Perestroika for the troika

Between Modi, Manohar and Srinivasan, there are a lot of questions that call for urgent answers. Jayaditya Gupta lists the most compelling — and underlines why “meeting after 10 days” is not the way to go.

There are far too many questions surrounding the auction of the two franchises. Why was the auction deferred on the day it was supposed to have been held? The explanation for the deferment given at the time was that the financial clauses were too stringent. Was that not an issue in the days and weeks before that? The new bids were opened on March 21; the agreement with the Kochi consortium was signed on the night of April 10 – 20 days later. Why the delay? Correspondence between Shashank Manohar and Modi suggests the issue of ownership had been discussed – and questions raised – long before the shareholding pattern was revealed on Sunday afternoon. If there were doubts over the credibility of the successful bidders, could that not have been sorted out before the bids were opened? Could due diligence on the bidders not have been done? I am no legal or financial wiz, but it does strike me as common sense to do a basic fact-check before allowing someone to sit at your table and share in a very lucrative pie.

For too long Indian cricket has been living in an unreal world. Unreal at various levels – the entire notion of the Indian board being a trust (and so saving millions of dollars in taxes), instead of a corporate entity sitting on a billion-dollar empire, or the notion of the IPL being a “domestic league”. It is time to get real, to play the part of one of the world’s leading sports tournaments, among the most innovative and certainly among the richest. Forget the money, there are too many livelihoods riding on the IPL.

What should the BCCI do now? That’s the tricky question. The Indian board doesn’t have the credibility to ensure a thorough investigation of the Kochi case from within – that job could, given the money involved, be handed over to criminal investigators, as the opposition party, the BJP has suggested – but it could set the ball rolling by ensuring the nine other franchises declare their ownership structure. And making public its own accounts.

The regime of Manohar and Srinivasan, which has ruled over the Indian board for the past two years, has been likened to the Kremlin for the secrecy with which it operates. Well, now is the time for some perestroika and some glasnost.

In through the out door

And here we go again — since before the start of this season, there have been persistent rumors that the KXIP franchise is looking for buyers. Another story on this lines — this one suggests that where it was earlier assumed one of the partners might move out, we seem set for an exodus.

Hmm. Why? Not much money in it, despite reports such as these? Or, as in the heyday of the Internet bubble, a case of selling off at an inflated valuation and getting out while the getting’s good?

Modi. Tharoor. Red Light Area. IPL. Cricket. Live.

That is to say, will be live on the daily Yahoo show in a little over half an hour from now — at 3.30 pm IST.

With me for company, Anand Ramachandran, Anannya Deb, Ramesh Srivats, Sumant Srivatsan. [Following any/all of them yet? Do. Worth your while, and more].

And of course, you guys. 🙂

Kochi: essential reading

Aditi Phadnis adds to the information on the Kochi franchise and its travails.

RSW got the first inkling that something was not quite kosher when they got a message that their bid should be below $300 million. They consulted among themselves and kept the bid at $333 million (Rs 1,533 crore). Sahara bid $370 million (Rs 1,702 crore). Videocon’s bid was $320 million, Adani bid $315 million. Theirs was the closest and they got the franchise.

The members wanted to pop the cork. Too early, cautioned their leader. Get the letter of franchise first. They met IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi in Delhi. The daughter of one of the ministers was present in the room. This was when suggestions were made that they should take $50 million and walk away.

The group was first amused, then flummoxed. “Suppose we walk,” asked one, “who is going to give us $50 million?”

An investment banker, was the laconic reply.

“Come on,” said the leader. “I am an investment banker. I know no one will pay this order of money.”

“A client of an investment banker,” they were told.

The group conferred among themselves and said prestige was involved. “We won’t go,” they said.

Union minister with a home in Bombay. Daughter standing in. How much clearer does it need to be?

At the forefront of technology

So yesterday, in between doing my usual stuff in the Yahoo edit room, blogging, and hosting the day’s episode of the live show, I along with a handful of colleagues here in Bangalore were involved in three different tele-conferences with company folk across the Asia-Pacific region. Been doing a lot of that, since I joined Yahoo — and very simple it is, too, besides saving an enormous amount of travel.

Couldn’t help thinking of that, when I read that BCCI president Shashank Manohar, who is reportedly hugely incensed with the “serious breach” committed by his technical understudy, Lalit K Modi, had summoned an “emergency” meeting of the IPL governing council — in ten days.

Ten days?

Dude, if that is your definition of “emergency”, god help us all when it comes to routine affairs. Never heard of telephone/video conferences? Maybe you should get that company, who your commentators keep hyping as being in the forefront of technology, to help you out here?

Then again, we all know the real reason: to buy time.

Modi’s petty act of revenge against Tharoor has had the unintended consequence of opening up a much larger can of worms [that Modi did not anticipate this, when he compulsively tweeted about Kochi and added grandiloquent comments about the need for transparency, is indicative of his mental processes].

Here’s a sampler:

Dixit's barrage

That’s Sanjay Dixit, one time Modi aide de camp in Rajasthan and now implacable foe, on his Twitter stream, pointing out that since we have now entered the era of transparency, it is perhaps time to talk of the holding pattern of the Rajasthan Royals franchise. That’s a whole other can of worms — and Modi really doesn’t want to go there. The IPL is still in relative infancy — it could possibly survive questions being asked about a franchise that is yet to begin operations, but start questioning the others, and the whole edifice could crumble in a hurry.

Even this could be managed. The BCCI could pretend shock and horror about the murky dealings relating to RR, throw Modi to the wolves, and continue to run the racket with others at the helm [and it helps that within the BCCI there is no shortage of willing volunteers all anxious for a slice of the IPL pie]. But the problem actually is much bigger than even that.

For instance, one line of Modi’s response to Manohar has passed largely unnoticed:

“They said they would revert back. Within minutes of me asking the same, I got a call from Shashi Tharoor asking me not to ask about who these shareholders are. You [Manohar] had mentioned that we should ignore who this owner is, but our condition requires us to authenticate who they are.”

Ouch!

That is why this story is only going to get better. Or worse, depending on your point of view.

The BCCI, the IPL, the political class, Bollywood, industrialists — they are all so inextricably tied to one another that the slightest tug on one end of the string comes with the risk that the entire fabric will unravel. And that is precisely why Manohar needs 10 days to hold an “emergency” meeting — time to paper over the cracks, limit the damage, and find some kind of formula to put the worms back in the can.

The political fallout can be contained. Though the BJP has latched on to the issue and demanded Tharoor’s head over the issue of corruption, the Congress is not exactly without weapons for a counter attack. For instance, we are talking of this Modi and the BJP? Also, don’t forget that arguably the most corrupt cricket body within the BCCI fold is the DDCA — run by a minor BJP functionary by the name of Arun Jaitley. Glass houses, stones…

So no real problems there — some short term fussing, which is eminently containable, is the worst that will happen on the political front.

The danger the BCCI sees is that the GoI, seeing a direct threat to one of its own, will let loose with the economic weapon. A probe into Kochi is one thing — but a larger IT-driven investigation into all franchises, and into the IPL itself, terrifies the heck out of the Board.

Hence Manohar’s need for time, to figure out a viable compromise formula that can be credibly sold to the media and the public. The first step was to gag Lalit Modi. His last post on Twitter was almost two days ago. The fact that the independent minded commissioner actually submitted to being gagged should tell you a story — he acted without thinking beyond the short term, and now he, and the BCCI, are in desperate need of solutions.

Ten days of back room maneuvering — with BCCI veep Rajiv Shukla playing the interface between the Board and the government — now follows. It also provides space for the dust Modi raised to settle on its own. It is highly unlikely that the media will pursue the matter beyond another news cycle, at best — after all, if the media approaches the board it can say we have called for an emergency meeting; if it goes to the government there is always Manmohan Singh’s latest statement that he has called for all available information and will decide on action after he has digested that. In other words, there are stonewalls in place, and such tepid responses don’t give the media much grist to work with.

Already, however, one thing is clear behind the scenes: come season 4, Lalit Modi will remain as commissioner, but with a considerably reduced wingspan, and freedom. Watch this space.