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Tharoor leaves Congress on a sticky wicket

April 13, 2010 23:46 IST

The position of Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor in the row over the Kochi IPL team has become an embarrassment for both the government and the Congress party, say highly-placed party sources.

The party leadership has been left red-faced following the ugly war of words between Tharoor and the IPL commissioner Lalit Modi with the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party demanding that the minister be sacked on charges of corruption and that a CBI probe be constituted into the entire IPL goings-on.

Highly-placed sources state that Tharoor lobbied very hard for the Kochi team, so much so that he even went to the extent of meeting Congress high command to impress upon them the need for Kochi to get the IPL team, as it would be politically beneficial for the party in Kerala.

Sources say that Tharoor, in his meeting with senior Congress leaders, said that there were some ministers like Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel -- both of the Nationalist Congress Party -- who were batting for the Adani group as well as for Videocon boss Venugopal Dhoot, who has now demanded that the entire ownership pattern of the IPL team owners be made public.

Tharoor's logic was that Modi was hand-in-glove with these gentlemen and that is why the Kochi consortium was not getting a fair deal. Congress sources also claim that Tharoor also met party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to convince him about the Kochi deal. However, this fact could not be verified.

It is also learnt that Tharoor met Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Lalit Modi in New Delhi at the Scindia estate before the consortium sponsored by him bagged the Kochi IPL. It is still not clear though as to when the differences crept in.

A senior leader, who has been keeping track of the developments, said that the situation looks bad for Tharoor particularly since he lobbied at the highest level in the Congress and now it comes out that his 'friend', Sunanda Pushkar whom he may be marrying in Jammu, was given equity worth Rs 70 crore, which is being linked to Tharoor doing his job well and getting the consortium the deal.

In plain terms, it is being called misuse of official position since Tharoor is a powerful minister of the Union and -- as part of his brief -- handles Arab and Middle Eastern countries where, reportedly, Sunanda Pushkar has business interests as she is also part of a finance company in Dubai, which finances infrastructure projects.

The problem is that the government cannot hope to take on Lalit Modi or even hope to clean up the IPL mess if it is seen supporting mysterious deal of Tharoor. Now, IPL deals are seen in political circles as a route for money laundering, benami transactions and much more.

Lalit Modi has close ties with Vasundhara Raje Scinidia and is not exactly favourably disposed towards the Congress party even as he has good relations with Sharad Pawar. Sources say that the current upheaval and the trading of charges and counter charges, will only end up damaging many of those involved, particularly if a full-fledged investigation opens up on the goings-on in IPL.

So much so that Tharoor's man Friday and Officer on Special Duty in his ministry, Jacob Joseph has already accused Lalit Modi of being part owner of the Rajasthan Royals and the Punjab Kings Eleven. The muckraking can only get dirtier in the days ahead.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh out of the country and slated to return only on April 17 and the second part of the budget session of Parliament beginning on April 15, sources said the party leadership is taking stock of the situation and how best to minimise the embarrassment and damage which has erupted in the wake of Tharoor's involvement in the Kochi IPL team.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi met SM Krishna, ostensibly to discuss the China invitation for her, but sources said that the issue of his junior minister also came up. Along with this she also met party MP Rajiv Shukla who is also a BCCI office bearer and has an involvement in the cricket politics of the country.

Sources said that as the party president, Sonia wanted a full brief on what exactly was going on since this is just one in the long list of controversies centred around Tharoor in the last one year since he was made the minister.

Later the party came out with a short statement saying, "The party has nothing to do with the cricket controversy going on. It is up to Tharoor to explain whatever allegations are being levelled since it is an individual venture and political parties, at least the Congress, has no involvement in all this."

AICC media chairman Janardhan Dwivedi who spoke on Tuesday, had met Tharoor a couple of months ago in the wake of controversial remarks made by him about wanting to change the political culture of the Congress party. At that time, after Tharoor's clarification that he had been misquoted, the issue had been dropped but it was clearly pointed out to Tharoor that this would be the last transgression suffered by the party and that next time, he may not get off so lightly.

Renu Mittal in New Delhi