about us
  areas of expertise
  our projects
  ideas & resources


  Index of Articles          Index of Perspectives            Next Article


It Ain’t Cricket!

Omkar Goswami


Let’s be frank. Over the last three weeks, we have been all glued to the news of Shashi Tharoor, Sunanda Pushkar, Lalit Modi and the Indian Premier League (IPL) scandals. I, for one, have been reading every story on it in the morning papers; following it up by scouring the weekly magazines; talking to those who could be in the know about juicy details; and engaging in arguments on the murky and byzantine world of the IPL. Finally I said to myself, “Even if this isn’t economics, why shouldn’t I write my two-paisa bit?” So, here goes.

Let’s begin with Tharoor, his lady and the Kochi IPL bid. None can deny Tharoor's desire to be involved with a lady from Dubai; nor his earnest longing to help Kerala get an IPL team. One can, however, fault him for three things. The first is tactics — specifically, his over-zealousness in being involved in almost all aspects of the bid. We know that ministers and politicians get deeply involved in many things, often beyond the pale of propriety. But they do so discreetly. It seems that Tharoor got involved far too explicitly. This is always dangerous, but especially so if you are a neophyte dealing with hardened, politically well connected wheeler-dealers like Lalit Modi. Second, there is the issue of Caesar’s wife. You can call it ‘sweat’ equity. But, to the world, a lady very close to you was slated to get Rs.70 crore in a deal that you were doing all you could to fructify. Excellent English mellifluously rendered cannot erase this stain in people’s minds. The third, is that by incessantly tweeting to the world, Tharoor had embarrassed Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh often enough. This was the last straw.

Now for the wheeling-dealing world of the abrasive and cocksure Lalit Modi. None can deny that he has created and sustained an outstanding brand, least of all his strongest detractor whose team won the IPL this year. Equally, none can claim Modi to be clean and gentle. He has known the power of patronage and money long before the IPL came into being. Ask anyone in the know about his days at the Rambagh Palace Hotel in Jaipur as Rajasthan’s chief intermediator under the rule of Vasundhara Raje. Modi knows how to collect money, and how to distribute it to whom and for what favours. Like many of the land, he has created a network of patronage and reciprocity; done so with multiple layers of opacity; and till three weeks ago, had bought everybody’s silence and acquiescence. Yes, many were annoyed by Modi’s rough behaviour; but they were beholden to him. And as far as the real political biggies were concerned, I reckon that Modi was not just a facilitator extraordinaire, but polite and fawning to boot.

All this unravelled with Tharoor. In his unchecked zeal to oust Kochi and get either Videocon or Adani in play, Modi embarrassed the Congress high command, and forced a ministerial resignation while Parliament was in session. So, he was, and is, being hit by a ton of bricks. Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel were weaned away from Modi. My guess is that it is a quid pro quo: “We know, but we’ll keep quiet” for “You get away from him, and be a more cooperative ally in the future”. Findings of tax raids have been systematically leaked. Rajasthan chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has been talking of Modi’s shenanigans as the ex-queen’s de facto chamberlain. People have come of the wood work to squeal on Modi.

It is not surprising that the bulk of the IPL board and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has been braying for Modi’s blood. Regarding the IPL board, it has been a strange case of self-discovery. For three years, it did no governance worth name, and gave Modi a totally free rein. One board member owned a team; two were commentators apparently paid $1 million per year; and so on. Today, after Sharad Pawar has distanced himself, there is free-for-all competition among all except I.S. Bindra to denounce Modi and claim that he was a self-serving, information hiding, money grafting scoundrel of the highest ilk! Vociferous righteousness has become the order of the day.

Finally, with a nexus of politicians, shadowy funders and promoters, round-tripping and exotic geographies like Mauritius, Channel Islands, Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Isle of Man, Lichtenstein and Bermuda, where will it all end? The answer is nowhere. Modi will be asked to renounce cricket and keep his tweet tightly shut. Some scapegoats will be found. A bunch of under-performing office bearers will run the IPL. Tharoor won’t be back. The news will die. We will return to the boredom of high GDP growth. With other sideshows.

For the IPL is India. And we are like that only.


Published: Business World, May 2010


                 Index of Articles          Index of Perspectives            Next Article