Lalit Modi Row: These are no cricketing nerves
There is understandable trepidation in ruling party circles after fugitive tycoon and former IPL Commissioner, Lalit Modi, began to tweet against the corrupt nexus that rules cricket
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi
Two days presented two different images of a man whose tweets have had a tectonic quality of late. Sitting in the picture postcard backdrop of the romantic Balkan region of Montenegro, Lalit Modi, the scion of the industrialist Modi family and the ex-IPL Cricket Commissioner, was pugnacious, aggressive and taunting when negotiating the Editor of a TV news channel. He tore through questions that suggested he was an absconder or a fugitive from justice. “Show me an FIR or anything that suggests that I have committed any crime,” he said. His defense consisted of dropping the names of the rich and powerful and showing that they were accomplices in his high life and amoral ways. If Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj helped him with British authorities, allowing him to travel to Lisbon, Portugal, then what was really wrong? Don’t friends help each other?
The second image was that of a guarded, circumspect and rather scared Lalit Modi trying to dodge a TV news channel that had spent time and money to reach Montenegro. Modi had quite obviously promised an interview, but his lawyers seemingly prevailed on him to shut his big mouth. It is also possible that someone from Delhi told him to keep his silence if he wanted any help from anyone. Or perhaps there was a far more serious incentive from those who felt threatened by serial disclosures. Although Modi did not talk to the journalist, he was still defiant and threatening. His resolve and his circumspection lasted only a few hours. He was back to his tweeting ways again, shredding reputations and challenging his detractors to get him. It was clear that the quality of protection that he enjoyed in London, as well as the material that he had against his detractors in the country, was far more dangerous and subversive then what his enemies could hurl at him.
There has since been a palpable narrative shift, with the government and the ruling party defending Lalit Modi as if he is their own.
Ever since he began his tweet war from the safe climes of London there are few things that can safely be stated. Lalit Modi has proved that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s interpretation of morality and propriety is little different from that of Congress, which lost the parliament elections on grounds of corruption and poor governance. The rot, as it were, is not just in cricket, but in every section of society. Worse, the Raisina Hill is the Gaumukh of corruption. As Modi’s tweets effortlessly stripped respectability from the President’s office, not sparing even those whom he claimed as his own, it became apparent that he was on a war path.
Lalit Modi has been angry for the last few years. The question is, why did he get angrier? Was he promised the withdrawal of cases against him and respectable return to India after the NDA came to power? After details emerged of Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj surreptitiously helping Lalit Modi to travel to Portugal to tend to his cancer-stricken wife, more exposés on the tender relationships he has enjoyed with Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and others have come out in the open. Modi quite cleverly introduced a document in which Raje was shown testifying for him in a British court as a testament to his credentials as a good man. This was interpreted as scandalous for the simple reason that there were visible business ties between Raje and Modi. Old timers stepped in to show that their relationship went back to Raje’s earlier stint as the CM. Congress party stepped out, exposing more sweetheart deals between them and demanding her resignation. BJP’s earlier confusion had cleared and the party asked why she should resign for doing nothing. BJP’s defense began to build around the fact that the scam that the Congress and some channels were harping on had no money trail: no money was exchanged or earned from the transaction. At best it was friends helping friends. Quite obviously absence of propriety in politics was not even factored.
At the centre of what is known as Lalitgate, is cricket. It is in the game of cricket that the politics, business, sleaze and crime all converge. Supreme Court also keeps a watch on the industry, appointing committees and overseeing how Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), a company that manages the national team and the game all over the country, conducts itself. Big politicians like Sharad Pawar, Finance Minister Arun Jetley, Amit Shah, Anurag Thakur, businessmen Mukesh Ambani, Dalmia, Srinivasan and scores of heavy weight businessmen are part of the game. Their involvement grew after Modi introduced the IPL money spinner. This allowed the game to be repackaged and resold with a new cast of players. It also allowed an underworld involved in betting and trying to wash their ill-gotten proceeds. As the game transcends borders and nationalities, the criminality associated with betting and fixing is not limited to local heroes, but has corrupted everyone.
Modi was ousted from his job as the IPL commissioner after an enquiry committee, headed by Arun Jetley, disclosed his involvement in forgery and other money-making devices when the IPL was shifted to South Africa. Although Modi has been gentle with Jetley till now, his enemies are quite well-known. Besides Jetley, he wants to bring down N. Srinivasan, Rajiv Shukla and a bunch of businessmen who are on his bad side. Until now, he has only made adulatory references towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His remarks have fed an impression that much of what was flowing out of London and Montenegro concerned those who are opposed to the PM, and therefore PM Modi could have a role to play in these exposures so as ease his opponents out of government. Relying on this line of thinking, many expect the PM to diminish all those who have come in Modi’s arc of attack. He would not allow anyone to sully the reputation of someone who promised “to neither eat nor allow others to eat”.
Till the time of writing, PM Modi has been quiet. People close to him say that he is in a serious dilemma: should he be allowed by TV channels to sack some of those whose names have figured, and satisfy the collective bloodlust of the masses, or just brazen it out? He would, though, be wise to remember that Lalit Modi is no pushover. As long as he has friends in Prince Andrew, Raul Castro, former Interpol boss Ronald Noble, Naomi Campbell, Paris Hilton, Keith Vaz and scores of others, one can safely infer that not only is he being protected, but he is also getting some serious strategic advice. What is yet to be seen in the coming days is, where will all this lead?