Jin mein ho jaate hain andaz-e-khuddai paida, humne dekha hai woh buth todh diye jaate – this line from Iqbal sums up the demolition derby underway in the IPL circus. Casualty number one was Shashi Tharoor, who had to be taken out kicking and screaming after telling NDTV’s Barkha Dutt unequivocally – I will not resign. In the Puff Daddy, sorry big daddy of puff jobs, replete with an emotional scowl, Tharoor wasn’t able to convince anyone watching of his innocence. Surprisingly, Barkha Dutt’s line of questioning was so tepid and innocuous that the interview appeared to be a farce. And farce it was, for as soon as the PM returned, it was game, set, match and championship to Lalit Modi.
Since then, Tharoor has spoken again in Parliament and nowhere has he addressed the issue of his relationship or the level of his involvement with the Kochi enterprise. And pray, why was his OSD Jacob Joseph present at the bidding, if he was only giving his blessings to the venture as a mentor? Anyway, Tharoor has walked into the sunset and since then, targeted in the media’s crosshairs is Lalit Modi, everyone’s favourite whipping boy at the moment. I was telling the head of a network only the other day over a cuppa tea that the media has forgotten Shoaib and Sania in a jiffy, obsessed as they have become with the more juicy Su, alias Pinky affair. He agreed. But media has a short memory. Let me tell you why I am saying this.
In 2008, when the first lot of eight bids was architected, all of us in the know were aware of Suresh Chellaram’s connection with Modi, just as we were aware of Mohit/ Gaurav Burman’s connection with the same Modi. Or Amar Bindra’s (son of Punjab Cricket Association strongman IS Bindra) presence in the Kings XI Punjab management eco-system. Or the fact that the treasurer of the BCCI, a leading southern industrialist N Srinivasan acquiring the Chennai franchise. Over time, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel’s daughter, Poorna, was made head of hospitality and marketing in the IPL. And so it carried on. It was one big happy family. A high table, strictly by invitation. Media was firmly in Modi’s corner and the smooth talking, linen suit attired IPL commissioner rode out one storm after another. This included many scrimmages within the BCCI, where cabals tried their level best to take down the unilateralist Modi. But he survived it all with great aplomb, realising at one level that he had Sharad Pawar minding his fortunes and at another, he was making more moolah for the Cricket Board than they had ever seen in their lives. The ongoing Income Tax survey of the IPL estimates that total income from Season 3 alone will be an astonishing Rs 1,170 crore, a net profit closer to Rs 573 and a tax liability of Rs 172.5 crore. How is that for big bucks?
Probity and propriety are at the core of the issue. There is also the question of shareholder and investor compliance. After all, as many as five of the eight existing franchises are public limited companies. Every day now is a new day, with new dirt emerging. But a lot of it sadly is well known and well documented. Unfortunately, elephants and camels have been brushed under the carpet and Modi, till recently media’s darling, has become the target of their collective ire. Take ET’s lead story on Tuesday morning: Rajasthan’s land deals at the centre of I-T probe on Modi. Good? No, lousy actually, for Outlook wrote a brilliant cover story last year on Modi, where they nailed him to the wall. The story, which appeared in the February 2009 issue, dealt with Modi’s highhandedness, his operating out of the Prince’s suite of Rambagh Palace Hotel, his proximity to Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje and in the main dealt with the fact that Modi functioned as a super chief minister in the state. It was a hit job, hatchet job, call it what you will, but Modi survived that too. ET’s story had no meat of consequence, it was nothing but a pale imitation of the real McCoy – the Outlook cover story. Let me give you a flavour of that Outlook story:
• He operated as a ‘Super Chief Minister’ from the opulent Rambagh Palace Hotel
• Used his proximity to then CM Vasundhara Raje to control key civil servants who would take files to his hotel suite
• Facilitated entry of big builders in the state. Every big land deal had to have his clearance
• Influenced change in the liquor policy, which led to the proliferation of liquor outlets. Became an election issue
• Had a finger in every pie, including mines
• Personally acquired havelis in Amer by bending the law
• Has an extravagant lifestyle, owns a private jet. Would stay for days in the luxury suite of the Rambagh Palace Hotel
• Influenced the enactment of the Rajasthan Sports Act to gain control over the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA)
• Accused of forging signature to become a member of the RCA
• Rode roughshod over anyone who crossed his path, whether it was a constable or an IPS officer. A slapping incident sparked a near-revolt in the Jaipur police
• Was named in an FIR for misappropriation of RCA funds. The money has subsequently been deposited with the RCA
• Convicted in the United States for possession of drugs and kidnapping in 1985
Now tell me, what additional information did ET write a year later as the lead story on the morning of Tuesday? Other than the fact that it quoted Ashok Ghelot, Chief Minister of Rajasthan. But, as I said, public memory is short and media memory suffers from selective amnesia off and on. Then, there was a fascinating ToI story on Tuesday itself, which dealt with the facilitation fee – $80 million – paid by WSG in Mauritius while renegotiating the IPL broadcast rights contract. The recipient being Modi. That story was a dead ringer and a sure shot for pole position, but I guess the fact that both bid documents of Videocon and Adani were missing was equally important. HT, as always, has been a washout, with the only story of consequence being the allusion to a senior Cabinet minister’s son-in-law being given sweat equity in the Videocon bid. But the display was pathetic. Logic says that Modi has to go, just as Tharoor had to go. But will he? Or will he drag the entire edifice of the BCCI, its apparatus and almost all the big players connected with it down with him? Pawar was Modi’s benefactor, he got him out of many a scrap. I am sure Modi has enough dirt on his fellow travelers in the Board and IPL. After all, he is also a Veep in the Board and heads its tours and fixtures committee as well. This time, the Congress wants revenge, it is seething at sacrificing Tharoor. Will it be quid pro quo? Modi for Tharoor to retain the code of silence or omerta over the BCCI’s functioning and finances? Both Modi and Tharoor at one level are flamboyant and arrogant. They believe in speaking their minds, both have a foot-in-the-mouth disease. Both are unilateralists. Both use Twitter. Tharoor survived many an attempt to destabilise him, just as Modi has survived many a palace putsch. Modi’s body language and lingua franca at the airport on his arrival from Dubai was combative, not one of someone cowed down or wounded in battle.
Does Modi have something left in the tank? Modi’s benefactor Pawar may have turned against him because he reckons he too might be singed by this IPL heat, but KK Modi’s scion has many powerful backers. His backers include franchise owners like Mukesh Ambani, Vijay Mallya, Shah Rukh Khan et al, who have clout and influence right to the top of the political pyramid in the Capital. Will Modi take the fall or will he be able to pull off another Houdini act? Monday will tell us.
(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.)