New Delhi: The spat between Indian Premier League (IPL) commissioner Lalit Modi and the owner of the new Kochi team became nastier on Tuesday and is rapidly acquiring political contours.
On a day of rapid developments that saw a fusillade of allegations and counter-allegations, a public interest litigation was filed before the Supreme Court asking it to order a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the issue.
Meanwhile, IPL’s owner, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), has convened a special meeting to defuse the problem.
The conflict has already put minister of state for external affairs and Congress Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor on the defensive, forcing him to issue a statement denying Modi’s allegations about his involvement with the Kochi team.
Joining the issue, the Congress’ main rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has, just two days before Parliament is to resume the Budget session, termed Tharoor’s alleged association with team owner Rendezvous Sports World Ltd a “copybook case of corruption” and asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to “sack” Tharoor. The party also demanded that the “entire nature” of the transaction be investigated by CBI.
In a statement posted on his website (www. tharoor.in), Tharoor, who has maintained that he has no shareholding in the consortium that won the Kochi franchise and is a sort of patron of the team, said: “Various attempts were made by Modi and others to pressure the consortium members to abandon their bid in favour of another city in a different state. Modi raised assorted objections to the bid documents, but finally had no choice but to approve them.”
Taking strong exception to the insinuations that Tharoor had more than just a friendly association with the owners of the Kochi team, the minister added: “His (Modi’s) extraordinary breach of all propriety in publicly raising issues relating to the composition of the consortium and myself personally is clearly an attempt to discredit the team and create reasons to disqualify it so that the franchise can be awarded elsewhere.”
Neither Modi nor IPL chief executive Sundar Raman responded to phone calls seeking comment.
The controversy erupted on Friday after questions were raised on the shareholding structure of the Rendezvous consortium. Although the team signed the agreement with BCCI the next day, Modi posted the details of the consortium’s shareholding on his Twitter account, allegedly breaking a confidentiality clause. The tweet triggered heated email exchanges between Modi, Vivek Venugopal of Rendezvous and BCCI officials.
The controversy acquired a sharper hue when in a tweet, Rajasthan Cricket Association secretary Sanjay Dixit asked Modi to “disclose the details about your brother-in-law and step-son and their back-door entries into (the ownership of the) Jaipur IPL (team).” Dixit is a long-time Modi rival and won an election against the IPL commissioner last year.
Meanwhile, the Kochi team has threatened legal action against Modi if his statements on Twitter are “not retracted” and the ownership structure of other teams is not “disclosed”.
In an attempt to defuse the crisis, Rajeev Shukla, chairman of the finance and media committee, BCCI, and Congress lawmaker said that “everybody was free to take anybody to court” and that the issue would be resolved “at the next governing council meeting (of BCCI) to be convened within 10 days.”
With the issue acquiring a political hue with the involvement of the high profile minister, Congress president Sonia Gandhi held separate meetings with Shukla and S.M. Krishna, Tharoor’s senior minister.
Shukla said the meeting had nothing to do with the current controversy over the IPL team, though in his statement to reporters immediately after he exited, he said, “BCCI president (Shashank Manohar) has decided to convene an IPL governing council meeting within 10 days to discuss all the issues and take a decision.”
Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed rejected BJP’s demand for Tharoor’s resignation and denied the controversy was an embarrassment to the party.
Meanwhile, a Supreme Court advocate, Ajay Agrawal, filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court alleging that Tharoor used his influence to obtain a 5% stake (valued at Rs70 crore) in the Kochi team for Sunanda Pushkar, a close friend. No date has been fixed for the hearing.
Santosh K. Joy and Manish Ranjan of Mint, and PTI contributed to this story.