By Sanjay Jha
Congressman Shashi Tharoor will perhaps hereafter never give his kindly “ blessings” in a hurry, judging from the massive flak he has drawn for his advisory role in the IPL Kochi franchise. As a smart politician Tharoor obviously saw the IPL franchise as an opportunity to create a sustained annual model to remind the frequently shifting voters of Kerala that this was his big gift to the southern state. In the complex world of electoral politics in God’s own country, it helps to have a stable vote bank. With IPL threatening to explode into a financial juggernaut and creating its own sports infrastructure/industry Tharoor envisaged a greater platform for event management, tourism and hospitality, trade and business , employment opportunities and state promotion with their consequent monetary windfall. Tactically, an intelligent assessment by Tharoor which was further buttressed by his well-recorded passion for cricket. Only, he should have been much more circumspect and doubly cautious with regards to the likely political ramifications of the presence of his friend and companion Sunanda Pushkar in the same franchise.
I don’t agree with Tharoor entirely that he was not so naïve as to have Sunanda Pushkar be his “ front” in the franchise. Sometimes we are all consumed by either casual recklessness or sheer arrogance. Assuming that she is indeed not a benami beneficiary , Tharoor should have still realized that prima facie even a novice could easily allude to a quid pro quo between Tharoor’s “ blessings” and his chelas , with the latter rewarding their high-priest with a big bounty for his benedictions. I think he should have been extremely sensitive about that disclosure in view of his close relationship with Ms Pushkar. There are just three possibilities; either Tharoor is genuinely totally innocent and has acted in pure good faith ( personally, I hope that is the case) and has no commercial interests whatsoever, or he was gullible enough to trust the wily , calculating Modi who upset his applecart or Ms Pushkar is indeed an authentic service provider being provided with sweat equity with Tharoor’s presence in her personal life being purely incidental.
It is obvious though looking at Tharoor’s perceptible discomfiture that there is a vast difference between being an international diplomat and an Indian politician. It is not an easy transition but the skill-sets required are not so dissimilar ; one needs to jump into troubled waters without making a splash. But Tharoor still has an honorable way-out of this unending chaos and emerge unscathed, if he chooses to.
The reality is that the Kochi IPL franchise is going to struggle to break-even or make nominal profits for a considerable period ( in my estimation over 5-8 years ) , so where is the exit route for actually encashing the stocks held? Even if sold to a private investor where is the guarantee of increased valuation ? In fact, the hype over IPL valuation triggered by Modi’s office is a manifestation of something wishy-washy being done to create an artificial big bubble and is actually at the heart of the entire controversy . It is said that anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either mad or an economist. Modi is neither. We are still trying to figure out what unique category does he belong to. Thus, Ms Pushkar’s contract willy-nilly has a huge financial risk and is not a walk in the rose garden as has been generally prognosticated by some newspapers.
Tharoor , in the circumstances, should ideally request or persuade his friend Sunanda Pushkar to exit the Kochi franchise by withdrawing her professional services . After all , the shares allocated to her are a financial reward for services to be rendered in the future. The franchise has not even started operations and thus by walking out of it now , Tharoor and Ms Pushkar could establish a few things beyond dispute:
1) He has NO engagement whatsoever DIRECTLY with the Kochi franchise.
2) With Pushkar walking out , there would be no INDIRECT connection as well. Thus, the benami story would also be nullified and nipped in the bud.
3) This would not tantamount to a confession of guilt ; on the contrary, Tharoor could walk with his head held high in a morally upright stance.
4) Tharoor then could have the complete rights to demand a full-scale investigation into the cross-holdings in the other franchisees which is now already being investigated by appropriate statutory authorities.
5) If Sunanda were to hold on to the Kochi equity ownership the stigma of misuse of his public office would haunt Tharoor forever , irrespective of the factual issues. Worse, they would not necessarily realize monetary gains despite the clause of “ undilutable in perpetuity”.
6) Tharoor would save the Congress an unwarranted mess to untangle.
Tharoor must look at the criticality of the ministerial portfolio he currently holds in the world’s largest democracy in a dynamic geopolitical environment . I am assuming he has long-term political aspirations of making a credible impact and growing to higher positions. The Congress-UPA government looks to be on a solid wicket and should last a full-term. Is it then worth losing the confidence of his own party and government over an allegedly dubious, nebulous financial arrangement that could permanently tarnish his otherwise infallible image?
Life is about making choices, sometimes difficult ones. For Shashi Tharoor that moment has arrived. He should make it easy.