Modi faces heat at home
Lalit Modi's high-profile journey in Indian cricket is facing unexpected turbulence from an unlikely source: his own home state of Rajasthan, where a new government and rivals within the local cricket association, which he heads, have joined hands to try and oust him through an election they have called for next month.
Modi, the IPL chairman and BCCI vice-president, has been known to be very close to the previous government, especially its chief minister Vasundhara Raje, and is said to have played a key backroom role in her state election campaign last year. But after Raje's BJP party was defeated in December, Modi has been facing a string of allegations from politicians affiliated to the new Congress government and dissidents in the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA).
Complaints have already been lodged with the local police against Modi on some of these allegations, ranging from misappropriation of funds to forgery. But Modi has denied the charges categorically and hit back today by divesting the association secretary Subhash Joshi, a loyalist-turned-dissenter, of all powers.
Modi has also appointed an arbitration panel of three former Supreme Court judges to decide on the allegations and whether the association should proceed with elections. "These cases have no value at all," Modi told PTI. "But there is so much mud, I want to get rid of this once and for all. I will resign if I am proven guilty."
Modi is confident that he will overcome the challenge at home but if the rival group manages to force an election and defeat him, the implications are obvious: it could dent his standing within the BCCI even though rules allow him to retain his official posts with the Indian board irrespective of local association results.
Modi's supporters say that he is the victim of an "obvious witch-hunt" that has been launched by the new government, whose chief minister Ashok Gehlot publicly accused him of trying to influence independent legislators to alter the numbers after the election. The man leading the RCA dissidents is Kishore Rungta, a former BCCI treasurer and close associate of Jagmohan Dalmiya, who has strong links with the new administration.
"It's the Rungta faction which is trying to use politics, the change in regime in the state to their benefit," Modi said. "They think they can dictate terms like this. But I am sure Mr Ashok Gehlot will understand and he won't let that happen."
Rungta himself has been the subject of similar allegations during his tenure with the BCCI while his family members controlled the RCA for 38 years till Modi took over through a controversial election in 2005. But ironically, Rungta is banking this time on a new state law that Modi relied on to turn the tables four years ago.
The law was passed by the previous government to help Modi defeat Rungta and takes into account only those votes cast by the 32 district associations within the RCA - previously, votes from individual association members, most of whom were Rungta's supporters at the time, were counted.
Rungta's group now claims to have a majority of the district votes. "My demand is that elections should be held in time," Rungta said. Modi's supporters, meanwhile, want all court cases related to the previous elections and the new law to be disposed off first.
Compared to Rungta, Modi's track record in Indian cricket is undeniably stronger and he has been widely credited with transforming the financial profile of the BCCI into an organisation worth well over a billion dollars, apart from launching the hugely successful IPL. However, his aggressive style of functioning seems to have swung some of his home support the other way. Apparently, the jet-setting official was caught up with his work for the BCCI (he also heads its fixtures committee), IPL and Champions League and made the mistake of ignoring his home constituency, especially the local officialdom.
Modi, on the other hand, points to the Future Cricket Academy that he has set up at Jaipur which cost millions of rupees to build and is being labelled as a world-class facility - the Australian team practised there for a week before the Test series against India last year. But the academy itself is now the subject of controversy with Rungta pointing fingers at the various construction contracts associated with it.
However, the most significant charge against Modi on a 14-point list released by Rungta recently points to the strong undercurrent of personal enmity between the two men behind this tussle. Rungta has accused Modi of misappropriation and mismanagement that led to the BCCI deducting a sum of nearly Rs 2 crore from its annual grant for the RCA.
It turns out that the allegation presented only one half of the story. Modi points out that the BCCI has subsequently clarified in a letter to the RCA that the deductions were related to expenses for the 2006 Champions Trophy. In fact, a letter from N Srinivasan, the BCCI secretary, to the RCA suggests that such deductions had also been made from other state associations that hosted the ICC event.
Meanwhile, BCCI officials who have been tracking the sudden turn of events in Rajasthan point to an obvious escape route for Modi.
"He can try to patch up with the state government through Sharad Pawar or through his various other political contacts," an official said. "Besides, the BCCI has always been wary of government interference in its activities and that may be a factor that could help Modi gather support at the highest levels." Pawar, the previous BCCI president, is a powerful minister of the union government and heads a party that is part of the Congress-led coalition that rules the country.
At the moment though, Modi is back in the limelight after having unveiled a bumper list of 111 cricketers for the IPL auction on February 6, after which the second edition of Twenty20 tournament that catapulted him to the international stage will start on April 10. But first, he will have to put his own house in order.