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Millennium Post

Nothing unofficial about it

Money, wine, women, film stars, politicians, businessmen, industrialists, policemen, bureaucrats, money launderers, bookies, gamblers, match fixers, prostitutes and honey traps, underworld dons, crazy fan following and also some cricket under the glare of millions of wasteful watts of electric light when vast parts of the country reel under power cuts! To increasing number of Indians, the cricket’s T-20 Indian Premier League (IPL) championship extravaganza is, to a large extent, a combination of all these and more! It is like a popular Bollywood masala film. It is also the last and most expensive of sporting entertainments in the country.

Matches? Yes, they are there mostly for television audience and hardly for genuine sports aficionados. Even the presence of film stars, foreign cricket players, fat bare legs of imported dancing cheer girls and usual media hypes and hooplas have hardly been able to fill in most of metro-city cricket stadiums. This could be a reason why IPL organisers have extended its reach to cover smaller venues in states such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Himachal in search of more spectators before TV cameras. Half-or-less filled stadia are hardly impressive for big video publicity and advertisers.

As of now, investigations are on about the latest round of spot-fixing scandal, involving some second and third rated Indian and yet-unnamed foreign cricketers. The three arrested Rajasthan Royals cricketers – S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan – and 11 arrested bookies will hopefully provide more names of IPL players and bookies involved in spot-fixing as well as match-fixing in the coming days. Some of them have already made sensational ‘confessions’ before the Delhi police special cell. Others are expected to sing now and, may be, deny later. With the underworld involved, who knows some suicides and murders may also follow. The memory of the fate of ace South African cricketer and captain Hansie Cronje and England cricket all-rounder cum Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer is still fresh in the memory of many. Former South Africa captain Clive Rice said on record that Bob Woolmer and Hansie Cronje were murdered.

Already an ace detective and police inspector, Harish Dutt, the first complainant in the current spot-fixing case lodged on 9 May, died the very next day under dramatic circumstances in the company of his live-in partner Geeta Sharma in a Gurgaon apartment. Though it was immediately branded as a ‘suicide’, Dutt’s family has sought a CBI probe into the murder.

The high-voltage drama as it is fast unfolding daily also somewhat likens to a well-designed publicity stunt to arrest the depleting public interest in cricket as the IPL-6 is drawing to a close. The story has already received a massive media attention right in time when it has nothing very spicy immediately to focus on after the latest exit of two cabinet ministers – one on the charges of involvement in a cash-for-railway-top-job scam and the other of alleged complicity in covering up the private coal block allotment scandal. All are waiting to know if there are much bigger names involved in fixing matches, both inside and outside stadiums. After all the concept of the multi-million dollar IPL itself is scandalous for a country where one-third of the world poor live, where power shortage snatches livelihood of millions daily and where its Reserve Bank breathes out of constant foreign exchange borrowing by the government, corporates and individuals and let IPL draw lavishly from its coffer.

Like Congress leader Suresh Kalmadi leading the charge of the much wasteful 2010 Commonwealth Games, another Congress MP and national Congress spokesperson, Rajeev Shukla, a former humble reporter turned high profile vice-president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the country’s and one of the world’s most cash-rich sports bodies, currently serves as chairman cum commissioner of T-20 IPL Championship.

Ironically, IPL, having a current brand value of over $ 3 billion, started in 2008 (April 18) under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime and there is no reason to believe that it did not have the government approval and patronage since it involved massive foreign currency expenditure and participation of police, security, central and state intelligence machinery for trouble-free tournaments as these matches and foreign players could be easy terrorist targets.

Top business personalities such as Neeta Ambani, wife of the country’s richest industrialist Mukesh Ambani, disgraced promoter of grounded Kingfisher Airlines, liquor baron Vijay Mallya, business tycoon Ness Wadia, son of Nusli Wadia of Bombay Dyeing and great grandson of Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, India Cements boss Narayanaswami Srinivasan and Lalit Modi, president and managing director of Modi Enterprises and the Executive Director of Godfrey Phillips India, have been associated with IPL. On the other hand, BCCI has provided a great platform for top businessmen and politicians to mingle together for the cause of Indian cricket.

Several present and the late Congress party leaders and ministers such as S K Wankhade, N K P Salve and Madhavrao Scindia and, more recently, Sharad Pawar were among the politicians who served as BCCI president. To many, BCCI looks like a rich sporting outpost of the Congress party.

IPL is as much a BCCI brainchild as that of a well-crafted business-politics nexus. It allowed former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi to allegedly run away with over Rs 1,310 crore – all in hard currencies – in the conduct of T-20 cricket tournament in South Africa. Modi called it a ‘collective responsibility.’ He runs his India business empire from London, ignoring 11 Enforcement Directorate summons.

Is the government of India so toothless that it can’t bring back even an officially proclaimed law offender like Modi from London for trial? Or, is it afraid that such a trial would expose a bigger business-politics conspiracy? The total amounts involved in the IPL match fixing scandals – the present and the past – are peanuts compared to what businessman Modi alone had allegedly looted from the tournament and the country.

After the latest round of match-fixing scandal linking the dreaded underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and his ring, the need is to act fast and stop the sporting farce called IPL without delay. IPA
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