New Delhi: Minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor was summoned to the Prime Minister’s residence on Sunday night amid television news reports that his resignation was imminent after key leaders of the ruling Congress party met to decide his future.
The 54-year-old first-time member of Parliament from Kerala was meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his 7, Race Course Road residence at the time of going to press. It was their second meeting on Sunday.
Television channels reported that Tharoor was set to hand in his resignation over the controversy triggered by his associate Sunanda Pushkar being given “sweat equity” in the Kochi franchise of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Mint couldn’t immediately confirm the reports.
Key leaders of the Congress party met to decide the continuance of Tharoor in the government on Sunday evening as Pushkar offered to give up her Rs70 crore sweat equity.
The Congress core group headed by party president Sonia Gandhi met at the Prime Minister’s residence to take a call on Tharoor against the backdrop of the controversy over the Kochi team’s ownership. No immediate announcement was made after the meeting.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, defence minister A.K. Antony, home minister P. Chidambaram and Ahmed Patel, political secretary to the Congress president, are other members of the key leadership group.
Earlier on Sunday, the Congress appeared to be coming around to the view that Tharoor should go, but unable to decide on the timing because of political compulsions.
The Congress leadership wrestled with a dilemma stemming from apprehensions that it may be seen to be bowing to pressure from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led opposition, which demanded the resignation or ouster of Tharoor. “Such a move now would vindicate the Opposition’s stand that the minister’s statement in Parliament declaring innocence was wrong,” said a Congress minister, who did not want to be identified.
At the same time, the party did not want to be seen as backing Tharoor either. “No action on him also would set a bad precedent,” the same minister said. “Tomorrow if some other minister or an ally’s leader gets into such an issue, how can we take any stand?”
Retaining him in the government would be a potential risk given that the issue has united the Opposition at a time when the strength of the ruling United Progressive Alliance has been diminished by the loss of support of its allies, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Earlier on Sunday, Tharoor met the Prime Minister apparently to explain his position on the controversy sparked by allegations that he had helped his friend Pushkar to acquire the sweat equity in IPL’s Kochi franchise. Singh returned from an overseas trip on Saturday.
“The meeting lasted for almost 50 minutes. Neither has he offered to resign nor the Prime Minister sought it,” said a person close to the junior minister. The person didn’t want to be named.
Tharoor, who has described himself as a mentor to the Kochi team, has denied allegations that he had influenced the franchise’s decision to give Pushkar the sweat equity, which she claims had been awarded in return for services she would render in marketing the team and building its brand identity.
The Opposition has been gunning for Tharoor’s removal, alleging that he misused his office to get financial gains for his 48-year-old friend. The controversy was triggered when IPL commissioner Lalit Modi tweeted the Kochi team’s shareholding pattern.
Pushkar on Sunday “voluntarily” offered to surrender her stake in the Kochi franchise shortly after Tharoor met the Prime Minister.
“As a professional, I am shocked to find how easily certain parties with vested interests, questioned my credentials, mainly because I am a woman,” she said in a statement. “I, therefore, voluntarily offer to return to Rendezvous (Sports World Ltd) the sweat equity they had offered me. I do not intend to seek compensation for the efforts I have made so far for them. As a mother of a half-Malayalee son, I wish Kerala cricket well and I hope this team succeeds handsomely in IPL-4 and in the years to come.”
Describing Pushkar’s decision to give up her stake in the Kochi IPL team as immaterial, the BJP demanded the ouster of Tharoor.
“We demand that the Prime Minister sack Shashi Tharoor immediately,” BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
Meanwhile, chairman of the Kochi team Harshad Mehta met Modi in Dubai. “Kochi issue would be resolved. I am confident the Kochi team will continue and contribute to the success of IPL,” Modi told PTI.
Modi, who is in Dubai for a meeting of the International Cricket Council, said he had no personal issue either with the Kochi team owners or Tharoor.
“It is not Modi vs Tharoor. It is not BJP vs Congress or any other political party or political leader. My priority is cricket and we would resolve the entire issue at the earliest,” said Modi, who declined to comment on Pushkar’s sweat equity.
Santosh K. Joy contributed to this story.