Not even Karan Johar could have wished for more melodrama in the aftermath of the January 6 episode of his Koffee with Karan show.
His guests on the day were Indian cricketers Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul. For the twenty-odd minutes of the show I could watch before it got unbearable, the two went into details of their partying and sex lives. It would suffice to say they wouldn’t win a lot of points with the hyper-woke Twitterati, particularly for their comments on women.
Their appearance had unexpected repercussions. The Committee of Administrators (CoA) that oversees the functioning of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) sent back-to-back show-cause notices to the players. To the first, the cricketers responded with an “unconditional apology” and blamed their naïveté for their demeanour on the show. In response, the CoA recalled them from the Indian team’s tour of Australia and New Zealand, and said an inquiry would be initiated against them for “misconduct and indiscipline”.
In the meanwhile, they have been suspended from all forms of cricket as well as “any match or function or event or activity that is authorized, organized, sanctioned, recognized or supported in any way by the BCCI, the ICC or any State Association, until final adjudication of the matter.”
They have been charged under Rule 41 of the BCCI’s new constitution. Like all constitutions, its rules are vague and far-reaching. It is not clear whether a player’s off-field behaviour comes under the purview of the Board. The last time someone was suspended under this rule was the Board’s CEO Rahul Johri, against whom an inquiry regarding sexual harassment was initiated in October 2018.
Now, here’s the problem. The procedure in such a case is that the CEO must seek an explanation from the players, send a report to the Apex Council, and then have the Apex Council forward it to an Ombudsman, who will decide whether the sanctions are binding.
Johri is back, but there is no Apex Council or Ombudsman, and there won’t be one until the BCCI carries out elections.
So, the case is being heard by the Supreme Court, as part of a case pertaining to the Lodha Committee reforms. On January 17, the court adjourned the hearing indefinitely, saying it would only proceed with the case after an Ombudsman was appointed.
While CoA president Vinod Rai had suggested a two-match suspension, others had called for harsher sanctions. BCCI acting president C K Khanna has urged the CoA to lift the suspension until the Supreme Court issues a directive.
And in the meanwhile, the fans are furious. Who is to blame for jeopardising the careers of two young, promising talents, they wonder.
Most of the fury is directed against one man – Karan Johar. Why did he design such a sleazy show, and invite sportsmen to it, they want to know.
The rest of the fury is directed against the BCCI. What does it matter what cricketers do off the field, they want to know. Would an out-of-form cricketer who proved to be an exemplary human being be rewarded with a place on the team? So why does it matter what consistent performers do or say in their own time?
Long before the controversy snowballed, when Twitter was having its fun roasting the two men, someone put up a picture of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, and suggested that everyone who had had the misfortune of watching the show detox.
Dravid and Laxman have been true advertisements for the sport, both with their performances and with their behaviour. They retired in the most unobtrusive manner, without grand farewells, leaving their records to speak for themselves.
And their off-field behaviour was impeccable too, as evidenced by Dravid’s appearance on the prank show MTV Bakra, in which he was accosted by a fan who wanted to marry him.
But must every cricketer emulate Dravid or Laxman to remain in the team?
I happened to attend a session at The Hindu Lit for Life 2019 festival, where Laxman was being quizzed on his autobiography, 281 and Beyond, among other things. He made a nuanced point about why off-field behaviour matters.
It is not easy, he admitted, for a young man who has struggled through the ranks to become famous overnight, to have crores of rupees in the bank, to be recognised everywhere he goes. It sounds like a dream, but the contrast to his life before national selection is drastic. And with this change in fortune comes the temptation of a change in lifestyle – with so much access, how much can one resist? And can one be blamed for showing it off?
Yes, Laxman felt. A cricketer has to remember he is an ambassador for the team and the country, and has to be aware that he is a role model, whether he wants to be or not. People are constantly watching him, and youngsters aspire to be him.
Should youngsters aspire to party till 5:30 am while on tour with the Indian cricket team, on the assumption that one won’t be selected for a match the next day?
Should youngsters aspire to have made out with every girl at a party and then forgotten all their names?
And should Karan Johar be blamed for choreographing a show that aspires for eyeballs to be as sleazy and controversial as the advertisers would like?
Should the BCCI be blamed for stalling the careers of cricketers who don’t recognise the duties that come with their stature?
Or should we blame men who have reached the pinnacle of their careers for putting adolescent behaviour on display in a show of whose reach they were quite aware?
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
The G.O.A.T vote: When opinion offends
The hooligans in our homes
Why the Ambanis should rule India
Five statues the government should build
Killing Nature: Where science and religion colludeWhy bother saving the tiger?