Sucheta Dalal :Saving Private IPL
Sucheta Dalal

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Saving Private IPL  

April 23, 2010

Trust the government to conduct a ham-handed investigation that humiliates the nation and holds up our rampant corruption for the world to snigger at. The raid-raj unleashed by the Income-Tax and Enforcement Departments accompanied by fanciful, but off-the-record claims and innuendo is only humiliating the country. Isn’t there a better way to conduct this investigation so that the IPL (Indian Premier League), which is acknowledged, even by Lalit Modi's worst detractors as a huge, business-entertainment-and-sporting success is cleaned up but kept alive?


It is not that other countries have not had bigger sleaze and scams than those exposed in the IPL. Notice how the US didn’t unleash a raid raj, even when the sleaze of Wall Street and the toxic sub-prime mortgage derivatives, led to a worldwide financial crisis and bankrupted Iceland. Instead, they pumped in taxpayers’ money to limit the damage, created a system to recover the money with interest and worked at reform over a two-year period and going on.


Can’t the same be done with the IPL? In any case, what is the credibility of a politician-infested Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to investigate anything? All we know is that the top honchos of most political parties (barring the Left) are represented on it. We know that each of them had their hand in the till in shocking ways—Cricket Minister …oops… agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's son-in-law has a stake; N Srinivasan, who is on the governing council openly owns a franchise and aviation minister Praful Patel was clearly pulling many strings through his daughter (conveniently employed in the IPL office and powerful enough to pull off an Indian Airlines flight from its duty schedule to charter it for the richie-rich IPL crowd). Why, even the Nawab of Pataudi, who suddenly appeared on various television channels recommending that Lalit Modi ought to step aside, may have had a connection to the franchise but for Tharoor upping his bid. Tharoor has (almost) openly alleged that he became the victim of a conspiracy to ensure that Videocon (in which Pataudi's son and current girl friend had a much publicised interest) obtained an IPL franchise.


If this drama isn’t enough, we have AC Muthiah of SPIC, a close friend of the home minister, moving the Supreme Court to re-open his demand that a governing council member ought not to own an IPL franchise.


Clearly the prime minister and the Congress Party is bereft of ideas on how to deal with all this.Why else would we have a report that a home minister, who just offered to resign for failure to handle security issues would be asked to clean up the IPL muck? Harsha Bhogle, a cricket commentator has suggested Deepak Parekh, Narayana Murthy etc. must get involved to find a way to save the IPL (as a former tax commissioner suggested on television) in the process of cleaning it up.


Frankly, that won’t work either. It would require these corporate honchos to look closely at murky political interests in the IPL and doing an honest job is bound to affect their business interests some time. So let us not try to cast this burden on corporate leaders, they have enough on their plate already. The Left parties are demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), but the two financial scams have shown that this dwindles into an orgy of influence peddling with no tangible results.


The alternative would be for the Supreme Court to decide on a slew of charges with regard to the ownership, tax havens, underworld links and the massive illegal betting connected with the game. A couple of cases have already been filed, but a case-by-case hearing of issues will be a slow, long drawn-out process that will destroy the IPL and permanently damage India's credibility.


Instead, G V Ramakrishna, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, who has the knack of hitting on the appropriate solutions, has a better idea. He suggests that a three-member committee of judges should be asked to investigate the matter. But the choice of judges must not be left to the law ministry or the courts. It must include Justice JS Varma, Justice SP Bharucha and they should in turn be asked to decide who the third member would be. The tax and enforcement authorities should report to this three-member bench. More importantly, it must be mandated to suggest ways of cleaning up cricket and all sport management in order to ensure transparent and orderly conduct in the future.


Hopefully, this bench will take into account the fact that cricket is as much a business today as it is a sport and it is unrealistic to expect council members to spend time on administration without any personal financial gains. Let bidding for the franchises and various contracts be conducted in an open and transparent manner without involving the BCCI’s governing council. The best outcome would be if the three-member bench manages to rid Indian sport of the debilitating and corrupting influence of netas and babus and allows for professional management with clear deliverables and profit-sharing based on results. That will ensure that our 1.1 billion people start winning games and bring in gold and silver medals by the dozens. — Sucheta Dalal

-- Sucheta Dalal