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'Modi tinkered with the rules at will'

Last updated on: April 21, 2010 13:50 IST
Journalist T R Vivek, along with Alam Srinivas, co-authored IPL Cricket And Commerce: An Inside Story. He has been reporting and writing about the Indian Premier League ever since its inception.

Speaking to rediff.com's Krishnakumar Padmanabhan about the current controversy, Vivek says there were red flags from the very beginning. He says the anti-Lalit Modi camp seized an opportunity when it presented itself, but warns that even if Modi is shown the door, a total clean up is far from happening.

As an observer of the IPL from the early days, did you see any early warning signs? If so, what were they?

The very fact that cricket was being taken 'private' in one stroke was a red flag for me. It was quite similar to the East European countries embracing unfettered free market economics straight from the lap of Communism without any necessary groundwork for the transition. I was in a minority when I first raised questions about promoter motives, and antecedents.

What do a Mukesh Ambani or a Vijay Mallya know about the game to become cricket entrepreneurs? Are they here because it is their passion, or is it because owning a sports property was cool, and it propelled their social status higher than the already rarified echelons?

The franchise auction process left a lot of questions unanswered.

Another red flag for me was whether the Board of Control for Cricket in India had the management bandwidth, execution capabilities to embark on a novel idea such as this.

During the first IPL auction, were clear guidelines laid out for the process? Were they followed diligently?

I don't think the IPL worked on set guidelines. (Lalit) Modi tinkered with the rules at his will. The classic case is that of the Rajasthan Royals under-spending in the first round of auctions. They clearly knew something others didn't.

Though there were murmurs of impropriety and conflicts of interest from the beginning, why do you think the government is acting only now?

I don't think the government could do much when it comes to conflict of interest because the BCCI is a private body. What the government is now doing is probing financial irregularities and cases of tax evasion.

By the way, there weren't any murmurs. Blatant conflict of interest was there for all of us to see.

Power-drunk Modi and the IPL were being blase about what they were doing.

Why do you think the first auction for the two additional IPL teams was called off? And what do you think actually sparked the Modi-Tharoor row?

It looks like it is a clear case of the anti-Modi lobby ganging up to clip his wings. Your colleague Sheela Bhatt has a brilliant story on the whole affair. The fact that a little-known consortium gate crashed the big boys' party wouldn't have pleased Modi one bit. There are rumours of how Modi was keen on getting the Adanis the Ahmedabad franchise with overt support from the powers that be in the state.

Do you feel that the Kochi bid and its ownership is above board? Was it just Sunanda Pushkar who benefited or are there more people who have gained -- in Kochi and other franchises?

I would be off my rocker to even suggest that there was anything above board about Kochi. We haven't heard the last of the Kochi controversy. All of us could be in for some rude shocks.

What is your take on allegations that Modi or his relatives/friends benefited monetarily from IPL contract/stakes in teams?

Yes, they have and it is an incontestable fact. Mohit Burman of Mohali (Punjab Kings XI) is a relative. Suresh Chellaram, a British citizen and a Nigerian business tycoon who partly owns the Rajasthan Royals, is his brother-in-law.

What kind of conflict of interest do things like relatives of franchise owners working with the commissioner and board officials actively involved in franchise lead to?

It is an unhealthy situation whichever way you look at it. It could mean some franchise owners are more equal than others. At a listed company, such things lead to insider trading. To give you an example, it is like a media baron's son being the information and broadcasting minister or a senior bureaucrat in the ministry.

What is your take on the ownership of the existing franchises? Are they above board?

Has the IPL given us the confidence to believe so?

I am not sure about the current ownership patterns and I would love to know the truth myself!

Do you think the kind of numbers given for the values of the franchises is plausible? Is there a burst imminent?

I would say chasing 'paper valuations' will be the bane of many a franchise. Some of the numbers being bandied about are ridiculous. $200 odd million for some of these teams is a joke.

Where are the revenue streams, what is the quality of management to justify these valuations? I would say these are fanciful games some franchises love to play!!

What is the kind of public money -- by way of subsidies, land leases, etc -- that has been spent on the entire exercise?

Some states might have waived off entertainment tax, but beyond that I don't see taxpayers' money being involved.

Was the IPL really professionally run, like those associated with it claim, or is it one large private party where one man's writ ran?

It was a one-man show. There won't be so many corporate governance issues in a really professionally run business.

.Is it all over for Lalit Modi? What next for him then?

I don't think it is all over. Indians seem to have a very short memory these days. Moreover he is a canny businessman. I wouldn't write him off.

Even if Lalit Modi goes, can we be assured of a total clean up? Or would even this step be just eyewash?

There will be no clean up. Old witches will haunt the game with new faces. The more things change, the more they remain the same at the BCCI.