M for minefield

I’ve never seen a real live minefield. Until now.

Lalit Modi’s central demand, that the BCCI president and secretary recuse themselves from the disciplinary hearing, is easily handled by the BCCI — its constitution provides for the composition of the hearing committee, and the president and secretary are on it [the secretary is in fact the convenor of said committee]. There is no provision constitutionally for such recusal, and that is the push back you can expect from the board.

The real problem for the board is the multiple land mines Modi has strewn throughout his 14-page email. As under:

Manohar, Modi alleges, was responsible for the controversial decision to scrap the initial opening of tenders for the franchises and went out of his way to entertain former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor and accept the Kochi bid much after the lapse of deadline.

He denies the allegation that he tried rigging the bids in favour of two business houses for the two new teams added for the fourth edition of the IPL; instead he claims the bids were processed and vetted by the board’s corporate lawyers and counsel Akhila Kaushik, appointed on Manohar’s recommendation.

That Manohar was responsible for scrapping the initial bidding is no secret. He had said so himself, alleging that the process was flawed. The problem for him is Modi’s push back that the clauses were vetted by no less than a lawyer who was once Manohar’s father’s junior, and a good family friend who the board president recommended for the BCCI job. Again, no surprise — the board routinely treats various well-paying positions within its structure as Christmas goodies to be handed out to favored friends. But if Kaushik was involved in the initial bid process, it’s going to be damnably difficult for Manohar.

What is really interesting is Modi’s diabolical mud-slinging ability. Note that Modi has conflated two events into one. The first was the aborted bidding process for the auction, replete with highly restrictive clauses — a process he personally stage-managed. The second is the final auction, which saw Kochi and Pune walking away with the winning bids — a process that had BCCI oversight, with Kaushik as part of the team. What Modi has done is cleverly created the impression that Kaushik, and through her Manohar, had somehow been part of the original flawed process, and that it was the board president, not Modi, who was responsible for the restrictive clauses in the first instance.

He claims Manohar was party to the decision fixing the net worth of the bidder at $1 billion and that he discussed the issue of deposit also with him at the Governing Council meeting on March 7 and got his approval.

Nice exercise in twisting facts around, this. The impression conveyed is that Manohar had discussed all details of the bid process with Modi. What is camouflaged is the actual sequence of events: March 7 was a Sunday. It was the date originally scheduled for the auction. That morning, Manohar insisted that he be shown all the relevant paperwork — which Modi had kept to himself till then. At that point, the board president discovered some of the more prohibitive clauses inserted into the tender document.

[For instance, the requirement that bidders had to establish their net worth at $1 billion — a clause that did not apply during the first IPL auction; also the clause that bidders had to give an advance guarantee of $100 million and a rolling bank guarantee for the total sum of the winning bid. Note that if both clauses had been operational during the first IPL bidding, neither KXIP nor Rajasthan Royals would have gone to consortiums that included Modi’s relatives, as both those franchises were in no position to comply with those terms].

So, painting by numbers: Manohar saw the clauses on March 7 morning and blew the whistle on the auction at the last moment. Modi today twists that around and says the auction details were “discussed” on March 7 — to convey the impression that all of this had the board’s official imprimatur.

Modi has brought up the issue of the controversial IPL TV contract with Sony and MSM, claiming that Manohar was aware of the termination last year of the contract with Sony and the subsequent litigation and eventual settlement. The litigation process was, he claims, supervised by Akhila Kaushik, “who reports directly to you”.

Another classic instance of facts being used to convey a contrary impression. The sequence: Modi finagled the abrupt cancellation of the Sony contract. When Sony threatened court action, the board got into it. At that point Shashank Manohar, then the president in waiting serving under Pawar, was given the onus of sorting the issue out. He did just that — with Kaushik being one of the fronting lawyers in the process.

The impression conveyed in the Modi email, however, is that Manohar is somehow complicit in the shady dealing that saw Sony abruptly deprived of the rights it had won in a lawful bidding process. Nice. Also, typical.

It is where the role of Srinivasan is concerned that Modi is on a firmer wicket.

Among the charges levied, Modi said he had “sufficient cause to apprehend bias” on Srinivasan’s part and that he had “consistently frustrated and exposed his attempts at misusing his position as Honorary Secretary of the Board, so as to confer a wrongful benefit to his team at the cost and expense of other teams and the BCCI.”

Modi alleged that Srinivasan had tried to “alter or propose panel of umpires” officiating in the IPL matches and had circulated an email “directing a panel of umpires handpicked by him”. He claimed Srinivasan had attempted to ensure umpires from Chennai or Tamil Nadu stood in his team’s matches.

Another charge Modi made against Srinivasan was that he had “consistently pushed tailor-made policies” intended to benefit the Chennai franchise. In support of this charge, Modi cited the proposal of franchises retaining seven players (four Indian, three foreign) for the 2011 season and beyond. Modi’s reply to the show cause says Srinivasan tried to get franchises to agree to the proposal and that the “only reason for doing so was to ensure that Chennai Super King retained its players.”

Modi also alleged that Srinivasan had tried to ensure Kieron Pollard, who was bought by Mumbai Indians during a silent tiebreaker in the 2010 auction, could not play “by raising some frivolous issues with the West Indian Cricket Board.” Modi termed Srinivasan’s action a “brazen act of abuse of power”.

He claimed Srinivasan had used his power to “alter the auction rules” so that Chennai’s purse would be $2 million as opposed to the $1.85 million that was mentioned prior to the auction. “Despite my opposition he used his clout as secretary to pressure the management to accept back-dated player contracts and cancel the contracts of one of his players so that he could have his full purse and thereby have an advantage in the bidding process vis-a-vis other teams.”

The first charge, about getting TN based umpires to officiate in matches involving the side, could potentially raise the whiff of match-fixing, if there is in fact an email trail detailing that charge.

The second, about the retention of players, is clever use of facts to convey an entirely different impression. When the proposal for adding two teams to IPL season 4 came up, Modi initially proposed that at the end of season 3, all players would go back into the common pool — a nice trick to have a massive auction all over again, and mop up incremental revenues. The franchises, without exception, pushed back. Their argument was that the only real value they had, besides the ownership of the team name, was the brand building they had done around various players. To lose that, the franchises argued, would defeat the purpose behind the whole franchise model. At that point, the board fronted by Srinivasan, with Modi a party to the negotiations, attempted to arrive at a via media, and after much deliberation hit on the 7-player retention idea.

What Modi does here is create the impression that somehow, Srinivasan pushed through a model that was intended to benefit CSK in particular. How? Is it anyone’s argument that Mumbai, for instance, would have been totally happy tossing its players, including Tendulkar, back into the pool?

On the last two — the Keiron Pollard issue and the bit about altering auction rules — I personally have no clue what exactly happened; how this develops, once Srinivasan responds, will be interesting to watch.

Overall, the email accomplishes one purpose: it signals that Modi is officially done playing defense, and that going forward the play is to sling lots of mud in lots of directions, in particular targeting the vulnerabilities of his chief opponents within the BCCI. The message clearly is: either you let me off the hook, or I wrap my arms tight around the pair of you and take you down with me.

PS: More bits of the email are quoted in this HT article. More links, when I am done with a day’s worth of meetings and am back at my desk.

#2: Ruchir Modi, Lalit’s son, gets an alcohol bath.