Dear Srini… With love, Sharad

So on TV just now, I heard Sharad Pawar — who recently announced his candidacy for the post of Mumbai Cricket Association president — say that “this situation would not have happened if I had been BCCI president”.


This whole mess began when the BCCI ignored the obvious conflicts inherent in N Srinivasan owning a franchise while being an office bearer of the BCCI, right? This was done despite the provisions of the constitution, and the constitution was then post-facto amended to make things kosher.

So here you go: A letter on the BCCI letter-head, dated January 5, 2008, addressed to N Srinivasan and signed by then BCCI President Sharad Pawar, reads in full thus:

I am in receipt of your letter regarding participation of India Cements Limited in tender process for the Franchise of Indian Premier League.

I have examined the bye-laws and the relevant regulations of the BCCI and I have consulted several members of the BCCI, including office bearers of the Board, and it is our considered opinion that you being a shareholder, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of the Company will not prevent or preclude the India Cements Limited from participating in the tender.

The participation of India Cements Limited will not mean you personally have any direct or indirect commercial interest. I therefore find no impediment in India Cements participating in the bidding process.

Therefore, the India Cements Limited may participate in the Tender if they so desire.


Sd/- Sharad Pawar

In how many ways is this egregious?

Firstly, at the time this letter was written, the board by-laws specifically prohibited any office bearer from having any direct or indirect commercial interest in the game. If Pawar “examined” the bye-laws, he could have hardly missed that. (This, and the fact that the bye-laws were subsequently amended, is the subject of an ongoing court case).

Secondly, how can anyone suggest that owning a team does not mean Srinivasan has direct or indirect commercial interest in the game?

Sorry, Mr Pawar — given your record, given that you gave the official imprimatur to Srinivasan’s very obvious, very overt, conflict of interest does not inspire much faith in your statement that had you been in charge, cricket would have been clean.

You were. Cricket wasn’t.

PS: Oh this is rich. MCA president Ravi Sawant has the weirdest defense of Srini ever mounted.

Basically, his point is this: When Srini bought a franchise it was illegal, but no one said anything. So why ask him to resign now?


Sawant said that the issue of conflict of interest had always been there and if the BCCI had allowed it to happen earlier, raising the issue now was not correct.

“The rules were already in place. First time when buying a franchise, all the rules were applicable,” he said. “That time, he was not the BCCI president. He has gone from treasurer to secretary to president. So someone should have voiced their concerns, because these rules were made to prevent certain things to happen. You are now saying those rules were there and there is a conflict of interest and he should resign. To my mind, we should retrospectively think about it, why didn’t we object to his buying a franchise.”

“If you are supporting the decision of him buying a team, now to make an issue out of it is not correct. All these people speaking against him now are holding positions in the board, and they have worked with him. How can you raise an issue now?”

Seriously, you guys in the BCCI: Are your mouths not wired to your brains, like is the case with the rest of us?

Pawar play

A couple of days ago,this newspaper unearthed fresh evidence to show the involvement of a powerful minister and his family members : together,they held 16.5 per cent share in a company that had bid for one of the teams from Pune.Unlike their claims,let us be clear that it is not an insignificant portion;but that is another story.

The fact is all this would have remained buried but for some sharp investigative reporting; after all, theirs was an indirect investment in the form of two companies : Lap Finance and Namrata Film Enterprises. Who would have guessed the powers behind these two obscure companies.

Who would have guessed, indeed! [The above is a clip from ToI Sports Editor Bobilli Vijay Kumar’s opinion piece in Sunday’s paper].

Not for the first time [and speaking as a mediaperson myself], I’m hugely amused by how well trained we journalists have become. Someone, for his or her own personal interest, throws us a nicely colored ball. And off we go en masse, barking happily, to ‘fetch’.

ToI, for instance, has front-paged the story of Sharad Pawar’s links to the IPL most days over the previous week. The pattern was set early: a revelation and reactions from Pawar/Supriya Sule one day. Next day, a fresh revelation that refuges Pawar/Sule, and the father-daughter combine’s reactions to that revelation. And so on — with the paper making self-congratulatory asides about its intrepid reportage. [Tangential note: I’m talking of ToI here merely as the most obvious example].

The fact is all this would have remained buried but for some sharp investigative reporting.

Umm. The fact is, all this would have remained buried but for (a) Lalit Modi’s misjudging a strategic play and tweeting publicly about Sunanda Pushkar’s sweat equity and (b) the resultant no-holds-barred war within the BCCI, that has led to some inspired leaking by both sides. For instance, ToI’s “sharp investigative reporting” claim is belied by the fact that every media outlet has copies of the same documents in its possession. Consider:

DNA has in its possession a copy of a City Corp board resolution —submitted by Deshpande to the BCCI along with his bid — expressly authorising him to bid on behalf of City Corp.

That’s DNA on the front page, yesterday. Here’s Cricinfo:

But the minutes of the January 31 meeting, a copy of which is available with Cricinfo, states that Deshpande was asked to go ahead with the bid in the company’s name.

I could go on — that theme, of having the document in possession, is a constant in pretty much every media house that covered the story. If you didn’t know better, you’d end up conjuring visions of a whole pack of journalistic Sherlocks following the blood trail and, in concert, fetching up at the spot where the body was buried.

More prosaically, what you are actually seeing is the outward manifestation of an internecine conflict for control of the BCCI. Modi, who needed to please his backers, attempted to torpedo the Kochi franchise by roping in Pushkar’s equity, and linking her to Tharoor. That got the whole show-cause snowball rolling. Pawar, who is intricately linked with the IPL, backed Modi to the hilt [though Modi has other backers within the BCCI’s higher echelons, Pawar’s is the most powerful voice; without him, the rest fall apart].

That was stage one. Once it became clear that the disciplinary hearing would end in Modi’s ouster, the ‘IPL commissioner [suspended]’ attempted to up the ante by first pointing fingers at Shashank Manohar and more pertinently, to N Srinivasan. The idea was to undercut his opposition by taking out the two top members of the BCCI hierarchy.

Now comes the BCCI push-back: some inspired leaking by the board’s bigwigs [how do you suppose the documents “came into the possession” of various media entities?] is clearly aimed to turn the heat right back on Pawar, to reduce him to a spent force, and thus to weaken Modi’s position within the board [in a case of unintended irony, the documents the board is now busily leaking are from the very same boxes Lalit Modi had delivered, with considerable fanfare, to the BCCI — thus earning brownie points for giving up what was actually BCCI property in the first place]. Significantly, Modi took time off from responding to his own slew of notices to mount a spirited — if not persuasive — defense of Pawar.

The amusing part is how the media is playing facilitator in what is really an internal war. Each fresh revelation triggers a concerted baying for blood: first Tharoor; then, when the government of India got into the act through its investigative arms, Modi; then, through Modi’s various tweets and media statements and letters, the likes of Srinivasan; now, Pawar…

Interested parties want one or the other personality brought down; some inspired whispering in the media’s receptive ears is all it takes these days to get the job done.

Which is not to suggest that the various officials are lily-white. The board is one vast web of conflicting interests [It always has been — from what seems an endless lifetime of chronicling the board’s shenanigans, here’s a link to a series dating back to when the CBI, after concluding its match-fixing investigations, went after the BCCI — oh, and by way of bonus, the man in charge then was AC Muthaiah, who is now playing the role of crusader]. The current scenario is no different: Modi has his fingers in the IPL pie; N Srinivasan has a stake in it; so does Sharad Pawar; IS Bindra and other officials get their slice of the action; star cricketers Ravi Shastri and Sunny Gavaskar get to suckle at the BCCI’s teat in return for lending the board the legitimacy, such as it is, of their presence…

The defenses trotted out by those under attack are equally hilarious. N Srinivasan, responding to the charge of conflict of interest, argued that he had Pawar’s permission [which is nice — one conflicted official gave another official permission to be similarly conflicted]. Pawar’s argument is that he may have stakes in entities ranging from City Corporation to, more recently, Vijay Mallya’s United Spirits, argues that owning stake in a company that bids for IPL franchises is not equal to owning a stake in an IPL franchise. And Manohar produced this gem while defending Chirayu Amin from a recent Modi salvo:

Shashank Manohar, the BCCI President, has challenged Lalit Modi’s contention that Chirayu Amin, the interim IPL chairman, was part of a consortium that bid unsuccessfully for the Pune franchise. While clarifying that Amin’s intention had been to only invest in City Corporation Ltd – the concerned group – in the event of a successful bid, Manohar alleged it was Modi who urged the franchise to contact Amin to become a part of that consortium.

Eh? The ‘clarification’ is that a senior board official wanted to wait and see if a particular entity won its bid — and then he would invest in that entity? That is a ‘defense’?

And that is why why I’m not particular impressed by all this “investigative journalism” that’s going on. What, after all, has all this muck-raking unearthed? That various officials have hidden stakes in the IPL? No shit, Sherlock? What, you thought Modi was running the IPL without taking a salary because he was interested in the uplift of cricket in this country? Or that sundry officials push and shove and elbow each other to get prime positions in local associations and through that, in the BCCI hierarchy, motivated by nothing more than undiluted altruism?

Here’s what I wish the media would do. In its next expose, could it incorporate a line that reads: ‘Documents leaked to us by Shashank Manohar Lalit Modi N Srinivasan  [insert appropriate name here] indicate that…’? At least that way, we’d know who is playing the latest hand in this endless soap opera — and that would help us understand better the nature of the latest set of charges being levelled.

Connect the dots

The first leak: bid documents submitted by Videocon and the Adani group, in the auction round last month, have gone missing. Poof.

The second leak: inspired whispering suggests that Sadanand Sule, Sharad Pawar’s son in law, was part of the Videocon bid. Supriya Sule now in damage control mode, denying all links to the IPL.

The picture sought to be painted? Pawar’s support for Modi, fervent till late last evening, stems from the fact that he through his son in law had a major role to play in the controversial auction.

Is the Opposition now going to demand the NCP strongman’s head in the same way it went after Tharoor? The Congress is half hoping something of the kind happens — a Pawar on the defensive is exactly where the party wants him. Unlikely the Opposition will make such noises, though.

Meanwhile, the rehabilitation of Shashi Tharoor continues apace, with a speech in Parliament just now seeking a full inquiry into the charges against him, and complete exoneration — a speech incidentally laced with rhetoric about the voters of Thiruvananthapuram and the great people of India.

Elsewhere, Economic Times — which has been over the last two days in the forefront of surfacing stories of Modi’s shenanigans — scores a hat-trick:

Story 1 talks of how Suresh Chellaram, Modi’s brother in law, saw his IPL holdings appreciate in value 13 times in course of a single year [eat your heart out, Shah Rukh].

Story 2 details financial skulduggery in the awarding of television rights. Worth noting, the fact that board officials were behind the leaks in the first place, and have been quick to suggest, albeit anonymously, that they have nothing to do with any of this.

Story 3, in the interests of cutting off the limbs, goes after one of Modi’s proxies in KXIP. More on him here.

While reading all this, keep one central fact in mind: the GoI has been aware of most of this for at least 8, more likely 10, months now. Just in case you were marveling at how efficient the investigative agencies are, and how quickly the whole ball of wax is unravelling. Also, ask the BCCI how long it has known of the Netlinkblue connection, including the systematic defaulting on payments.

Update: A recurring theme on this blog and elsewhere has been how the Congress is using this controversy to whip its allies and opponents into line. A classic example just now: First, Sharad Pawar was whistled into a meeting to “discuss IPL”, with P Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee. At the end of the meeting, he was told to go tell Modi that he had to resign.

Classic example of the deliberate and public use of muscle, to serve as a warning shot: Pawar, after all, is not part of the IPL governing council; outside of being Maharashtra Bombay Cricket Association president, he is not part of the BCCI’s decision making body. So why ask him to convey the message, when there are others — the name of Rajiv Shukla comes to mind — who are far better placed to do the deed?

Plain and simple, a power-play: The Congress telling Pawar, right, you were backing this guy, now you are nominated to go chop him off at the knees. Buck us on this, and we come after you too. Pawar has to do that — and in that helplessness lies the message the Congress is conveying to him.

Rack and roll

Must be a sign of the times: these days, I find myself turning increasingly to television for my daily dose of humor. Last evening’s quota was filled by the sight of Shobha De and Chetan Bhagat paneling on a discussion on Tharoor, hearing Mandira Bedi solemnly assure anyone who would listen that there will be “transparency from now on”,  and by seeing Vijay Mallya [whose step daughter Laila Mahmood’s connection with Modi was recently in the news] appear on multiple TV channels as Lalit Modi’s PR agent in chief. [While on Laila, the media is yet to make a ‘story’ out of the family-and-friends affair that is the IPL: Amar, Inderjit Singh Bindra’s son, and his role at KXIP; Poorna, Praful Patel’s daughter, who ‘looks after’ marketing from Modi’s office, and so on].

This morning, the fun is in the headlines: CNN-IBN cites “sources” as saying that Sharad Pawar has told Lalit Modi that he is in a “difficul position”. What the hell is that supposed to mean? “Sorry, dude, supporting your shenanigans when it was all sub rosa is one thing, but I can’t stick my neck out for you now that the excreta has hit the ceiling fan”?

CNN-IBN [not suggesting by the way that it leads the pack in silliness — just that the TV closest to me happens to be tuned to that channel, so I am getting this stuff by default] also cites “sources” as saying, and this is a verbatim quote, “BCCI suspects Modi of financial irregularities”.

No shit, Sherlock?! You could have knocked me dead with the proverbial feather.

Seriously, is that the best the channel’s “sources” can do?

Over the past 24 hours, much has changed. Shashank Manohar, the man Sharad Pawar had hand-picked to succeed him as BCCI chief, has fallen out with his mentor, and is now leading the anti-Pawar camp.

That camp has grown in strength over the last day [hence Pawar’s move to put daylight between himself and Modi] and now dominates the BCCI; it is that camp that over the past 12 hours arrived at certain decisions that increasingly seem irrevocable. Sure, they have governing council and executive committee and other bodies scheduled to meet to ‘discuss’ the affair and to allow Modi to make his case — file that under going-through-the-motions, since everything that has to be decided already has been.

To wit: 1. The board has moved beyond its original intent to trim Lalit Modi to size, and is now determined to get rid of him before the stain spreads to their own lily white liveries. The choice LKM is being given is to exit the stage in his own way before the end of IPL-3, or go through the ignominy of being turfed out in unceremonious fashion. 2. Shashank Manohar, whose term as BCCI president ends in September, will move into the chair of IPL commissioner and in tandem with N Srinivasan, will become de facto decision makers on all things IPL and BCCI. 3. In the interests of hanging Modi out to dry as early as possible, and thus turning the heat off the board, BCCI honchos behind the scenes will help investigating agencies by pointing them at where some bodies are buried.

Once Modi is out, the GoIs investigating agencies will “take action” on some of his scams, while conveniently finding “no concrete evidence” of others. It is in everyone’s interests to make an example of the man, but it is in nobody’s interests to probe too deep, especially into the business of franchises run by high profile industrialists and such who routinely pump money into the Congress party’s electoral coffers.

Notice, meanwhile, that the IT, ED and other investigative departments are leaking like a public toilet — a clear indication of the government’s playbook [officials leak with such regularity only when they have the ministerial nod to turn up the decibel count]. The GoI will in public go hot and heavy after Modi; below the surface, the real play will be aimed at embarrassing the BJP massively over Modi’s multiple scams in Rajasthan when Vasundhara Raje ruled the state, and slipping a very tight leash around Pawar’s neck to hold the NCP satrap and his party in line.

What, you thought this sudden zeal to “get to the bottom” of an IPL mess the FinMin had been aware of for months now was because the government is hell bent on eradicating corruption? Corruption is good, from a realpolitik point of view; proof of corruption is even better since it gives governments a means to mould otherwise intractable clay to their own purposes.

Since it is in the government’s interests to let this play out in the media, the spate of daily front page headlines in print and “sources” whispering assorted inanities into the ears of cable television will continue, creating the impression that events are moving with the speeded-up velocity of a cartoon flick. In reality, though, the play has been called, the final picture has been painted, and all concerned are now in go-through-the-motions phase.

In passing, the likes of Lalu Yadav — who has quietly converted the Bihar Cricket Association into his personal fiefdom — are now calling for a government takeover of the BCCI. Laugh, that you may not weep — what is required is professional management of the board, not its death by slow government poison. The suggestion has led to one of the most amusing hashtags on Twitter. Statutory warning: some of the posts are laugh out loud funny, hence not perhaps suited for open plan offices.

Meet the new home minister

Cricinfo reports on a meeting at Matoshree:

Pawar, also president of the Mumbai Cricket Association, was accompanied by current Indian board president Shashank Manohar to Mumbai to meet with Thackeray and his son Uddhav, and the four sat behind closed doors for an estimated two hours. “We presented our viewpoint before Thackeray on this critical issue,” Manohar told reporters. “We tried to convince him that only one or two Australian players will participate in the IPL matches and by not allowing all IPL matches it is the state players [Marathi players] who will lose ultimately.

“We also explained to them the format of the IPL teams and matches and how there were one or two Australian players in each team. Thackeray has asked for a detailed presentation on the issue which we will be providing in couple of days and thereafter he would consider our request.”

How ironic is this? Shashank Manohar hasn’t had to make a similar presentation to the Federal Home Minister to ensure security for his event — but he feels the need to treat an unconstitutional authority — to wit, the head of a regional party whose influence has demonstrably eroded even in its own area of operation — with such deference? And worse, he is accompanied on this mission by a Federal minister, no less, and a colleague of Mr P Chidambaram.

If Pawar, a member of the Federal Cabinet, prefers to deal with those who hold the state to ransom through the threat of violence rather than depend on his own Cabinet colleague and on the home ministry to ensure security within the country, why then should we ordinary citizens trust our security to the government? Maybe all those who are of non-Marathi origin living in Mumbai need to make our own ‘detailed presentation’ to Thackeray, and ask for his protection?

Seriously, just what is it going to take before someone calls the Sena’s bluff?

IPL and the battle for Indian cricket

What the prophets of doom have been predicting is slowly coming true — international cricket under the ICC’s aegis is gradually become hostage to the IPL. Consider this:

New Zealand have shortened next year’s home Test series against Australia to two matches to help alleviate scheduling conflicts with the lucrative Indian Premier League Twenty20 season.

Six senior New Zealand players, including captain Daniel Vettori, delayed signing their contracts with New Zealand’s cricket board until late July, after conflicts between the IPL and the team’s international programme were clarified.

The unstated sub-text: six senior Kiwi players including the captain were willing to refrain from signing national contracts if doing so meant they couldn’t go make money in the IPL. And the Kiwi board took the threat seriously enough to make a drastic change to the ICC-underwritten calendar.

The ICC had the option, when framing its latest Future Tours Program, to bow to the inevitable and create an IPL window of a couple of months. But the global body could not be seen to be bowing to the dictates of an upstart league, hence it refused such accommodation — and here on, will find itself increasing facing the problem of top stars opting out of national commitments unless the schedules are adjusted and they are allowed to make full use of the money-making opportunities afforded by the Indian league.

Standby for outbreaks of heartburn from across the cricket playing world; for diatribes on how Indian money is spoiling international cricket. Such polemics miss one central point: the IPL is a fact of life, as is the desire of cricketers to earn as much money as they possibly can while they are still on top of their game, and the solution clearly lies in making a simple accommodation.

The more interesting and potentially more far-reaching confrontation however is internal. The face-off between the BCCI, represented by its secretary N Srinivasan, and high profile IPL commissioner Lalit Modi is prima facie a dispute over the bill presented by the IMG for services rendered — but there’s a far larger battle brewing beneath the surface.

Harsha suggests that it is a personality clash.

The IPL has a visionary in Lalit Modi but if it wants to compete with Wimbledon or the English FA or the Augusta Masters it must create strong systems and ease away from personality cults. Modi and Srinivasan cannot oppose each other!

I suspect that to see this as a battle of wills between Srinivasan and Modi is to concentrate on the battle, and ignore the far larger war. Check out a couple of links from the morning papers: state associations weigh in on IMG dispute, and this other story on the controversy. Clips:

Cricket Board’s affiliates want a reduction in the Rs 33 crore fee payable to the International Management Group for services rendered in conducting this year’s Indian Premier League in South Africa, according to BCCI sources.

“A fee reduction in the range of Rs 7 or 8 crore is what the members want,” sources said.

The 25 associations affiliated to the Board are set to get Rs eight crore each as their share of the IPL spoils and apparently want an increase in this amount.

First up, we have now officially entered into the war of letters. Thus, if Modi and the IPL wave around the letters of Mukesh Ambani and six of the other seven franchises, BCCI secretary N Srinivasan can now wave in response the missives of the 25 associations that comprise the board.

Why would state associations get Rs 8 crore each year, considering they do zip towards the conduct of the IPL? Because that is how the machinery works: the associations elect the office bearers who, in turn, reward these voters with matches, grants etc.

In this cozy little scheme, the franchises are the outsiders — and what the board fears above all else is the prospect of the franchises demanding and getting a share in the decision-making process. Consider this:

It is also not clear why the working committee, the all-powerful arm of the BCCI, was in such tearing hurry to pass a resolution to this effect on this potentially tricky issue. A few working committee members that TOI spoke to admitted to the haste on their part but are livid with the IPL franchise owners for “poking their nose into” something that is clearly “none of their business”.

“The issue involves two parties – the BCCI and IMG. The franchise owners have no locus standi. The matter is being reviewed by the BCCI president, who I am sure will come up with an acceptable solution,” a working committee member said.

There lies the crux of the problem: the BCCI’s honchos cannot permit a situation where its absolute right to take any and all decisions is diluted in any way, and they view giving in to the franchises on the IMG issue as the thin end of a wedge that could eventually create huge fissures in the time honored power structure.

N Srinivasan represents the hierarchy; Lalit Modi, who earlier this year lost elections for the post of president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association, is now no longer a part of that structure, has no stake in it, and would love nothing more than to create an independent power structure.

Funnily enough, Lalit Modi had come up with the idea of franchise-driven sport several years before the IPL was born. He was out of power at the time, and had taken the idea to the then fuhrer, Jagmohan Dalmiya. Dalmiya thought about the proposal and finally turned it down. The reason given? Professionally run franchises, he argued then, would not be content to just pay money into the board’s coffers, but would demand a seat at the top table and a share in the decision-making process.

The fear expressed by Dalmiya then is coming true now. This particular shindig will subside soon, with Board president Shashank Manohar finding some kind of compromise formula ahead of the BCCI AGM September 24. But unless I miss my guess, the larger battle for the control of Indian cricket is now fully joined — and its going to be prolonged, bloody and attritional. [Oh, and much fun for us on the sidelines].

Update: Thanks to Cricinfo’s Surfer, just discovered two stories of related interest. Sports attorney Gaurav Sikri looks at the ramifications, legal and otherwise, of the IMG-BCCI spat.

This may not be all that is behind the termination of the agreement however. The fact that the franchisees have come out this time in IMG’s support, leads one to believe that there may actually be other contenders for organising this League, and that is where the dichotomy between aspiration and reality arises. It also reflects the changing mindset of sports in India as they get professionalised and corporatised. In what is subtly being referred to as a unilateral decision, this is actually a protest by the franchisees signifying a realisation of, and discomfort with the perceivable abuse of dominant position on display here by the BCCI/IPL, with respect not only to the treatment meted out to IMG, but importantly, to the franchisees themselves who were not consulted prior to the termination notice.

In the Indian Express, Kunal Pradhan sees the issue as being part of a larger power struggle:

In a letter, for example, Mumbai Indians owner Mukesh Ambani has written: ‘I am personally shocked at the unilateral decision of doing away with the services of IMG… It is also worrying for me that such a significant decision in relation to IPL has been taken without even so much as consulting the franchisees.”

The sentiment is that the new franchisees feel they have the right to demand answers about how cricket in India is being run. And in a Board that has never been faced with such a problem because of its ‘independent’ nature, not everyone is sure how to react in this novel situation.

So while one side is waving letters — from Ambani, Shah Rukh Khan and even former Board chief Sharad Pawar — to oppose the dismissal of IMG, which was praised so lavishly by Modi at the end of the second IPL; the other side’s old-school BCCI survival instincts are considering this a sign that the exclusivity of their private club is in danger of being breached forever.

“Today, they (franchisees) are saying which company should be the IPL’s promoter, tomorrow they will want so-and-so to be the league’s commissioner, and the day after they’ll say we want this man as Board president,” a top BCCI official said on Tuesday, clearly expressing his faction’s biggest fear. “This is not proper.”