September 7, 2013; Kochi Tuskers Kerala’s controversial stint in the Indian Premier League lasted barely a year. But during their one-season appearance in the IPL, the owners of the franchise indirectly ended up playing catalyst to the dramatic exit of Lalit Modi. It was a saga that involved allegations of threats and intimidation, a curious case of a reprimand that wasn’t, and led to the downfall of the former IPL chairman and the resignation of a federal minister.
In its inquiry report, the BCCI’s special disciplinary committee, which was appointed to probe charges against Modi, details the alleged irregularities that he committed from the time the IPL’s governing council approved the draft of the Invitiation to Tender (ITT) in December 2009 – for adding two more teams to the league – to Modi’s eventual suspension in April 2010. The case of Kochi’s entry into the IPL constitutes three of the eleven charges pressed against Modi – rigging bids, arm-twisting franchises and bringing the BCCI into disrepute through his comments on Twitter.
The most intriguing events in the five-month period took place over a span of six days, beginning on April 11, 2010. On that day, hours after signing the franchise agreement with the owners of the Kochi franchise, Modi revealed the franchise’s shareholding patterns on Twitter. Among the shareholders, 4.75% of the sweat equity was owned by Sunanda Pushkar – identified by the Kochi franchise as a “businesswoman who had interests in the Gulf” – who was, at the time a partner of the then junior federal minister Shashi Tharoor. The two subsequently married, but the controversy forced Tharoor to resign his post in the government, following allegations of holding a hidden stake in a franchise based in his home state.
While explaining Modi’s defence in the 134-page report, the three-member disciplinary committee observes: “He (Modi) stated that he had informed the President (then BCCI president Shashank Manohar) of there being sweat equity in Kochi franchise. On the instructions of the President, the Agreement was signed. Mr Modi enquired from the representatives about the identity of the person to whom the said equity was received. Mr Modi was informed that the owner of the said equity was a lady called Ms Sunanda Pushkar. When pressed for further details of her identity, Mr Modi received evasive replies one of which was that she was a businesswoman with interests in Gulf. At that Mr Modi’s concern at the lack of clear identity of the sweat equity holder were heightened. When Mr Modi insisted on getting a clear answer, he received a call from Mr Tharoor telling him not to enquire into the identity of the sweat equity holder. However, as instructed by the President the Agreement with the Kochi franchise was signed on 11.4.2010. Later, on 11.4.2010 itself, Mr Modi tweeted the ownership details of the Kochi franchise on social media.”
Hours after the tweet, Vivek Venugopal, one of the members of the Kochi consortium, filed a written complaint to Manohar against Modi, requesting him to: “immediately 1) instruct Mr Modi to retract the statements made in the media as well on Twitter, 2) reveal/ disclose similar information for all participating teams on his Twitter account, 3) apologise for the communications given in the media.”
Matters came to a head on April 16. The Kochi franchise alleged to the BCCI that, at a meeting at the Four Seasons hotel in Mumbai (a meeting Modi has denied), Modi had threatened the representatives of Kochi franchise to “give up the franchise failing which: a) he would remove the players’ spending cap which would send the players’ cost spiraling; b) intentionally delay the construction of the Kochi stadium by taking in PIL and environmental litigation; c) identify stadiums in remote and infeasible locations like Guwahati and Bhiwani till the Kochi stadium was ready; and d) introduce a player retention policy that would allow the existing franchise to retain up to six existing players thus reducing the options of hiring top players.”
Based on the facts that were established, the committee concluded: “In view of the aforesaid, we hold that despite being the successful bidder, the act of Mr Modi in arm twisting the Kochi franchise to leave the franchise was an act likely to be detrimental of the interest of the BCCI and endangered the harmony and affected the reputation of the BCCI.”
However, the report suggests that the seeds of the controversy were sown in the preceding months. On December 17, 2009, the governing council approved the draft ITT documents for inducting two additional teams; however, the final ITT had two clauses inserted by Modi. These “onerous conditions”, as the report called them, were: the bidder should have a net worth of US$1bn and must provide a bank guarantee of Rs 460 crores [$100 million].
Modi contended that he added the clauses to “protect BCCI’s interest”. But the board contended he was “rigging bids” in order to suit the Videocon Group and Adani Group, both of whom had made their intentions to bid for new teams for a group. The two new clauses ruled out most of the other prospective bidders, and some of them, including the Sahara Group and the Jagran Group, complained to Manohar, an eminent lawyer who advises the BCCI’s legal arm along with Arun Jaitley, immediately after the ITT was floated on February 22.
As a result, instead of the bid documents being submitted and opened – as announced earlier – on March 7, the BCCI issued fresh tenders, quashing the earlier process. In fact, according to the minutes of the governing council meeting on March 7, “The president further explained that he had further received complaints from GC members in regard to these conditions and Sahara, who are the sponsors of the Indian Cricket team and pay the BCCI Rs 500 crore per annum, have deliberately been kept out of the tendering process due to some of the above conditions and they have written to him saying if they were good enough to pay 500 crores to BCCI how can they not be worth to pay 150 crores a year (US$30 million) even if they were to have bid US$300 million. Similarly, other companies like Jagran group have also expressed the same concern that it is a deliberate attempt to keep most companies out.”
In his defence, Modi said he had cleared these conditions with Manohar on the phone and only after that did he put out the tender. Manohar, according to minutes of the BCCI, conceded Modi had sought his approval in general but he [Manohar] had not read the document. “On the reading of the document and receiving the complaints, he is of the firm view that the said ITT should be cancelled under clause 11.4 of the ITT.”
There’s an aside here: at that March 7 meeting, according to its minutes, Manohar reprimanded Modi “for incorporating such onerous and unreasonable conditions in the ITT.” However, Sunil Gavaskar, a member of the governing council, later requested that the word “reprimand” should not be recorded as Modi had already accepted his censure in public. The word was deleted but the charge against Modi, of adding two clauses without permission, stuck. He used the deletion of “reprimand” in his defence, as vindication of his action, but the committee preferred to see it as “an act of courtesy at the behest of a colleague.”
As a result, while finding Modi guilty of rigging bids, the committee concluded: “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.”
It was clear that Kochi entered the IPL on the back of a controversy and a relationship with Modi gone wrong. The former IPL chairman, on the other hand, staunchly defended his actions. “The fact that Kochi franchisee defaulted in paying even the bank guarantee to the BCCI and was terminated and even Sahara has said no to further participation in IPL shows that only cash-rich entities could have had the stomach to sustain the initial losses and could have continued in long run. The termination/ pulling out of these two franchises has taken a toll on the brand value of IPL,” Modi said