THEY GAVE him the sobriquet of the game-changer with great fanfare. He looked down at them with imperious pride, the new-age messiah of big cash in Indian cricket, Lalit Modi. As India miraculously triumphed in the inaugural T20 World Cup, the nation was swept in an unrivalled frenzy. Far removed from the great 1983 glory of Kapil’s Devils at Lord’s perhaps but a world champion tag nevertheless. Lalit Modi’s nostrils sniffed some serious money as crowds thronged Marine Drive and Yuvraj Singh did a balle balle atop an open bus cavalcade. The ICL a fledgling Zee venture in a T20 format was contemptuously snuffed out using BCCI’s formidable bulldozing power and before we could say Sachin Tendulkar the IPL was born. In short, it was a controversial, conspiratorial birth in convenient circumstances.
To the credit of Modi he had no false pretensions about the IPL; it was to be Indian summer’s hottest reality TV show. As the “India story” gained massive momentum at glitzy summits like Davos and in sleek analyst reports of Goldman Sachs, the IPL’s embarrassment of incredible riches through franchise auctions and TV rights seemed a logical corollary. An entertainment starved nation on a two-month holiday swarmed stadiums and stopped switching channels to experience the novel experiment, a slam-bang three-hour “live” episode unseen before.
Modi gave lengthy interviews on the emerging global IPL brand and its financial infallibility. But unknown to all he had violated cardinal principles of corporate governance (excuse the accompanying snigger). The IPL management itself had been reduced to a disorganised back-office of an event management company. Reality shows unfortunately also have end credits rolling up at some stage. And exponential growth in a finite world even as big as the Indian household market is unsustainable. But Modi cared a damn for meaningful dialogue; “IPL is recession-proof”, he said with dramatised panache. For him IPL was like a soft pornographic film, the same old predictable stuff, and totally unaffected by business cycles. The valuation theory was brilliantly manufactured as it was home cooked (till date not a single published result of an IPL franchisee has been sighted). IPL became a personification of crony capitalism at its exemplary best, a close-knit cartel-driven structure forever sporting the look of lottery winners.
Congressman Shashi Tharoor was just a peripheral cipher for Modi, an exasperating gadfly who deserved to be hurriedly “swatted”. The Twitter insinuation on the former UN diplomat’s alleged business interest in the Kochi franchise was meant to embarrass Tharoor, considered an awkward political novice, into servile submission. But Modi did not expect the avalanche of media backlash and the deep probe into IPL that it would trigger. The initial findings are frightening; slush money, kick-backs, Income Tax violations, conflicting ownership and assorted contraventions.
The IPL is a victim of a new national syndrome, the inability to cope with sudden deluge of financial windfall leading to immeasurable hubris, seething contempt for transparent prudential norms and those who question some incongruous inconsistencies. A bloated bubble was imperceptibly being created, with industry captains, tinsel town superstars, international sports management firms, canny politicians, cricket administrators all in close cohorts. But the belated purge should not end with Modi’s exit alone. After all, he is BCCI’s own patented Frankenstein. The BCCI administrative structure needs a thorough overhaul under government dispensation, akin to a dynamic PSU managed by talented professionals sans the self-aggrandising men in white, the politicians.
Our cricketers deserve much better. As do the passionate fanatics who weather sweltering heat and serpentine queues to get into claustrophobic stadiums, and wait hours for a fleeting glimpse of MSD post-match paying for their tickets with hard-earned post-tax income. Are you listening, Mr Modi?
(Jha started CricketNext and is also a corporate consultant)