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When sports and politics meet; Lalit Modi's fate is linked to Narendra Modi

Saturday, 10 May 2014 - 5:28pm IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: IANS

If one Modi is highly popular in Gujarat, even if his development model is hotly disputed, the other Modi is equally well-liked in Rajasthan for its district cricket units to defy the Indian board and vote him the state association president.

Just as the Gujarat Modi expands his focus to a pan-India canvas in keeping with his prime ministerial ambitions, the Rajasthan Modi talks of his immediate agenda to get cricket back on the rails in his state in one breath and in the next he is all fire and brimstone, castigating the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and its controversial sidelined president, Narayanaswamy Srinivasan. But the two Modis do not publicly acknowledge their relationship. Narendra Modi has no time now in the thick of his election campaigning to talk cricket even though he is the president of the Gujarat Cricket Association, his close confidant Amit Shah looking after the day-to-day affairs as its working president. Lalit Modi is fighting his battles sitting in London.

There is speculation that Lalit Modi will end his self-imposed exile over a perceived threat to his life from the underworld if the other Modi comes to power. It is believed that the two Modis have a cordial relationship and that says a lot in the fast-changing political climate. Though Lalit Modi is also linked to some other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, particularly to Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia, he is a Narendrabhai camp-follower.

There is a catch here, however. Lalit Modi has fallen foul with another BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley, who is the eyes and ears of Narendra Modi. It is eventually going to be a proxy war between Jaitley and Scindia. Of course, Congressman Jyotiraditya Scindia, Vasundhara's nephew and union minister, was also part of the disciplinary committee which found Modi guilty of IPL wrongdoing, leading to his life ban. All this makes it clear that if Modi becomes the next prime minister, the equations in the board can change. There will be strange tie-ups. There is no guarantee those who hate Srinivasan will welcome Lalit Modi with open arms. For instance, former board chief Shashank Manohar today doesn't want Srinivasan to preside over the board and at the same time, he has a pathological hatred for Modi.

It must be said that Lalit Modi's proximity to Vasundhara has helped Rajasthan cricket. He has changed the face of the Sawai Man Singh Stadium and has put up an academy which, within a couple of years, has produced talented young cricketers who went on to make Rajasthan the Ranji Trophy champions, not once but twice in successive years.

Soon after his election as RCA president, Lalit Modi talked of infrastructure development and promised to ensure facilities are again upgraded to world-class standards and see the players got access to the best coaching staff. Thus, he has smartly focused his attention on Rajasthan cricket instead of his fight with the board - which he is anyway fighting as a wronged individual.

Now the question begs is how could the board suspend a state association when its president has not committed any crime as its official? The board banned him for life for his role in the Indian Premier League for which there is a separate governing council, not for his sins as RCA president.

The RCA's argument is that Modi has not been punished for his activities as its official. Similarly, the board had suspended its former president, Inderjit Singh Bindra, for going to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the role of some board officials in the match-fixing saga that led to the banning of Mohammed Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma for life. The Punjab Cricket Association contended that Bindra went to the CBI not as the PCA president but in his individual capacity.

While the courts are seized of the cases, two gentlemen, Sunil Gavaskar and Shivlal Yadav, are making the right noises to be seen as dispassionate observers whose interest is solely in cricket and not in the board's politics. Gavaskar chose his words carefully as the Supreme Court appointed IPL chief. Before the United Arab Emirates leg of the League ended, he called for an image makeover for the IPL and also the way the board carried on its activities.

He spoke for the IPL management, saying there is a kind of openness in what it did and hoped the board will also become a place for "healthy discussions where people can speak freely and fearlessly, and involve everyone in the decision making process." For good measure, he gave this saintly advice to board members: "We will make mistakes, mistakes have been made, but if we admit to mistakes, then we'll get better."

Yadav, for his part, insists that he would strictly go by the book and for him, the constitution is supreme. He took shelter under the Supreme Court ruling that if the board finds any person has acted against its rules, regulations or law it was free to proceed against him. Yadav invoked a December 28, 2013 Working Committee resolution to suspend the RCA from the board's membership pending disciplinary proceedings against it on charges of misconduct.

Legal eagles are divided over Yadav's decision and say it is open to challenge. They feel it is not going to be a long drawn out court battle as the court has to adjudicate on a limited point: Whether the board has the powers to suspend an elected state body, jeopardising the careers of young cricketers. Of course, this is not the first time the Rajasthan Cricket Association has run into trouble with the board. A couple of decades ago, the board itself engineered a split in the association and two teams turned for a Ranji Trophy match!

In the board, there are no permanent friends or foes, they only have permanent interests.
 




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