We did not state things we couldn't corroborate'
Justice Mukul Mudgal has not only helmed a committee probing betting in cricket — he is also a great enthusiast of the game. Sonia Sarkar meets the former chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court
- Published 16.02.14
It's official. Cricket is in a mess, and newspapers and television can't have enough of the report that's indicted a cricket boss's son-in-law. But the man who headed the committee that prepared the report — former chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Mukul Mudgal — is calm in the midst of the storm.
"Everyone is talking about the report, but I don't want to talk about it anymore," says Mudgal, 65, dressed in a blue checked blazer with a grey sweater and a pair of dark grey trousers.
Indeed, the report is the talk of the town. It has held Gurunath Meiyappan, the son-in-law of N. Srinivasan (president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India — BCCI), guilty of betting in Indian Premier League (IPL) matches.
But it's not just the report that's in the news. A so-called rift among the three members of the committee — Mudgal, additional solicitor general L. Nageshwar Rao and Assam Cricket Association member Nilay Dutta — is also being talked about. Two reports were presented to the Supreme Court which set up the Mudgal committee to look at Meiyappan's role in the matches last summer. One was jointly filed by Mudgal and Rao and the other by Dutta. Mudgal did not sign the Dutta report; Dutta did not sign the Mudgal report.
The grapevine has it that Mudgal had no idea Dutta was filing a supplementary report. "Don't be silly," he had told a confidant when he was informed about it.
He doesn't want to talk about it now. "The very purpose of a three-member committee is to have a different point of view," is all that he'll say. "Let the Supreme Court decide which report to accept."
The former judge's critics say his report has said nothing new, as it mostly asks for "further investigations" into many issues related to betting.
"I agree that our report is not revolutionary," Mudgal says. "We did not state things we couldn't corroborate."
Dutta, on the other hand, has said that six players who were in the Indian team were involved in fixing IPL games. Dutta has also suggested that the BCCI should adopt a "zero tolerance policy" in matters of corruption.
But Mudgal holds that the BCCI is "the best run sports body in the country." He also praises Srinivasan. "During Srinivasan's tenure, cricketers benefited monetarily. Also, in the arena of international cricket, Srinivasan has been able to establish the strength of India which is proportional to its contribution," he says.
Some media reports suggest that a sealed note — mentioning Dhoni's name in the betting scandal — has been given to the Supreme Court by the Mudgal committee. "I cannot say anything about a matter that is confidential," stresses Mudgal, who loves Dhoni's "cool temperament" and "innovative captaincy".
Clearly, Mudgal is wary about being misquoted. Through the interview, he stops every now and then when he feels he has said something controversial and requests that he not be quoted. And he urges me to delete some portions from the taped interview.
Is he worried that he may be harmed because cricket is now such a murky and dangerous field?
Mudgal laughs. "No, no. I have no fear at all," he says. "As a judge, I have dealt with many sensitive cases. If you fear, you cannot decide."
But what about former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi's remarks that Mudgal was being followed by people in three Audi cars and several motorbikes who were covertly recording his movements during his visit to London earlier this month?
"I only wish I had known that Audi cars were trailing me. I would have very happily sat in one of them instead of travelling by train or taxi," he says wryly.
Mudgal, I realise, is a great cricket buff as he opens up during the interview. Though he once watched a T20 match at Lord's in England, he is devoted to Test cricket and feels that the IPL has in many ways spoiled young cricketers.
"I am not saying ban the IPL but players have got too much wealth at a very young age because of the IPL. This is leading them astray," Mudgal feels.
Mudgal takes a call — presumably from a journalist who wants to know about the rift between the committee members — and when he hangs up, he indicates he's had enough of cricket talk.
"Why don't you ask me about my life," he asks. "You know, I am the first and last lawyer in the family."
His mother, he adds, wanted him to continue with science after he graduated in chemistry from Delhi's Hindu College. She thought only "rowdies" studied law. But despite her misgivings, he joined Delhi University's faculty of law in 1969. "I pursued law because I always had a special thing for underdogs," says Mudgal, who was earlier this week appointed the chairperson of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council, which deals with issues that private television channels face.
Along with law, he loves music. His father, Pandit Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, set up the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Delhi — an institute where classical music was and is taught. His brother and sister are acclaimed classical artistes — Madhup is a singer and Madhavi a dancer.
"I used to play the mandolin in school. My talent in music is limited to that. But I am a great listener and admirer of classical music," Mudgal, who studied at Delhi's Modern School, adds.
Love for music brought him and vocalist Shubha Mudgal together. They met in the late 1970s when she performed at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. He was 29, a practising lawyer, and she was 20. They fell in love and were married in 1982. The marriage, however, didn't last.
Their son, Dhaval, lives with his father and sings for a rock band called Half Step Down. "I raised him by myself since he was five. But I enjoyed every bit of being a single parent," he says.
Mudgal has inculcated a love for cricket and football in his son. "When he was a kid, I used to tempt him with a pack of chips to take him to a cricket match." When he did well in a pre-board examination in 2002, the fond father took him to watch a one-day International match between India and England at Calcutta's Eden Gardens. "I thought that would be an unusual gift to my son," he smiles.
The retired judge himself started watching cricket when he was all of five. Mudgal recalls watching a Test match between India and the West Indies at Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla when he was 11. "Those days, a season ticket would cost Rs 8. I bought one but was late every day, so I had to watch the entire match standing."
It's Mudgal's love for cricket that prompted him to write Law and Sports in India, Development Issues and Challenges. He is also a member of the court of arbitration for sport, a quasi-judicial international body which settles disputes related to sport, in Lausanne, Switzerland. He also drafted India's National Sports Development Bill which seeks to bring all sports federations, including the BCCI, under the purview of the Right to Information Act.
In 1989, he, along with the former attorney general, Soli J. Sorabjee, represented in the Supreme Court a group of Indian cricketers who had been banned from playing cricket. Among them was Mohammed Azharuddin. "I was a great fan of his and was hurt that he was among the banned cricketers."
In legal circles, Mudgal is respected and often described as a "sensitive" judge. Actress Karisma Kapoor and Delhi businessman Sanjay Kapur's divorce case came up before him in 2005 when he was a judge at the Delhi High Court. He had then said: "There could be nothing better for the child if the matter is settled. Marriage is usually a heavy chain that takes three to carry — the husband, wife and the child."
He admits that this perspective on marriage and divorce is drawn from his own life. "A personal life experience often gives a perspective to a case. A judge will be useless if he doesn't use that perspective," he says.
I ask him about corruption in the judiciary. Though cautious on the subject, he is critical of the way judges are appointed through a collegium. "I really regret the way the collegium is functioning now, with only favourites getting a chance. I strongly believe that a judge's elevation to the Supreme Court should happen only on the basis of merit, not on the basis of seniority," he says.
Mudgal, who opposes post-retirement appointments of judges, did not accept any posts that were offered to him after he retired. "I want to do things that I want to do," he says.
And this is exactly what he is doing these days. A great fan of Sherlock Holmes, he loves reading detective novels. Currently, he is reading former Australian cricketer Michael Hussey's Underneath the Southern Cross. A great foodie, Mudgal loves street food, especially golgappas (phuchkas). "When I was in the court in Chandigarh, my niece took me to a market to have golgappas. I went without any security. I love this kind of life."
As I prepare to leave, he reminds me once again that some parts of the conversation should be kept off the record. I assure him that I would do so. But, for a judge, seeing is believing. "Send me a copy please," Mudgal says. And that's an order.