By Malladi. RAMA RAO
Brinkmanship of an unusual kind is in full display on the national scene, all courtesy, Lalit Modi- Shashi Tharoor face off that had resulted in the exit of the former UN diplomat from the corridors of South Block where he was the junior minister in UPA-2, and the eclipse of a failed businessman from a business family from the high profile Cricket League. Just as Tharoor para-dropped on the political mainstream, Lalit Modi is a lateral entrant with a chip on his shoulder. So in a sense the dooms day was there waiting for them.
Fall-out of the Tharoor-Modi saga has thrown up the dangers to the Indian polity which appeared to have vanished into thin air after the brief interlude with authoritarianism. The Congress appears to think, and by extension the Manmohan Singh government too that they must show how strong the party and the government are. Otherwise the tax hounds would not have been allowed to go on the prowl, and the sleuths deployed after the ‘rivals’ to tap their telephones and intercept their SMSs.
Both the CPI (M) and the BJP have immediately gone to the town with the war cry democratic system is being subverted. Sharad Pawar, the Food Minister and NCP chief, is quite on the issue though his phone too has been tapped as he was talking on the phone with the beleaguered IPL commissioner. May be that has some thing to do with the numbers game in his home state, Maharashtra, where the odds are firmly in his NCP favour. How far the Mumbai numbers will give insurance cover to Pawar is unclear as leaking roofs have become taps in the national capital to show that Sharad Pawar and his protégé, Prafulla Patel, ‘the Beedi King’ have their hands in the IPL Till.
Pawar, Patel, Modi and Tharoor, though not necessarily in that order, have to bear the cross for the mess that the IPL has turned out to be. As the Indian Cricket’s strong man Pawar has much to answer. All the blame for the IPL mess ends at his desk. Because it was because of him, Lalit Modi was able to create the carnival cricket where not batting but betting, not dancing on the crease but dancing in the club house, not cheering crowds but cheer brigade in bikinis became the order of the day for the past two years.
Yes, Modi’s business model has brought riches to some, TRPs to the news channels, and front benches to several money bags, who have a craving for the lime light that comes in the Indian context only to those who rub the shoulders of the high and mighty in the land. In the process he has acquired a larger than life-image and style. And the IPL creator became the destroyer like the Bhasmasura of the Hindu mythology.
The spark that ignited the Modi’s Bhasmasura streak was Tharoor’s refusal to honour a request that a Miss South Africa’s visa for IPL shows should not be extended. Why Modi was against the South African beauty remains wrapped in an IPL mystery but what is abundantly clear is that he found a Tharoor soft underbelly in the Dubai based Kashmiri Sunanda Pushkar.
Shashi Tharoor, as a public servant, should have been discreet in helping (mentoring as he likes to call the putting together) the IPL Kochi franchise. He was not. As a minister he cannot afford to be brazen in what is public-private dealing. But he was. He could have kept his staff at arms length from the exercise. He did not. As his friend and well-wisher, Sunanda should have avoided the sweat equity of Rs. 70 crore plus. She did not. So, when a Bhasmasura in the making tweeted the Sunanda sweat equity, Tharoor became a public liability to the Congress. He has to begin his political career denovo since he has decided to make Thiruvananthapuram his Karma Bhoomi.
The Congress in 2010 is not cut in the good old 1969 mould of unwilling to sacrifice a pawn at the behest of the opposition. These days, the Grand Old Party is more than willing to throw the baby with the bathtub. In the process it is putting a price for the action. ‘Because we have sacrificed one of ours, you (opposition) too should axe one of yours’. Eye-for-eye theory, one may say.
Otherwise, Sharad Pawar would not have been summoned to a session with Pranab Mukherjee- Palaniappan Chidambaram even as the Modinama was in the process of bursting with its full force. Seen against the latest Outlook scoop on phone tapping of Pawar et al, the Pranabda – Chida mouthful to Pawar can be interpreted as a politics of impatience.
There is no gainsaying that Sharad Pawar and his protégé have much to explain. Both are not successful role models as ministers and their charges – agriculture and civil aviation – are in a mess. As the investigations thus far have shown, Pawar’s son-in-law has an equity share in a media company that has been doing business with IPL. The share might have come to him from his father but he cannot deny that as Indian Cricket Tsar’s family member, he is bound by the adage – Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion.
Prafulla Patel is in a different league altogether. His daughter is with IPL’s hospitality department and forwarded to her father the cost estimates on a franchise. Patel’s case is that Tharoor wanted the details and so he had them from Modi. He is silent and so is Modi as to why Modi’s office did not forward the details to Patel. Why should his daughter come into the picture?
This is what strengthens the case of insider trading in all IPL that has come to represent. Even the Pawar phone tap was to trap the ‘insider’ bug. Sharad Pawar is known for his contacts with the business families and builder mafias. To his credit, it must be said, he never hides these links. The presence of the powerful Adani and Videocon groups pushes him into the grey area, even though the two groups lost their IPL bids because ‘sweat equity’ were involved for those with power and patronage.
Undoubtedly, Lalit Modi is the architect of the Indian Premier League. Its success has given the BCCI enough resources to promote five-day cricket, as Tiger (Mansur Ali Khan) Pataudi told the NDTV’s Barkha Dutt in an interview. He, along with former Test cricketer Sunil Gavaskar, is a member of the IPL governing council. He has an interesting reason for the IPL’s fall from grace. The Governing Council, Pataudi frankly admitted, did not examine things closely as ‘things were moving smoothly’.
Pataud’s admission throws up the road for IPL cricket’s nirvana. More close scrutiny of the way franchises are put in place, and the matches are organised is needed as the I-Tax department claims that match-fixing is rampant in the T20 league and that some senior players are influencing juniors to fix outcome of games. In terms of brand value, IPL today is a Rs. 6000 crore enterprise. And the betting during each match is estimated at around Rs 500 crore.
Some members of the underworld are believed to have secretly invested in teams. IPL hot money is said to have come in through the Mauritius route. Betting is something any popular sport has to live with. It is difficult to check. It should however be possible to regulate by officially allowing it. Like a lottery. The State stands to benefit from the most popular sport thus.
Even a panwala is a cricket selector in this country, volunteering his sound advice to anyone who cares to listen, Raj Singh Dungarpur said when Jimmy Amarnath famously called the Selectors as a bunch of jokers. So much being the intensity of people’s participation in the game, there is an urgency to put more checks and balances for Indian Cricket to survive. Government control is not the answer, though the Sports Minister M S Gill is clamouring for BCCI under his wings. His ministry has very little to show by way of its achievements. Whatever spurts of growth have been witnessed down the years it was a result of individual efforts and an occasional contribution by federations.
BCCI is no Indian Hockey Federation. It has been running the game fairly competently for the past eight decades. Now that Cricket has become the unacknowledged national game, the Board should throw itself to public scrutiny. Not Parliamentary scrutiny or the government scrutiny of the kind the nation has witnessed from mid-April. Judiciary may be asked to step in. There are many judges who are very passionate about the game. Long years ago, Sunny Gavaskar himself knocked at the apex court when he and his team were at logger heads with the BCCI. Why not now again when the entire nation is at logger heads with the Cricket Tsars.