April 19, 2010

Target Modi, not VIP allies

New Delhi, April 19: The government is expected to concentrate its firepower on IPL chief Lalit Modi but unlikely to go the whole hog in its efforts to clean up the IPL mess as that could involve hunting down “very big players”, sources said today.

The finance ministry has asked its various investigative and enforcement wings to carry out a comprehensive investigation into the IPL commissioner’s assets and financial deals. The corporate affairs ministry has also entered “the picture”, as minister Salman Khursheed put it.

While the tax department is piling heat on the BCCI by seeking replies to nine queries by April 23, the Enforcement Directorate is looking into deals abroad.

The notice to the BCCI — the board is extremely wary of government interference — is being seen as a loud signal to dump Modi, while the enforcement drive is being interpreted as a portent of a tougher crackdown if he holds his ground. The directorate is known for strong-arm tactics such as arrests and imprisonment.

That the issue stayed on the government’s radar a day after Shashi Tharoor resigned was evident from the fact that the Prime Minister was briefed on the IPL issue by BCCI vice-president Rajeev Shukla during the day.

The Modi camp so far has an ally in Sharad Pawar but it is not clear which way the NCP leader will swing if the government persists with its crackdown on the IPL chief. Some IPL franchisees have also started speaking against Modi, though Vijay Mallya, who owns the Royal Challengers Bangalore, is standing by him in public.

Although finance minister Pranab Mukherjee today told the Lok Sabha that “no wrongdoer would be spared”, not everyone in the Congress supports the idea of risking the government to cleanse the cricket administration.

Some party leaders have requested the government to look into the whole gamut of cricket management, including the roles of two Union ministers.

These ministers, however, are from an important UPA ally and the government is not too keen on pushing them beyond a point. Having lost its own minister, the Congress would like to hit back — but not by endangering its own future.

“We can say that the (cricket administration) system will become more organised now. We know the extent of illegalities in the IPL and the people involved in it. People like Lalit Modi will find the going tough now,” a senior Congress leader said.

Government sources dismissed as impractical the demand to ban or take over the IPL, voiced by several MPs in the Lok Sabha today.

Leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Yadav and Lalu Prasad clamoured for a ban on the T20 league, describing it as a huge racket involving money-laundering, betting and “ayyashi” (pleasure trips).

They suggested that black money from Swiss banks and other tax havens were being pumped into the league. But the statements are being seen more as rhetoric than based on hard evidence.

The BJP, which had led the calls for Tharoor’s head, made ritualistic noises about a thorough probe into the IPL after trying in vain to shift the focus to other issues.

Responding to the MPs’ demands, the finance minister said: “All aspects including sources of funding and routes through which the funds arrived would be looked into. Appropriate action as per law would be taken. No guilty (person) or wrongdoer will be spared.”

The Congress indicated its desire to fight a limited battle by targeting the BJP alone for its “hypocrisy and double standards”

Read more HERE.