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UPA on the back foot as IPL pressure ratchets up

UPA on the back foot as IPL pressure ratchets up
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First Published: Sat, Apr 24 2010. 12 25 AM IST
Updated: Sat, Apr 24 2010. 12 25 AM IST
New Delhi: Even as political pressure mounted on the government and it expanded the scope of its investigation into the Indian Premier League (IPL), there were indications that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is now overseeing the process, said a person familiar with the developments.
Meanwhile, IPL commissioner Lalit Modi blinked and made a plea to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the apex cricket authority, for five more days to respond to all the questions raised against him.
Opposition parties stalled proceedings in the Lok Sabha and only allowed it to resume after Pranab Mukherjee, leader of the House and finance minister, assured members that the government would look into their demand. They sought the setting up of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into IPL.
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office, who asked not to be identified, said, “The Prime Minister is keen to have a transparent and proper investigation taking place.”
The government may come under fresh political pressure after Outlook, the weekly current affairs magazine, reported that the government had been tapping the phones of senior politicians. This included conversations between Sharad Pawar, agriculture minister, and IPL chief Modi. It also reported that phone calls of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, general secretary Prakash Karat, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh had been tapped in the last three years.
The JPC demand comes at a time when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is struggling to ensure a majority in the Lok Sabha to defeat cut motions on budgetary proposals expected to be moved by the Opposition on 27 April.
The initial signals from Congress leaders were mixed. “A JPC probe will block all other investigations. So why should we have it?” asked a minister in the government. In the Lok Sabha, finance minister Mukherjee said the government could take a decision only after “due diligence”.
Alleging that two ministers— Pawar and civil aviation minister Praful Patel, both of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) —were under a cloud for “gross misuse of power”, the Opposition sought a JPC probe.
“The whole issue should be probed. We feel investigating agencies will not be able to bring the truth to the fore,” said Sushma Swaraj, leader of the Opposition. Some opposition members even sought the resignations of the ministers. Similarly, CPM leader Basudeb Acharya also asked for the JPC to be constituted immediately.
The NCP, however, ruled out the resignation of their leaders.
Congress leaders admitted that the party and the government were “disturbed” over the developments that have “completely taken away the focus of the government from its policy initiatives and agenda”. Said a Congress general secretary: “The focus in the budget session should have been the economic policies of the government and its commitment to welfare measures.”
A crucial meeting of the IPL governing council has been called on 26 April by BCCI to discuss the issue.
It is not clear whether the council will hold the meeting as scheduled or give Modi the extra time he has requested.
Modi did not respond to repeated telephone calls and Sundar Raman, IPL’s chief operating officer, said he wanted to remain out of the controversy and “focus on the IPL finals”.
However, according to television reports, Raman was at the income tax office in Mumbai on Friday to submit documents relating to the owners of IPL teams, their balance sheets, income earned during the various tournaments and the money paid to players. The I-T department had asked IPL for the information some 10 days ago. Mint could not independently confirm if Raman was at the I-T office as he did not respond to phone calls and text messages during the day.
Meanwhile, World Sports Group (WSG), the co-owner of broadcast rights with Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd (MSM), which is supposed to have received $80 million (Rs356 crore today) as “facilitation money” from the broadcaster, clarified that its business deals were above board.
“MSM strongly refutes all unsubstantiated allegations of any impropriety in this matter, as incorrect and inaccurate,” MSM Satellite (Singapore) Pte. Ltd. said in a release. It said the facilitiation fee of Rs425 crore covered the extension of rights and compensation to “WSG Mauritius for returning its rights for IPL Season 2–10 to BCCI in favour of MSM.”
“As a consequence of these commercial negotiations, the net incremental amount attributable to WSG Mauritius giving up its IPL Indian subcontinent rights is Rs150 crore,” MSM said.
A statement issued by WSG’s public relations agency said that WSG “totally rejects unsubstantiated comments and innuendos about its business transactions... WSG denies reports that any executive or employee has received or admitted to receiving any monies other than in the normal course of business, or that WSG has used any funds received in connection with its sublicence of broadcast rights for inappropriate or unlawful activities.”
liz.m@livemint.com
Gouri Shah in Mumbai and PTI contributed to this story.
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First Published: Sat, Apr 24 2010. 12 25 AM IST
More Topics: UPA | Parliament | IPL | Pranab Mukherjee | JPC |