The Indian Premier League is an ingeniously conceived and spectacularly executed show. It features genuine sporting skills along with elements of the burlesque. Now into its third edition, it has acquired not just a mass following but also new cohorts of fans among those who did not know they would love cricket lite. But success has brought a stiff price: serious questions about the league's integrity and internal governance. As controversies engulf the IPL's Kochi franchise, acts of impropriety and wrongdoing are becoming evident at more than one level by more than one party. Suave Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor is Casualty No. 1 — for his so-called mentoring of the Kerala franchise. It is now established that with the stated aim of giving young people in Kerala, his home-State, a cricket team to cheer for, Mr. Tharoor sought to use the power and influence arising out of his public office improperly — in the interests of a business consortium that won the bid, Rendezvous Sports World. Although Mr. Tharoor is not a shareholder in Rendezvous, his close friend Sunanda Pushkar was given substantial 'sweat equity' in the consortium for no immediately apparent reason. Mr. Tharoor's undue interest in helping a commercial enterprise exploit the IPL boom, prior to the bidding and also subsequently, is a prima facie case of ministerial misconduct. The Prime Minister must ask him to step down from his ministerial post immediately, pending an investigation into his conduct.
According to IPL chairman Lalit Modi, the Minister called him with a request not to make public the list of shareholders of the consortium. Mr. Tharoor admits he contacted Mr. Modi on the matter, although his version of the nature of his interest is quite different. The Franchise Agreement does have a confidentiality clause, which prohibits disclosure of the agreement, other than as might be required under the law, without the prior written agreement of both parties (the consortium and the IPL arm of the Board of Control for Cricket in India). But there is no justification for the existence of such a clause in the first place. The IPL draws heavily on public resources, not only for security purposes, but also in terms of tax exemptions and tariff concessions. There is an undeniable public interest in requiring consortiums bidding huge amounts for cricket franchises to disclose to the public their funding sources and shareholding particulars. However, Mr. Tharoor is not the only one in the dock in this murky affair. A Kochi consortium co-owner has alleged that Mr. Modi offered the owners $50 million as a 'bribe' to withdraw from the bid after they had won it. The IPL Chairman has strenuously denied this. Actually, the original invitation to tender for ascertaining the two new franchises was cancelled after BCCI president Shashank Manohar found that stiff clauses involving binding financial obligations were included without the IPL governing council's approval. The subsequent tender invitation dropped the clause requiring the bidders to demonstrate a net worth of $ 1 billion and to pay an advance guarantee of $ 100 million. Evidently, within the IPL, there are serious conflicts of interest and vested interests lobbying for, and acting clandestinely on behalf of, big business and powerful politicians. The league owes its success to millions of cricket fans across the country and, to some extent, abroad. The time has certainly come for the BCCI as well as government authorities to look into the nature and size of the amounts flowing into the IPL, and ensure greater transparency and accountability on the part of both the organisers and the franchisees.