Fly in the soup

Published : May 21, 2010 00:00 IST

in New Delhi

FLIES would naturally flock to jaggery but sometimes a few get sucked in by the sweet pulp, causing injuries and even death, Kirti Azad, the cricketer-turned-politician, said, seeing an analogy between jaggery and the attractive IPL deals. He has enough credentials in both cricket and politics to put the stamp of authority on such a statement with reference to the murky, nay sticky, financial wheeling and dealing in the IPL. Kirti Azad, a member of the Indian squad that won the 1983 World Cup, belongs to an illustrious political family of Bihar. His father Bhagwat Jha Azad was a Union Minister and the Chief Minister of Bihar. Kirti Azad is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of the Lok Sabha from the Darbhanga constituency in Bihar.

The first fly to become a victim was Shashi Tharoor, the Minister of State for External Affairs, who was forced to resign in the wake of the controversy over his friend Sunanda Pushkar owning a 4.9 per cent sweat equity in the new Kochi IPL franchise. Investigations by various agencies into other IPL activities have shown that those who held franchises in the last three seasons included politicians, corporate entities and individuals.

Many a political fly have allegedly flocked to the IPL jaggery. Important names mentioned in this connection include two Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) politicians: Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and Lok Sabha member Supriya Sule, who is also the daughter of party president and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. Allegations have linked Praful Patel and Supriya Sule, through their relatives, with two corporate giants who failed to win the bid for the 2011 IPL franchises.

Tharoor, on his part, asserted in Parliament through a statement in the Lok Sabha that he had not done anything improper or unethical, let alone illegal. He said, I am new to Indian politics, but have a long record of public service unblemished by the slightest tint of financial irregularity, and added that he had led a life of personal integrity. These assertions have been classified by his political opponents such as Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP as well as some of his own colleagues in the Congress as a calculated display of injured innocence. Tharoors track record in public service is not free from allegations and hence this show of injured innocence does not cut much ice, Ravi Shankar Prasad told Frontline.

A former ministerial colleague of Tharoors pointed out that even during his stint in the United Nations, the MP from Thiruvananthapuram had faced a few allegations. One of these related to Tharoors defence of Kojo Annan, the son of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, when the Iraq oil-for-food scandal hit the headlines.

Tharoor, who was Under Secretary-General under Kofi Annan at that time, had apparently taken up the defence of Kojo Annan through interventions in the media, including through the publication of letters. These interventions, his former colleague said, were criticised by many international affairs experts as also the media as a deliberate attempt to deflect the voices being raised against the way in which the oil-for-food exercise was carried out.

The investigations carried out by Paul Volcker, ultimately found that the programme had been marred by widespread corruption and abuse, although the complicity of Kofi Annan in it was denied. Tharoors manoeuvres during his U.N. days to move Christa Giles, later his wife, to a department under his control had also raised eyebrows within the U.N. firmament.

Whatever be the final take on Tharoors protestations of innocence and the criticism voiced by his political opponents and detractors, the fact remains that the Kochi IPL franchise was the first IPL entity in which a sweat equity component was discovered and discussed openly. Tharoor himself has admitted that he was a mentor to the Kochi franchise. According to sources close to the partners in the franchise, Tharoor got involved with the mentoring process right from the time IPL announced that it was planning to invite two new franchises to join the league. Apparently, he was even involved in the efforts to form a consortium of investors under the banner of Rendezvous Sports World.

There are also indications that Lalit Modi, the suspended IPL chairman and commissioner, had sought to discourage the attempts of the Kochi consortium to make a bid for the franchise. According to a number of persons involved with the Kochi franchise, even misinformation was spread as part of this dissuasion exercise. It was indicated to us that only $299 million was required for a successful bid. Luckily, Tharoor was informed by some former cricketers that the amount required would be to the tune of $322 million. This helped us overcome the misinformation campaign and win the franchise finally, but when we did that we were pressured to abandon our bid, first through bribes and later through intimidation, which included threats to initiate public interest litigation against the consortium, an associate of Rendezvous Sports World told Frontline.

It was in the context of all this mentoring from Tharoor that the controversial sweat equity, to the tune of Rs.70 crore, was allocated to his Dubai-based friend Sunanda Pushkar in the Kochi franchise. In Parliament, the entire opposition, led by the principal opposition BJP, raised the point that the grant of sweat equity to Sunanda Pushkar clearly constituted a case under Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, on the premise that a public servant abused his office of public service and obtained for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage.

Ravi Shankar Prasad said that it was obvious that Tharoor had charged a consideration for his service rendered to the Kochi franchise and that the said consideration was valuable shareholding parked in the name of someone close to him.

Tharoors other Dubai connections, including his frequent trips to the Emirates, also became part of the campaign highlighting the Ministers alleged vested interests. That Tharoor was president of the Dubai-based Afras group before he entered politics and reports that the former Ministers Officer on Special Duty (OSD), Joseph Jacob, was discovered by him during his Dubai days also fuelled the campaign. It was also highlighted that Joseph Jacob had been deputed to observe official meetings in connection with the Kochi IPL, and this too went against Tharoor.

Tharoors defence was that he had not received any pecuniary benefit and that Sunanda Pushkar, as an independent professional, was entitled to sweat equity or whatever emoluments her professional associates would pay her. He sought to offer this argument in Parliament, too, but this defence did not pass muster with the Congress core group consisting of senior leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Defence Minister A.K. Antony. At the height of the controversy, Sunanda Pushkar did forsake her Rs.70 crore equity, in an obvious last-ditch effort to salvage the position of her friend, but even that did not help the beleaguered Minister.

However, large sections of the Congress and the rest of the United Progressive Alliance believe that Tharoor will soon bounce back. They believe that the investigations being undertaken into the financial dealings of other IPL franchises and politicians connected with them will ultimately help vindicate Tharoors position.

This may be true as there is little doubt about the influence Tharoor wields in the higher echelons of the Congress, including the first family of the party.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment