This one is about propriety, ethicality, legality, legitimacy and, of course, the truth. It also has hefty doses of verbal action, emotion, romance and, of course, that vital ingredient – factional rivalry. All in all, the makings of a climactic potboiler. All ready for wear. And one that media is lapping up excitedly. When the winning bid from Rendezvous for Kochi IPL team was confirmed, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor had magnanimously stated that he had given his blessings to the consortium and, “beyond that, I had no role to play. I understand it’s a business decision”. But over the weekend, a mini-explosion took place with the same weapon of mass destruction that almost brought the downfall of Tharoor - tweeting - being used with surgical precision.
Social messaging is obviously a new tool, or should I call it weapon, which has enormous potential. Tharoor or Mr Twitter managed to survive each and every controversy using this tool, but Lalit Modi’s tweets may well inflict heavy punishment on him now. The Congress party has already begun to distance itself from Tharoor, while the BJP is readying to launch an assault against the same man, asking for his resignation. Don’t forget that Parliament also reopens after the recess, so expect some more hungama. The last has certainly not been heard of this matter. What this latest controversy can do is envelope the entire IPL team ownership structures and perhaps result in greater transparency. Or maybe that is asking for too much for the levels of opacity associated with IPL are nothing short of staggering.
But even as Modi versus Tharoor slugfest escalates, there is another subset that needs our attention. There are powerful cabals within the BCCI, which have been wanting to take Modi down a notch or two. La affaire Rendezvous has given them a handle once again. Smooth talking Modi was given an email lashing by Board President Shashank Manohar, where he said, “Your making such statements is detrimental to the interests of the Board.” According to Manohar, the proper forum for underlining ownership structures is the IPL Governing Council platform, which Modi very tacitly chose to ignore. He opted for a viral messaging platform instead, throwing into stark relief the importance of social media like Twitter, Facebook, Orkut, Buzz, et al. Manohar now wants to discuss this entire episode at the Governing Council meeting in all probability on April 23.
While Tharoor’s bluff has been called in this entire matter due to the complicity of his ‘wife to be’ Sunanda Pushkar, who reportedly owns 18-20 per cent of the free shares in Rendezvous Sports World, it throws up a larger question of propriety. Sunanda Pushkar’s role in this entire episode is crucial. The fact that she works as sales manager with Tecom Investments, a member of Dubai Holdings, opens up a Pandora’s Box. The Indian Express reported that of the 1,000 shares allotted to the “free” equity owners, 190 have been awarded to Pushkar; 24 to Gulati, 16 to Kotalwar, eight each to Aggarwal and Prasad; 377 to Kishan, 376 to Pushpa and 1 to Shailendra Gaikwad. The other shareholders of the team include: Anchor Earth (27 per cent), Film Waves (12 per cent), Parinee Developers (26 per cent), Anand Shah Developers (8 per cent) and Vivek Venugopal (1 per cent). Modi, in his Twitter message on April 11, said: “Who are the shareholders of Rendezvous. And why have they been given this 100s of million dollar bonanza.” When contacted, Keshav T of Rosy Blue Diamond, which backs Film Waves, said: “There is a component of sweat equity given to Rendezvous as they were the ones who put together the consortium and will be full-time working partners.” Yes, who are these people? From the time that Rendezvous surfaced with the humongous bid of $333.33 million, they have been the cynosure of all eyes. And questions?
The ramifications of Modi’s tweets are going to resonate for sometime. Its impact will be felt not just by Tharoor in politics, but on Rendezvous’ continuity as a team, Modi’s clout and influence in the Cricket Board, but generally speaking its fallout, may well hurt other franchise owners as they might be pressurised into coming clean on their shareholding. Remember that lead investor in Emerging Media, owner of Rajasthan Royals is Suresh Chellaram, Modi’s brother-in-law, or Kings XI Punjab co-owner Mohit Burman’s brother Gaurav is Modi’s step son-in-law. Tharoor, meanwhile, is caught in a maelstrom of his own making. He might be bellicose now, saying that Modi’s tweets are “an extraordinary breach of all propriety” and designed to discredit the franchise. Modi, too, has been in the line of Manohar and Srinivasan’s fire for his unilateralism. He has often been bailed out by Sharad Pawar. Manohar’s mail to Modi has a strident sounding line to it, “The issue, if any, could have been discussed at the governing council meeting and that action on your part of raising it on Twitter is unbecoming of you as a chairman of the a sub-committee of the board. Your action is in serious breach of the confidentiality clause in the agreement. Till date, you have made public statements about a lot of issues, which were not even discussed in the meetings of the governing council, when it is the governing council which has the authority to take decisions with regard to each and every issue related to IPL.”
But Modi is combative and resilient. He responded to Manohar’s letter by saying his revelations on Twitter were “in no way a breach of confidentiality”. He said that the Kochi franchise “had a lot to hide” and as such have lied about who are the actual owners of the shares. Modi seems to be right in pulling the plug on Rendezvous, more so because Tharoor reportedly called him to prevent him from outing Sunanda’s name. Oh yes, the waters are muddied. “I was told not to get into who owns Rendezvous, specially Sunanda
Pushkar. Why?” asked Modi. Agencies reported that, “Tharoor had all along denied having a stake in the Kochi franchise, saying he played merely a facilitator’s role. In a lengthy rejoinder on Tuesday, Tharoor denied calling Modi and requesting him not to disclose details of the RSW stakeholders.
But there is another facet to this fur flying. For instance, media personnel got an earful on Tuesday when they assembled outside the home of retired army officer PN Dass, whose daughter Sunanda is at the centre of the Kochi Indian Premier League (IPL) controversy for her reported share of Rs 70 crore. Dass’ house in Sector 5 of Channi Himmat locality was the focus of media attention after news reports about Sunanda, who has business interests in Dubai, and her purported links with Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor hit the headlines.
Journalists who gathered for a quote or a soundbite or two were greeted by abuse from Sunandas father, Lt Col (retd) Dass. He first told camerapersons and reporters to go away. When they continued to hurl questions, he used abusive language. The family had migrated to Jammu in 1990 when their house was burnt down by militants in Bommai in Sopore in the Kashmir Valley. More than 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits had fled the Valley. They had sought shelter in Jammu, as did Sunanda’s family.
Finally, who is this lady in Tharoor’s life?
Another media story went like this, “Sunanda Pushkar, who is seen with Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor at social gatherings and is in the thick of the Kochi IPL row, is involved with a construction business in Dubai, and had been with her parents in Mathura recently. Following a divorce, Pushkar went to Dubai, where she married again. Her second husband died in an accident in Delhi. Pushkar, a graduate of Government College for Women, Srinagar, has two brothers, one of whom works for a bank; the other is in the Army. Her father retired from the Army in 1983.”
This one has all the juice. Expect more. And with allegations of Modi cooking up this broth to trump Rendezvous’ Kochi bid for Ahmedabad gaining currency, be prepared for more dirt. Rendezvous has already reacted by calling Modi a drug peddler… so, watch out, many blind curves ahead.
(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.
The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)