kirti Azad, a former cricketer and a BJP MP from Bihar, was the sole voice of protest against Jaitley’s rule of the DDCA. (For his part, Jaitley tried to deny Azad the party’s ticket in his constituency for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.) But by 2011, many other former players, including Bedi, Maninder Singh, Madan Lal and Surinder Khanna, joined the chorus. Several DDCA members sent letters to Jaitley, but never received responses. “Ever since you took over … I am afraid that the general reputation of DDCA has gone southward,” the association member Dinesh Kumar Sharma wrote in 2011. “This is mainly due to the fact that … the Executive Committee … under your patronage have usurped all the financial and administrative powers … causing substantial financial losses.”

The cricket journalist Chander Shekhar Luthra told me, “I once asked Jaitley, ‘Only Rs 20 crore was spent for the Dharamshala stadium and it is beautiful. How come Delhi’s stadium is so bad despite spending so much money?’ His answer was a simple one-liner: ‘People drive Maruti and people drive Mercedes.’ Till date I have not understood what he meant.” Luthra added, “But I have seen all these DDCA people from the time when they used to come on scooters to driving Mercedes today.”

In May 2012, Azad wrote a letter of complaint about the “accounting mess” in the DDCA to RPN Singh, then minister of state for corporate affairs. “The accounts are blatantly falsified and false bills are shown to account for Rs 30 crore every year,” he wrote. He alleged financial fraud, illegal payments to members without proper clearances and illegal procurement without tenders. He followed this up with a letter to Jaitley that July, in which he wrote, “I wish to request you not to make snide remarks about me or wife in the manipulated leaks.”

Later, Azad raised the issue in the monsoon session of parliament, during which Jaitley was loudly accusing the UPA government of corruption in allocating coal blocks. The ministry of corporate affairs constituted a three-member team of the Serious Fraud Investigation Office to investigate Azad’s claims. Azad told me he was called “indirectly through many people,” and given “a lot of offers” to back down.

By the time the SFIO’s report was completed, in March 2014, Jaitley was no longer DDCA president; he did not contest the 2013 election, though he was rumoured to be eying the top post in the Board of Control for Cricket in India. The SFIO’s report confirmed Azad’s allegations, and indicated that the DDCA had not complied with even basic accounting standards, such as using cheques for payments of above Rs 20,000. The SFIO pushed for an internal audit, which exposed even more financial mismanagement. The Registrar of Companies imposed a compounding fee of over Rs 4 lakh on the DDCA and three of its office bearers—Sunil Dev, SP Bansal and Narinder Batra—plus an additional fee on Dev and Bansal. Jaitley, however escaped any indictment for the corruption under his watch.

“As a president, he can’t say ‘I didn’t know,’” Sameer Bahadur, a DDCA member, told me. During the association’s 2012 annual general meeting, recorded on video, Azad had challenged Jaitley in a heated moment. “You have sent in forged proxies here,” he said; “You file a defamation case against me.” Jaitley responded, “There are a lot of things I have been choosing to ignore, I will ignore this too.” He also called Azad and others “a complaint-filing agency,” and spoilsports.

Bahadur believes Jaitley stayed out of the 2013 elections because of a change in the Companies Act, which now recommended imprisonment, rather than relatively low fines, for fraud. While the SFIO and Azad were digging for evidence of corruption, Jaitley became its patron-in-chief, an honorary but influential position, instead of president. In August 2014, once Jaitley was finance minister with charge of the corporate affairs ministry, Azad raised the issue of DDCA corruption in parliament again. This January, the DDCA lodged a police complaint against SP Bansal, who had replaced Jaitley as the association’s president, and Anil Khanna, its general secretary, for illegally transferring Rs 1.55 crore to some realty companies; both were also sacked by the DDCA’s executive committee. Because of the change in the company law, Bahadur told me, “CK Khanna’s faction has taken a stand against the president and general secretary.” Earlier, he said, “they were hand-in-glove, and would blindly sign all the accounts,” while Jaitley looked the other way.

“As they say in Bihar,” Azad told me, “saiyan bhaye kotwal to dar kaahe ka?”—when the policeman is your lover, what is there to fear? “There has been an embezzlement of Rs30 crore every year. But nobody talks about it. They will talk about the Saradha scam and other scams, but not this.” Jaitley has not been directly accused of corruption in the DDCA. But people like Bahadur hold him responsible for ignoring the warning signs. “Jaitley couldn’t run a company with an annual budget of Rs 30 crore,” Bahadur said. “What can he do as finance minister of the country?”

Praveen Donthi  is a staff writer at The Caravan.