South First Q&A: Azharuddin defends HCA tenure — I was opposed for initiating reforms at Hyderabad Cricket Association

Azharuddin welcomes appointment of Justice Nageswara Rao to conduct HCA elections; says he will contest again.

ByQaiser Mohammad Ali

Published Feb 19, 2023 | 12:09 PMUpdated Feb 19, 2023 | 12:09 PM

South First Q&A: Azharuddin defends HCA tenure — I was opposed for initiating reforms at Hyderabad Cricket Association

Former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin’s three-year tenure as president of the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) was very eventful, to say the least.

It began with a bang in September 2019, when his panel swept the elections, with Azharuddin polling more than twice the votes his nearest rival received.

Soon after the election, Azharuddin and his panel members/office-bearers parted ways after disagreeing on various contentious issues, including the biggest bone of contention — voting rights of the local clubs.

On the eve of another election, the association is in a mess, with Azharuddin and the other office-bearers, who were all part of his panel in 2019, at loggerheads. A spate of court cases have marked the last three years at the HCA, marring the reputation of a once-stellar body.

Azharuddin alleges that he wasn’t allowed to work for the betterment of cricket. As a result, Hyderabad teams fared poorly in national tournaments. He says those who supported him in 2019 planned to use him as a “rubber stamp” and continue to do what they were used to doing.

But Azharuddin disrupted the status quo, and opposed those who were running multiple clubs, thus enjoying more than one vote, something that would prove decisive at elections. The non-affiliation of a majority of districts of Telangana state was another issue; according to Azharuddin, only 10 out of 31 districts are affiliated at present.

The Supreme Court on 14 February — six days after Azharuddin turned 60 — appointed former judge L Nageswara Rao, a former cricketer himself, to conduct the upcoming elections.

Azharuddin expects him to settle all major issues while saying that he would again contest the president’s post.

In 2019, 226 persons, former international cricketers, clubs, and districts comprised the voters’ list. This time, the numbers could change.

Azharuddin spoke to South First on all contentious issues in an exclusive interview at his residence in New Delhi. Excerpts:

Q: Why has this controversy arisen and what is the current status at the Hyderabad Cricket Association?
A. The Supreme Court has appointed retired judge L Nageswara Rao to look into the matter and also into the HCA election, now due. Things will need a lot of time [to cleanse] because there is so much dirt in the association.

When I became HCA president in 2019, the present Apex Council members, and some other people who supported me, thought that they would use me just like a rubber stamp; they thought that “he [Azhar] would be there but we will run the association”. I didn’t let that happen.

For about 25 years, HCA presidents and secretaries have been from among a group of people who run multiple clubs in Hyderabad. Why has there been no office-bearer from clubs owned by one person? Why have people from the districts not occupied any posts? There are, I think, around 90 HCA votes with the people who have multiple clubs. They pressurise the other people to get votes.

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The other issue was regarding the appointment of an Ombudsman, which was mandatory. I proposed the name of Justice Deepak Verma, a former Supreme Court judge, and the Apex Council approved it.

Later, when I proposed Justice Verma’s name at the AGM, a few people said they wanted Justice Kakru [retired chief justice of the Andhra Pradesh High Court Nisar Ahmad Kakru]. It created a problem, as Justice Kakru’s name wasn’t even mentioned in the Apex Council meeting earlier.

The AGM had to be adjourned due to infighting and was reconvened after about a month. This time, Justice Verma’s name was approved by a show of hands. Some people circulated distasteful messages on WhatsApp.

Q: Who are these people?
A. Apex Council members and multiple-club owners do these things, like Syed Moizuddin, T Sheshnarayan, Shivlal Yadav, R Vijayanand (current suspended secretary), and Purushotham Agarwal (joint secretary, 2012-2017). I had complained against them because they were involved in hanky-panky dealings.

Justice Verma inquired into it and sought some documents from them regarding memberships, and eventually banned them. They went to the Telangana High Court and won.

I appealed to a double bench, which said that the single bench couldn’t give a judgment in a single sentence and asked it to look into the matter again.

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But the double bench judgement also went against the Ombudsman, with whom my name was tagged. A double bench of the Telangana High Court upheld the suspension of those who had opposed the appointment of the Ombudsman [K John Manoj (vice-president), R Vijayanand, Naresh Sharma (joint secretary), Surender Aggarwal (treasurer), and P Anuradha (councillor)].

They then went to the Supreme Court against their suspension and appointed a Supervisory Committee, headed by Justice Kakru. Their suspension continues as the case is pending.

Q: Who were the people who wanted to bring in Justice Kakru as Ombudsman?
A. Shivlal Yadav, Arshad Ayub, Syed Moizuddin, R. Vijayanand, Naresh Sharma, T. Sheshnarayan, P. Anuradha, K. John Manoj (vice-president), R Devraj (treasurer, 2014-2017) and Purushotham Agarwal (joint secretary, 2012-2017).

Also, there are adverse mentions against them in the Ernst & Young audit report, submitted to the court, while cases are on against some of them in the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), Hyderabad. The ACB case has happened only because they have done something wrong in the association, like the stadium canopy and [spectators’] chairs issues. That is why the police have charge-sheeted them [in 2017].

And, then they say they will fix the problems in the association. What will they do? It’s me who is trying to fix the problems.

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Recently, I organised two international matches in Hyderabad in three months. The BCCI is allotting international matches to Hyderabad effectively in my name.

In 2011, when I wasn’t in administration, BCCI president Shashank Manohar had told me that that Board wouldn’t be giving any grant to the HCA because so much fraud was happening in the association.

Now, we give to the BCCI utilisation certificates of the funds we receive from the Board. These are audited by the BCCI, and only then do you get the next instalment of funds.

These are the people who spoiled the association.

Q: You said they were doing things as they wished and that you tried to bring about a change. Was it the only reason that they went against you, or was there something else?
A. One hundred percent it was the only reason. They didn’t want the reforms. They have multiple clubs, and if they are disassociated with those clubs they wouldn’t be able to rule because then one person would be able to cast only one vote, not multiple votes.

Some people, like Arshad Ayub, also had their own coaching camps and players at these camps would be picked for Hyderabad teams. I wasn’t there at the time, though; the Ombudsman got them closed.

Also, they don’t want to have matches in Hyderabad. Now, they are saying they don’t want IPL matches in Hyderabad on some pretext. They don’t want cricket; they only want to remain in power.

Interestingly, the terms of both Shivlal Yadav and Arshad Ayub in the HCA and the BCCI have been completed and now they can’t hold any position in both bodies. But despite that they are posing problems.

Q: What does the HCA constitution say in this regard [clubs’ membership]?
A. The Lodha Committee recommendations say that no one can run/own more than one club. If you remember, a former BCCI Ombudsman took action against a person who was in a conflict-of-interest position for owning multiple clubs in Mumbai. Here in Hyderabad, they don’t want to follow the Lodha Committee recommendations.

They say the HCA is being run by one man, pointing to me. But how can I work with people suspended by a court of law? They have been suspended, and the case is pending in the Supreme Court. Naturally, I will take decisions on what is good for the association. If I resign, the association might be crippled, and the BCCI wouldn’t give any funds to it.

Even after my tenure ended [in September 2022], the Supreme Court gave me — and the secretary — the signing authority to run the association’s day-to-day affairs.

Q: But the upcoming HCA election that Justice Nageswara Rao will hold under his supervision will be valid. Isn’t it?
A. Whatever he thinks, he will do. But when the voters’ list is not right how can the elections be conducted? There is no membership record in the Hyderabad Cricket Association.

After I was elected president I asked for the record, but there was no members’ record register. Even the Gymkhana ground lease documents are not to be found; the HCA has paid several crore rupees to them.

Q: Who do you think would have these documents?
A.
Former secretaries Shivlal Yadav and K John Manoj, or treasurer P Yadgiri, or former president Arshad Ayub could have them. I’m not sure. Tomorrow, if the court asks me for the documents, I wouldn’t be able to produce them, because I don’t have them.

So, probably, the first task of Justice Nageswara Rao could be to make a new list of voters. And you would also like that to happen.

I don’t know what he would do, or how he would do it. Naturally, if one person is casting seven votes instead of one, they would win, as they have a coterie.

Q: When you were elected you tried to break the coterie?
A. I asked them to give the details of the HCA membership. I wanted to know the details, and it is there in the minutes of the Apex Council meetings.

I then wrote to the Ombudsman about the issue, but they could not provide it. They were eventually suspended by the Ombudsman.

Q: Have you tried to speak to these people, particularly cricketers, opposed to you because you have played with some of them?
A. I have met them one or two times, but they want to run [the association] as they want. I am not interested in that. When they were in power, I didn’t want to come in.

Clubs are being sold and bought. For example, I own a club and hand it over to you for, say, ₹5 lakh. Now, how will you recover ₹5 lakh? So, they ask players to give money in return for a place in certain teams. That’s how [they recover money].

Then, there are players who have bowled 40-50 overs and have taken five wickets at a high cost of 200-plus runs. Now, they argue and harp on his five-wicket haul.

I changed the format of matches to a maximum of 90 overs in the first innings and 40 overs in the second innings, and that a bowler would not bowl more than 20 overs. They opposed this as well. I often coach Hyderabad teams free of cost. Some of them object to that too.

People ask me to pick their [club] players for Hyderabad. How can I do that? Some people earn their livelihood from the association; they don’t have any other job.

Q: Justice Nageswara Rao has a clean image as a lawyer and as a Supreme Court judge. And he has played cricket, too. Does his appointment give you hope?
A. Definitely, like he did at the Indian Olympic Association recently. From my side, I will provide all assistance, if I am asked to do so. But so far he has not got in touch with me.

Q: What do you expect from him?
A. I would expect him to do something about the multiple club owners, because they think they are the owners of the association. The voters’ list should be corrected. Every person should get an opportunity.

Q: Does his appointment also give you hope that reforms would be initiated in the association?
A. Yes, always. Yes, yes. What happens is that when you begin reforms, there will always be people who will oppose it.

Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Parmahans did a lot of reforms, but when they started, some people said they were doing the wrong thing. But, at the end of the day, people appreciated them for bringing in reforms and they were implemented.

Naturally, when you start correcting an established [wrong] system everybody gets disturbed, though you do it for the betterment of the association.

Q: Do you know Justice Nageswara Rao, as he is also a former cricketer?
A. Yeah, I know him because he has played a good grade of cricket. And I think he knows about the association also.

(The writer has covered cricket for over three decades, based in Delhi. He tweets at @AlwaysCricket)