Understanding India’s most infamous cricket administrator, N Srinivasan
Narayanaswami Srinivasan or ‘Srini sir’ as he is popularly referred to in the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA), first sought to enter cricket administration in the mid-1990s. He was by then a successful industrialist, running India Cements, a company that his father TS Narayanaswami set up with banker SNN Shankarlingam in 1946 (and of which he is currently vice-chairman and managing director). He had been the sheriff of Chennai (1989-91), and then wanted to hold office as a cricket administrator. So he contested elections for an office-bearer’s post in the TNCA, and lost.
AC Muthiah, the then president of the BCCI, was Srinivasan’s school friend from Madras Christian College Higher Secondary School in Chennai. It was Muthiah who offered Srinivasan a foothold in cricket administration. On Muthiah’s advice, Srinivasan contested an election from Vellore district and entered the TNCA for the first time in 2001—and became state vice-president. In 2002, when Muthiah stepped down as TNCA president after eight consecutive terms as president (the maximum allowed), he helped his close ally and friend secure the post.
“Srinivasan was always very ambitious. We could see that he did not just want to enter the TNCA, or become its president, he wanted to move on. And he was constantly working on it,” says a former TNCA member who worked with Srinivasan for many years at the association and at the BCCI, and did not wish to be identified. As TNCA president, Srinivasan started attending BCCI meetings. But he maintained a low profile. “He was networking. He was understanding how the BCCI worked. He was planning his next move,” says the TNCA member.
But in the initial days of his reign as TCNA president, Srinivasan had no independent identity. Tamil Nadu cricket was still Muthiah’s fiefdom. Gradually, Srinivasan found his own turf and started exerting influence. According to a current TNCA member and a Muthiah loyalist, Srinivasan, either by offering money or granting favours, started garnering support for himself at the Association. Muthiah did not realise that his support base was fast eroding, the source says. Moreover, after Muthiah’s reign at the BCCI ended, Srinivasan gravitated towards the new president and Muthiah’s bitter rival Jagmohan Dalmiya. When Dalmiya was near the completion of his term, it was Srinivasan who asked for the creation of a patron-in-chief title to be bestowed upon Dalmiya.
But in 2006, Dalmiya was dismissed by the BCCI for misappropriation of funds from the 1996 World Cup organising body. The man heading the committee that discovered these irregularities was none other than the wily Srinivasan, who was then BCCI treasurer. But after Dalmiya returned to the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), Srinivasan made peace with him (this was in 2010), so as to secure his vote for his bid for the BCCI’s top job.
Srinivasan joined India Cements in 1968 when he was 23 as its deputy managing director after his father’s death. India Cement’s co-founder Shankarlingam’s son, KS Narayan, was managing director then. According to a former TNCA administrator who has known Srinivasan for decades, a dispute between Srinivasan and Narayan in the 1980s led to Srinivasan’s exit from the company. The details are hazy, but Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) took over the management of India Cements. During this time, it is believed, Srinivasan grew close to the late Murasoli Maran, who was DMK leader M Karunanidhi’s nephew. In the early 1990s, Srinivasan was able to make his way back into the company with the help of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which was then the ruling party in Tamil Nadu. According to a joke in Chennai, only three people can enter M Karunanidhi’s bedroom at any odd hour—his wife (the joke does not specify which), son Stalin, and Srinivasan.
Srinivasan eventually bought IDBI’s stake in India Cements. He also bought the shares owned by Shankarlingam’s grandson, N Shankar. In 2009, he consolidated his ownership, taking it to 28 per cent of all equity, by buying out his own brother N Ramachandran. It is said that Ramachandran, who was executive director of the cement maker, wanted to be associated with Chennai Super Kings (CSK), the IPL franchise owned by India Cements. But Srinivasan did not want him to have any role in the franchise. Eventually, Ramachandran was forced into selling his stake in India Cements.
Srinivasan, many say, is a deeply superstitious individual. He seeks advice from a well-known astrologer and vaastu consultant in Chennai called Vaastu Venkatesan. It is believed that former India captain Krishnamachari Srikkanth introduced the astrologer to AC Muthiah and later to Srinivasan. It is rumoured that the astrologer makes almost Rs 2 crore a year off Srinivasan.
According to some members of the TNCA, Srinivasan consults the astrologer for most new endeavours. When the Chepauk stadium was rebuilt, the temple on the west side of the ground, frequented by groundsmen, was moved to the east side so that it could bring good luck to the TNCA. A former member of the TNCA says, “Every time CSK play here, Venkatesan instructs the driver of the team bus to position the vehicle in a way that supposedly brings good luck. And before the start of a match, either Venkatesan or his deputy will recite prayers and draw a tantric triangle outside the boundary line so that it can facilitate a CSK victory.” The former TNCA member also says the astrologer had instructed Gurunath Meiyappan—Srinivasan’s son-in-law who’s in police custody till 31 May—not to sit with the team in the dugout during matches in the last edition of the IPL. He said this could bring him bad luck. But Srinivasan’s daughter, Rupa, overruled him.
Srinivasan also has an estranged son, Ashwin, a 44-year-old who lives with his partner Avi Mukherjee in Andheri, Mumbai. Ashwin is on record saying the filial rift was caused by his homosexuality, and it worsened once he met Avi in 1999. “Avi was threatened. I was kept in solitary confinement by [my father’s] henchmen,” Ashwin tells me. “He could not believe that his only son was homosexual and he believed he could treat me for it. For me, he is no less than a psychopath.” Last year, Ashwin accused his estranged father of using policemen in Mumbai to threaten and beat him up.
Dr RN Baba, the BCCI-appointed media manager of the Indian cricket team and an official of the TNCA known to be on Srinivasan’s side, says his boss is being unfairly targeted by the media. Baba says that Srinivasan might appear headstrong, but is one of the most capable presidents to have emerged at the BCCI. “As president, whatever money is earned from cricket, he shares with state associations,” says Baba. “When the IPL was held in South Africa, he took along a number of us from the TNCA to watch the tournament. He also paid us daily allowances. He does not need to do that.” Baba, incidentally, was the man who conducted the now notorious Dhoni press conference in Mumbai, where neither Baba nor Dhoni entertained any question about the betting controversy.
According to Srinivasan’s detractors, he uses the ample funds at his disposal to curry favour. A Tamil Nadu cricket insider says that he doles out money and positions freely to collect loyalists. “This is what he did in the TNCA, and this is what is happening at the BCCI. A number of subcommittees will be created, everyone will be given raises, and the state associations will be paid handsomely.”
A Muthiah loyalist at the TNCA recounts being told by Srinivasan that he had grand plans for him. One day, he was called in to Srinivasan’s office and offered a job at India Cements. He declined. “He likes people to grovel at his feet. And loyalists are always taken care of.” On another occasion, during the TNCA’s 2007 annual general meeting, a member, RV Radhakrishnan, came to the podium and delivered a lengthy speech where he castigated Muthiah and accused him of siphoning off money from the Association’s coffers. “Even when some of us raised objections, Srinivasan did not intervene,” says the Muthiah loyalist. Some TNCA members point out that Radhakrishnan’s son was later appointed travel assistant of the Indian cricket team and CSK.
Srinivasan loves power. Apart from being president of the TNCA and BCCI, he has headed the All India Chess Federation (AICF) in the past (1) and currently heads Tamil Nadu Golf Federation (TNGF). According to some in the TNCA, his current aim is to become president of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
In 2008, when Srinivasan became BCCI secretary and his company was already the owner of CSK, he did something that has raised eyebrows ever since. He had a clause amended in the BCCI constitution that could have obstructed this obvious conflict-of-interest. According to the earlier clause 6.2.4, players, administrators, managers, umpires and team officials could not have direct or indirect commercial interests in any BCCI event. Srinivasan’s amendment made an exception for the IPL, Champions League and Twenty20. The Supreme Court, however, is currently hearing a case of conflict-of-interest in this matter, filed by Muthiah, against Srinivasan.
A large number of TNCA members are former cricket players who have played in various divisions. According to a 64-year-old member whose father was also a member of the TNCA, general meetings in the relatively innocent past would sometimes continue for days. “Everyone was opinionated,” he says, “Everyone had a passion for the game.” However, when Srinivasan stepped in, this changed. Meetings would get over in less than an hour, and discussions were hardly ever encouraged. And that’s how it goes. “If we raise a point, he says he will look into it,” he says, “That’s it… nothing ever comes of it.”
(1) The article has been modified after it was published