The CV of Vinod Rai is gilt-edged. His credentials as an economist can hardly be questioned.
He enjoyed a sterling career in different roles in the Administrative Service and in the positions of Ministries of Commerce and Defence for the Government of India.
After playing a lead role as director of several Boards, including his own India Infrastructure Finance Company, the State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, IDBI Bank, Life Insurance Corporation of India and Infrastructure Development and Finance Company of India, he was appointed the chairman of the Banks Board Bureau.
And then there was his yeoman’s work as an auditor, a task into which he brought the zeal of an Old Testament prophet. He functioned as the chairman of the United Nations Panel of External Auditors and also a member of the Governing Board of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions.
Under the backing of finance minister P Chidambaram, he was appointed the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Since then he has been the scourge of many a government department totally unused to being reviewed and audited in this scrupulous manner.
His audits are generally unforgiving, without any concern for the high and mighty linked with the department under review. His reports are feared, they are scathing and can singe the highest and mightiest.
Generally, askance looks have cast the world over at the civil servant. In The World of Mr Mulliner, PG Wodehouse describes one such with words that drip with sarcasm: “As Egbert from boyhood up had shown no signs of possessing any intelligence whatsoever, he had gravitated naturally to England’s civil service, where all that was required of him was to drink tea at four o’clock and between lunch and four to do the Times crossword puzzle.”
However, Rai was described by Forbes as ‘among that rare breed of civil servants who know how to get work done in the government.’ He is reputed to have the uncanny ability to cut through red tape. He has flashed dazzlingly uncomfortable light on many a shady process, from the preparation for the Commonwealth Games to the Coal Gate scam, from 2G Spectrum allocation to the mismanagement of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
He also comes across as politically unaffiliated. He has questioned both the Congress led UPA and the BJP led governments in Chhattisgarh and Gujarat and others.
Hence, when the Supreme Court nominated a four-member Committee of Administrators to run the BCCI and help the smooth implementation of the Lodha Committee Reforms, it was not a surprise to see Vinod Rai being appointed Chairman of the group consisting of him, Ramchandra Guha, Vikram Limaye and Diana Edulji.
If anyone had the ability to clean the Augean Stables of the Board, it was this impassioned auditor who could cut through the reddest of tapes.
However, the subsequent results have not really managed to keep up to the same standards of the track record of Rai. We have seen the Board get embroiled in even bigger controversies while the near-transparent issues have managed to remain in vogue.
What is irksome is that the biggest complaint area, conflict of interest, has remained unchanged. And in the interim, Ram Guha has resigned from his post and Vikram Limaye is on his way out.
The former, in his departing letter to Rai, had pointed out several of the problems that persist in BCCI and have not been dealt with.
The most important points raised by Guha involved critical questions about
- Rahul Dravid and other national coaches at various levels being given 10-month contracts so that they could concentrate on IPL as well, leading to neglect of their coaching roles due to affiliation to the franchises as coach, mentor etc. According to Guha it was strictly contrary to the spirit of the Lodha Committee for coaches or supports staff at the National Cricket Academy to have any sort of contract with the IPL.
- BCCI-contracted commentator Sunil Gavaskar being the head of a player management company
- MS Dhoni being given an A grade contract despite retiring from Test cricket three years ago
- Neglecting the domestic cricketers
- Allowing the disqualified officials to attend the BCCI meets;
- Conducting interviews to elect a new coach in spite of Anil Kumble’s admirable record in the last year
- Refusing to include Javagal Srinath in the CoA.
The Kumble issue may be a complicated one involving the incompatibility with the captain and the team. And perhaps Srinath’s appointment was more of a Guha proposal which needed considerable discussion among the other members. Perhaps the lack of direct action in these areas speak of appropriate discretion.
However, the valour generally associated with Rai the auditor has been conspicuously absent. The other five issues were tailor-made for the experienced auditor to come down on them with his dreaded ‘non-compliance’ stamp. They smack of conflict of interest and, as outlined by Guha, ‘superstar culture’.
Yet, none of the issues has been tackled.
Perhaps the working of the BCCI is complicated enough to fox even this seasoned auditor and stall him in taking the necessary step. Or there may be some other issue at work. But Rai has definitely not measured up to his normal performance. And one cannot help wondering whether the zeal of the auditor has somewhat dimmed in this case.
The red tapes of BCCI are extremely confusing in the convoluted loops and spirals they get tangled into, but it was expected of Rai to cut through all that with his expertise in dealing with the Indian bureaucracy. The only instance of his scything fiercely through the red-tape was when Rai ordered the CAC, another new acronym that stands for the Cricket Advisory Committee, to declare the name of the coach by the End of scheduled Day and not postpone the announcement as they had planned to do.
Hence, Rai’s act of cutting through the red tape was enacted on a trio of the stature of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly.
This yielded a curious mix of outputs as the hammer of the enforcer was brought down heavily on a clutch of icons. There were hurried reactions, leaked news, an effort made to call back the leak, then a further announcement made in much haste, and a couple of appointments of highly specialised roles which were not quite threshed out as normal protocol dictated.
Hence, there were reports of Batting (overseas) and Bowling Consultants, Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan, forced down the throat of Ravi Shastri, something vehemently denied by the CAC. There were hurt sentiments, so common in the icon-space of Indian cricket where egos are gargantuan; and drafted letters to Rai which underlined that the three amigos were not amused by the circulating rumours.
In other words, Rai’s shredding of red-tapes has been limited to these three gentlemen, and it has created more confusion, conflict and controversy in Indian cricket, a domain already stocked up in these parameters.
What we see is that so far Rai has not really achieved much as the hardened, unforgiving auditor, even with issues being palpably apparent in the Board. Perhaps with such a profound mess, he needs more time, but the committee has been in business for nearly half a year and has already lost half their members.
Time, and perhaps confidence, is fast running out. The appointment of the coach has been handled in the most shambolic of possible ways, even when we consider that it was a BCCI endeavour. Conflict of Interest has raised its head in several ways through the Shastri appointment. Things have not really improved. In many opinions, they have hardly ever been worse.
Will the dormant auditor come out with a vengeance and set things right this late in the game? One wonders.