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A league of their own

india Updated: Apr 22, 2010 17:56 IST
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Government doctors are severely restricted in seeing patients outside their places of work.

Even so, the quest for extra money sometimes gets the better of them. This has led to ‘private practice’ becoming a charming euphemism for anybody exploiting his regular responsibilities for a fast buck.

At the root of the Indian Premier League (IPL) mess are three individuals, two with a high profile and the third unknown till recently. Even so, common to them is the perception of ‘private practice’. Whatever their bravado before carefully-selected television cameras, both Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi have a lot of explaining to do. On his part, Shailendra Gaikwad, the sacked CEO of the Rendezvous consortium that won the IPL’s Kochi franchise, has to dispel the notion that the corporate structure he put together was not institutionalised embezzlement.

Begin with Tharoor. Through the many controversies, usually trivial, he has been involved in since he became a minister, Tharoor’s defence has been that India and the Indian media have misunderstood him, his sensibility and his vocabulary. Others have pointed out there is a disconnect between a man who has lived abroad for 35 years and the country he has come back to.

None of this is relevant to the IPL debate. A minister goes around introducing a lady to social friends and political colleagues as his future wife. Then, he ‘mentors’ a collective of business interests and urges it to bid (and win) a prized sports franchise. The lady, with a professional reputation that can only politely be described as hitherto under-reported, ends up with 5 per cent equity free of cost.

Such an episode would have been considered a conflict of interest anywhere. In the United States and Britain as well, it would have led to a media storm. Consider an analogy. Tony Blair, as prime minister, makes a public statement saying he supports and ‘mentors’ a British consortium’s bid to win the right to build a new European Union office complex in Brussels. After it wins, the company gives away 5 per cent of its equity free to Cherie Blair and claims this is advance payment for legal services the lady will render. Would even Tharoor have found it believable?

For the most part, the composition of the Kochi consortium is above board. There is the family behind Anchor Electricals, whose products are in about every home in middle India; there is a diamond magnate with facilities stretching from Mumbai to Antwerp. These people put in the money for the $333.33 million IPL bid. Yet at some point Shailendra Gaikwad, the promoter/‘CEO’ of Rendezvous Sports World, the entity at the core of the consortium, hijacked the enterprise.

Consider what Gaikwad did that was just not on. He unilaterally appointed his cousin, Satyajit Gaikwad, as Kochi franchise ‘spokesperson’. In a clumsy attempt to protect Tharoor, Satyajit accused Narendra Modi and Vasundhara Raje of conspiring against Kochi. Satyajit is a former Congress MP; he was removed as All India Congress Committee secretary after a financial scandal in Andhra Pradesh. In seeking to convert the Tharoor squabble into a Congress-BJP battle, he was not acting on party orders. He was only covering up for cousins and cronies. It was pure, undiluted private practice.

The Gaikwads insisted no favours had been done to Tharoor’s ‘girlfriend’ (to borrow an expression Satyajit used on television). She was given sweat equity in anticipation of services over the coming years. However, she was not an employee of the company — as sweat equity recipients legally should be — but an external consultant. Interestingly, among those given ‘free’ or ‘sweat’ equity in exactly the same fashion are Pushpa and Kisan Gaikwad, Shailendra’s parents. Kisan is a retired irrigation official and Pushpa a home-maker. What services will they be rendering to the Kochi IPL team and for how long?

Finally, there’s Lalit Modi, the commissioner of the IPL who can be matched in self-promotion only by Tharoor. It is now fairly obvious that Modi was handing out ‘informal guidance’ to potential bidders. Was he talking up the market, incorrect as even that would have been, or was he creating conditions for specific bids to be successful? In this context, Tharoor’s terming of Modi as someone who presented himself as a “trusted friend” and “guided us through the process” is telling.

Was similar ‘guidance’ offered to bidders when the eight original franchises were sold in 2008? Is Kochi the only franchise with multiple proxy ownership suspicions — another person is supposed to be standing in for a Mumbai-based former cricketer — or does this cosy matrix extend to other teams? In handing out jobs and contracts at the IPL, did Modi invite tenders, issue job ads or did he just do as he pleased? In ‘guiding’ bidders and, initially, attempting to fix parameters so that only two bids were valid for — coincidentally — two franchises, was he acting on behalf of two powerful ministers who were themselves ‘mentoring’ teams? Is corporate governance alien to the IPL?

Like Tharoor and the Gaikwads, Modi can’t pretend the questions aren’t genuine. Maybe the IPL would be better off without them. Right now it resembles a gravy train.

Ashok Malik is a political commentator

The views expressed by the author are personal