Sunday, April 25, 2010

BRAND IPL: LOTUS DESPITE MODI AND MUCK?

Can someone explain this? How can the IPL be the "finest new brand of global value", as Shekhar Gupta calls it, when it is also being alleged by him and many others in the same breath that that the one man who created it and ran it single-handedly for three seasons seemingly perfectly, is actually a villain who has corrupted the very innards of the organisation he heads?

Thanks to one tweet that felled the fox-clever, arrogant and avaricious Shashi Tharoor, Lalit Modi has instantly become a ruthless dictator, a corrupt administrator, a money launderer, an inveterate philanderer - add expletives of your choice without a care - who, through a complex web of financial crookery and dubious deals involving ownership of various teams, broadcasting rights etc, has enriched himself enormously and brought disrepute to the game. Suddenly, people have discovered that, thanks to the IPL, he owns a yacht, a fleet of S Class Mercedes cars, a jet and havelis, is into orgies, has been rubbing people the wrong way, has been running the show as his private empire etc. In short, what we are being told by and through the media is that the man needs to be thrown out immediately from his job as IPL commissioner. The sub-text is that once he goes all will be well again.

Lalit Modi would perhaps not have expected that exposing Shashi Tharoor would generate the kind of Tsunami it has. He should have known that the Congress party has always successfully used/bought/arm-twisted people into hastily burying any scam, no matter how big, if it even as much as singes a powerful Congress leader. Shashi Tharoor was no ordinary Congressman. He was one of the star members of the new club of 'educated' and elitist Indians that Rahul Gandhi was crafting to get himself projected by the English media as the Great New And Only Hope for India, before the 2014 general elections .

By stripping Tharoor of the veneer that had made him very popular among English-speaking Indians and revealing his ugly, dishonest innards that were indistinguishable from those of the many dehati thieves that our flawed systems have thrown up as leaders, Lalit Modi committed an unpardonable crime. How could he dare to, when no else did, tell the world that Tharoor should actually be spelled 'Thugroor'?

It is nobody's case that Lalit Modi is a saint. By all available accounts - there is an avalanche now - particularly from those who proudly claimed, till that famous tweet, that Lalit Modi was "my friend", it appears that he did as much wrong as right as IPL commissioner. It is also being projected through selective leaks by India's infamous Raiders of the Income Tax Department that Modi is not the only one who stinks: the whole architecture does. Many team-owners and administrators, even cricket legends, who have been merrily enjoying the IPL windfall for three years are, we are being told, all guilty of sullying the 'fair' name of the game of cricket and that the rot is deep indeed.

In the middle of all this muck, we are also being shown a pristine lotus, the IPL brand, which we are being asked to unquestioningly accept is still a good product, an outstanding Indian global brand that we must be proud of. Is that possible? If the one guy who gave birth to it and has built it up as a one-man brand is the Devil himself, if the other administrators headed by the omniscient Sharad Pawar of many a 'fame', including the rot in the ministry he currently heads, if many of those who own IPL teams, are all dirty guys in the game to maximise their own earnings by every dubious instrument available, then is it possible to believe that the players who have been bought by them and are in their employ are not being used by them or others with the same objective?

How can we believe that there is no match fixing, that the 'integrity of the sport' has not been lost, if the rot is really as deep as is currently being made out to be?

Something does not strike one as being right here. Sure, a lot needs to be fixed in the IPL. But, either things are not as rotten as they appear now or, if they indeed are as bad, then one has to logically accept that the sport too has been fatally compromised. That very few are willing to accept. Which can only mean that it is a mean campaign that has been launched by the government solely to punish Modi for unmasking Tharoor and to politically weaken Sharad Pawar who is a painful thorn that cannot be removed by the Congress because the survival of the government in Maharashtra, even the Centre, depends on his considerable weight, pun intended. This may also be with a view to make Tharoor's crime look relatively benign so that he can be rehabilitated quickly.

Lalit Modi, despite massive pressure, has refused to resign as IPL commissioner. On April 26, a meeting of the governing council of the IPL has been called to remove him from the post. He has not only called the meeting illegal, as he says only he can call for it, but has also refused to attend it. To add fuel to the raging fire, he has launched a counter attack on, yes, Twitter again: "Wait for the ipl to finish - I will reveal the men who have tried to bring disrepute to the game and how we stopped them from doing it."

Modi, let us accept it, is no ordinary fly-by-night swindler or conman. He is proud of the product he has developed with a lot of hard work and also seems to have covered his flanks well. He probably had a fair idea that taking out Tharoor would unleash the might of the state against him. Which means he also calculated that, given the knowledge he has about every aspect of IPL and the men involved in it, at the end of it he would come out relatively unscathed and, more importantly, the brand would remain untarnished.

There is going to be serious egg on some faces over the next few days. But, there is hope that brand IPL will not only not take a hit but will also grow bigger and stronger. This hope has arisen not because of what people have been writing and speaking while keeping the brand distinct from Modi and others, but because of the manner in which Modi is taking on the state and its instruments, including the media, which suggests that he guarded at least the brand zealously.

If, however, everything been as putrid as the hysterical reaction to 'Thugroorgate' is making it out to be, then the muck is not going to go out with Modi. Then, no matter who replaces him, everything will, away from public gaze, slide back to where it was. And who knows, Tharoor the Mentor - fixer in plain language - might quietly get his ministership and IPL team back too.

Related reading: Shashi Tharoor: making a 'difference'
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