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Parties pad up to ward off IPL bouncers

April 22, 2010 03:36 IST

Caught in the vortex of a political cyclone that the affairs of the Indian Premier League (IPL) have turned into, the Congress is clear: It wants heads to roll, but they must be of CEOs and not any more ministers.

Top party sources told Business Standard: "Why are you looking at the IPL episode as a contest between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (led by Sharad Pawar)? After all, they are our key allies not only at the Centre, but also in Maharashtra..." Making it clear no action was being proposed that could endanger the central government or the ruling Congress-NCP alliance in the state. With nine MPs, the NCP is a crucial ally of the Congress in the United Progressive Alliance. The NCP has 62 members in the 288-member assembly and is supporting the 82-member Congress, led by Chief Minister Ashok Chavan.

There was enough associated evidence that the government wanted to pursue inquiries against companies in a formal format: The Registrar of Companies (RoC) was probing if any of the IPL companies violated articles of association; the Enforcement Directorate (ED) conducted searches in the offices of some companies associated with IPL; and some companies that were supposed to have 'lost' IPL-related files today said they had 'found' them (they had been with them all along, they claimed) suggesting that now the government had found a purposive course of action and it was pursuing it.

Cabinet ministers said there was to be no manhunt in IPL, but companies would come under scrutiny. Rajiv Shukla, vice president of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), who also heads its finance committee, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at least twice today, with a bunch of files.

In the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), there was a similar lack of appetite for moves that could lead to the fall of the government. Top BJP leaders said their limited political objective from the IPL fiasco was to drive a wedge between the Congress and the NCP. A core committee meeting of the party was held yesterday and, although for the record party sources said it was to discuss today's rally against price rise, the discussion covered the IPL tangle and where it could lead.

The party was triumphant that it had claimed one scalp – of a ruling Union minister – and felt this was enough political capital for the next few months. Although BJP sources associated with BCCI said at least two ministers who were involved in the first round of bidding for the Kochi team would be "in trouble" when the Board findings about IPL came out, there was nothing to suggest a political fight was underway.

Sources close to Congress President Sonia Gandhi said she was by no means unsympathetic to deposed minister Shashi Tharoor, but had advised him to emulate his senior colleague A K Antony. "Look at Antony. He speaks on nothing but India-Pakistan and infiltration. Be like him. Go to Kerala and concentrate on the assembly elections (due in 2011)," she is said to have counselled Tharoor.

The non-BJP Opposition today gave a memorandum to the Speaker, seeking a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on IPL. The government is loath to accept this demand. The BJP has not given any such memorandum to the government, yet.

If a clutch of companies and senior officials of the IPL were prosecuted, this would be sufficient for both the Congress and the BJP. The government as well as Opposition actions suggested that any road that led to another election must be avoided at all cost.

Aditi Phadnis & Saubhadro Chatterji in New Delhi
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