NEW DELHI: Often parts of a new jigsaw puzzle can be found in an old story. And hence it could be that a partial answer as to why no action is being taken against Minister Sushma Swaraj and Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje for helping Lalit Modi evade Indian law, can perhaps be found in bits and pieces of the Indian Premier League story of 2010 when sleaze, glamour, controversy was all part and parcel of what had become a powerful mix.
The following is based on media reports of the time, that often appeared unconnected but when read together paint a fairly cogent picture with of course several key pieces of the puzzle missing till date.
Gujarat was one of the few states without a cricket team of its own. And so naturally Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi who was also the President of the state Cricket Association wanted a franchise, that would then include him and the state into the power-glamour circle. Lalit Modi was then the IPL Chairperson. The Adani group was a commercial partner of the Gujarat Cricket Association at the time.
It was decided to add two more teams to the existing eight teams. To cut a complicated story short at this stage, the Adani group and Videocon bid for the franchise for Gujarat. They both lost, with Sahara Adventure Sports getting the franchise for Pune, and Rendezvous Sports World Limited emerging from nowhere and bagging Kochi. Gujarat lost out.
The story moved into Kochi, with Shashi Tharoor and Sunanda Pushkar behind Rendezvous that had bid only for Kochi and got the franchise for Rs 1533.32 crores reeling under ‘leaks’ of sweat equity amongst other disclosures. Tharoor a Minister in the UPA government then lost his job. The rest regarding Tharoor and Pushkar is history.
But before moving a little back in time to fit in the lost bits, there was another moment as it were in the IPL at the time, in April 2010. IPL under Lalit Modi had hit a new low with allegations and charges being hurled all over the place. An Income Tax raid was carried out at his office in the luxury Four Seasons Hotel. CCTV footage showed a woman entering the office, and leaving with a pile of files and documents just 30 minutes before the raid. She was clearly acting on a tip off. IT officials did not divulge her name but later ‘source’ based media reports identified her as one Laila Mahmood, the ‘step daughter’ of tycoon Vijay Mallya who was also the owner of an IPL team Royal Challengers. Daughter of then Civil Aviation Minister and NCP leader Praful Patel was also working at IPL
The media story as it went was that both BCC and the Football Association were virtually under the control of the Nationalist Congress Party leaders, the powerful Sharad Pawar and his protegee Praful Patel who was the Civil Aviation Minister then. Mathrubhumi, amongst other newspapers, reported that Videocon and Adani group gave 30 per cent free equities to the Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel families respectively at the time. However, these reports were denied by all.
The media was then informed by ‘reliable sources’ and carried reports maintaining that documents relation to the Adani and Videocon bids were missing, and had not been recovered in the Income Tax raid. It was presumed, but never confirmed, that these files were in the material carried out by the IPL employee before the raid. The Adani group denied these reports, maintaining that the documents pertaining to the bids were with them and not the IPL and would be made available to the Income Tax authorities if required. The media speculation, however, continued but nothing was heard about these documents again.
A crucial piece of this jigsaw was provided a couple of years later in the report of the three member BCCI disciplinary committee that included BCCI vice president and BJP’s Arun Jaitley and Congress party leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. It started as a three-member disciplinary committee including then BCCI President N Srinivasan but he recused himself. Erstwhile IPL chairman Chirayu Amin was made a member but he also withdrew and it became a two member committee. Subsequently after the report was made available in 2013, Lalit Modi was expelled by the BCCI.
The disciplinary committee report joined some crucial dots at the time. It became known that Lalit Modi was reportedly supporting Gujarat and in the process Saif Ali Khan-Kareena Kapoor-Videocon and the Adani group for the bid. As a result clauses to limit the number of applicants were introduced in a second tender floated for the two cricket teams. Under this, as it was reported then and recalled by the Indian Express more recently in a short report, “the panel found that the then IPL chairman introduced two ‘unreasonable and onerous’ clauses in the final draft of the Invitation to Tender (ITT) without the knowledge or approval of the IPL Governing Council (GC) in a deliberate attempt to restrict the number of bidders.
The two contentious clauses that were not part of the original draft approved by the GC — according to the report — called for the bidder to have ‘a net worth of US$ 1 billion’ and ‘to give a bank guarantee of Rs 460 crore’.”
At the time reports had pointed towards the virtually authoritarian manner in which Lalit Modi was running IPL and did not approach the Governing Council before introducing these clauses. The report said, “the object of such unreasonable conditions was to exclude healthy competition and favour two bidders which is evident from the fact that only two bids were received pursuant to the ITT.” These two bids thus were rigged with the intention of securing the franchise, but both were outdone by the above named contenders for Pune and Kochi.
Interestingly Lalit Modi insisted he had got verbal clearance from BCCI president Shashank Manohar, which clearly did not weight with the disciplinary committee. After he was banned for life by BCCI he tweeted a warning, “I am a bad enemy to make, because I am a winner. You don’t want to take such extreme steps with me; rather, you want to negotiate with me, because you need to be able to walk away.
“Do I care about a life ban? Really couldn’t care less, as they can’t ever take away what I created (the IPL). They can destroy it. But I will keep at them for sure.”
Lalit Modi is keeping at it, and was the person who knew all that was happening in the IPL during those days. He was particularly happy with the Lok Sabha election results last year, claiming that he would soon be able to return to India as a result. He has been against Finance Minister Arun Jaitley since the report and the ban on him, and insisted that his return would be despite the latter. Given the 250 page dossier released by his lawyers that has placed Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje in the dock, Lalit Modi his friends of that time say, is meticulous in maintaining records and keeping documents.