Revelation about Pawar’s stake in the Pune IPL bid are being used by the congress to rein in its truant partner in the UPA, say Shantanu Guha Ray and Rana Ayyub
LAST MONTH, two ne ws channels in the Indian capital clamoured for 15 minutes of airtime from suspended Indian Premier League (IPL) chairman Lalit Modi who — despite being in a city in Italy — was all set to grace a local studio and talk ab out what he claimed was explosive material. One channel, charged up at the thought of garnering high ratings , even started promoting the show.
It was then that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) President Shashank Manohar called his prede cessor and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Paw ar, asking him to rein in his protégé. It is important for Modi to clear the charges first before going on the offensive, Manohar is said to have told Pawar curtly. The two shows were instantly cancelled.
‘I didn’t intend hurting Pawar. But I couldn’t help it. Things around him are a little out of control’
Interestingly, what wa s not known to many in the BCCI wa s the fact that both Modi and Pawar — along with another Union Cabinet Minister — were, all along , in the same city at a secret conclave. The European rendezvous, expectedly, has sparked a furore within the rank-and-file of the world’s richest cricket board, with a signific ant number of mandarins who run the show voicing their concern about the way Pawar has b een shielding Modi.
Indian cricket cognoscenti list this incident as one of the many scandals that has plagued the 71-year-old Agriculture Minister, three weeks ahead of his coronation as president of the Dubai-based International Cricket Council (ICC). Worse, alongside the charge that he holds a stake in a franchis ee of the IPL, questions are also being raised about his lack of cricketing background and how — despite the BCCI’s refusal to back former Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s candidature for ICC vice-presidency, again, because of his lack of cricketing pedigree — he gave a tacit approval for this move.
And in each of the cases, Pawar, sadly, is proving to be grossly incorrect. No one in the Indian capital is ready to comment on whether or not the ne ws about the involvement of one of India’s most influential and richest politicians in the latest IPL scam was leaked by the ministries of Home and Finance to the country’s largest circulated daily in a systematic way.
Similarly, no one is willing to verify whether the Congress wants to put pressure on its UPA partner, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), before the next reshuffle — so that changes sought by the Congress are not countered by Pawar and his gang. It may be recalled that another NCP Cabinet member, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, is already under a cloud on similar IPL-related charges involving his daughter and other family members.
FOR THE record, until the 2001 Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) elections, when he unseated former India captain Ajit Wadekar as the president in a highly contentious battle, Pawar had nothing to do with the willow game. His father-in-law, Sadu Shinde, a leg spinner, had toured England in the 1940s, but that aside, Pawar was a complete novice when he usurped Jagmohan Dalmiya’s gravy train.
No one is verifying whether Pawar’s stake in the IPL was leaked to the press or not
In short, nothing seems to be going right for Pawar. The once all-powerful head of Indian cricket is aware of the diminishing influence over his home turf, because now he has to deal with an indifferent, if not defiant, BCCI. “I am not commenting on anything, neither do I want to take any questions. I am not obliged to answer you or anyone else,” he told TEHELKA.
His daughter, Supriya Sule, when asked if she wanted to clear the contradictory reports in the media about her father and her stakes in the IPL messaged a curt: “No, thank you.”
Meanwhile, the latest media note from BCCI President Shashank Manohar countered the claims of the Pawars that the Pune bid was made by City Corporation managing director Aniruddha Deshpande. The statement instantly put Pawar on the back foot because the Pawars, who own over 16 percent of City Corp’s shares, had all along maintained that they had nothing to do with any IPL bid and that Deshpande acted in his individual capacity.
“I didn’t intend hurting Pawar. But I couldn’t help it. Things around him are a little out of control,” Manohar told a close friend when asked about the deteriorating relationship between the board and Pawar.
‘Pilcom looks insignificant in comparison to the current scam,’ says Dalmiya
Insiders say Manohar, who has solid backing from the Congress, was initially reluctant to op en up against Pawar. After all, the latter had handpicked him in the Board and Manohar’s father, lawyer VR Manohar, has defended the Pawars for ages. They say that Manohar’s opposition stems from the time Pawar went on defending Modi even after IPL gate. In fact , it is reliably le arnt that it was Manohar who, point blank, refused to give Modi four months to clarify his charges to the obvious dislike of the Maratha strongman.
In fact, Shashank Manohar had called up former BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya and sought his advice on how to handle a powerful person like Pawar. “Stay on the right track and do not get cowed down by powerful p eople,” Dalmiya is said to have replied.
The Kolkata-based Dalmiya should know. Once shunted out of the Board by Pawar and Modi, Dalmiya talked to TEHELKA about the court cases he fought against the BCCI himself, and how he managed to prove all accusations lev – elled against him by the Board wrong. “The current mess has put all the great work done by the Board under a cloud. The PILCOM scandal [in which Dalmiya was charged] was supp osed to be worth Rs 1.4 crore, but in comparison to the recent ones, it looks insignificant,” Dalmiya told TEHELK A.
“The Congress wants to ke ep its slate cle an and put the NCP under pressure before the next reshuffle. The eight Lok Sabha seat s with the NCP is not the problem. What’s holding them back is the p ower e quation in Maharashtra and the various interests that the Congress and NCP have across the country,” says a Congress insider.
A long-time adversary of Sharad Pawar, who has the same business interests in Maharashtra as Pawar, who is also an influential Congress leader from the state, said that it was time Pawar was shown his true place. In fact, the said leader did not waste time in approaching those close to Sonia to suggest cutting ties w ith him. “In their home state Maharashtra, their numb ers have been dwindling. It’s time that the Congress did away with the NCP which is no longer a party to reckon with,” he told TEHELKA .
A MUMBAI-BASED Congress leader who is responsible for briefing the Cong ress high command, says that there was a clear message from the party bosses to stay away f rom the IPL issue. The last time Paw ar’s name cropped up in a controversy, a meeting was called between him and senior Congress leaders at Pranab Mukherjee’s residence. Understandably, this time around the highly anticipated meeting did not take place.
A top-rung NCP leader, on conditions of anonymity, told TEHELK A: “Have they come out in support of Saheb [Pawar]? No, they haven’t! Why would the y, when they were the ones who instigated and leaked the repor ts to the press .”
As expected, the IPLgate has helpe d rival Bharatiy a Janata Party (BJP) put Pawar on a sticky wicket. “He must resign from the Cabinet . Indian cricket is full of tainted elements. It needs to be cleane d. And we are sending him to be come the IC C president,” BJP spokesperson R avi Shankar Prasad told TEHELK A.
Such is the mess in the BCCI that when its selectors sat down in Delhi to pick the team for the Asia Cup, no one knew that veteran Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar had already been ruled out of the tournament by his doctors due to niggling injuries. “Tendulkar ’s name was there in the first list. Only when a reporter pointe d out that the masterblaster had already declared himself unfit, was his name dropped,” says a BCCI insider. In many ways, it reflects the mess that surrounds the world’s richest cricket board.