It’s ironical, but Lalit Modi’s Indian Premier League (IPL) dream was given a huge filip by the early launch of the ‘rebel’ ICL (Indian Cricket League). However, as IPL became much bigger than ICL, BCCI’s T20 tournament was sarcastically dubbed as ICL — Indian Controversial League. A front-page article published in the Indian Express dubbed it as another version of IPL — Indian Parivar League. The reason: Right from the beginning, IPL was steeped in numerous controversies, allegations, ungentlemanly incidents, rumours, and charges. The first of them was that Modi and BCCI had turned the new cricket league into some sort of a ‘family affair’.
This seemed especially true of Rajasthan Royals, which won the league in its first season.
One of the co-promoters of Emerging Media, which owned the Jaipur team, was Suresh Chellaram, who happened to be Modi’s brother-in-law. This was enough for tongues to start wagging: How could anyone claim that the bidding process for the franchisees was transparent if a close relative gets to own a team that won the finals? And shouldn’t there have been a clause like in any other bids, which states that ‘related persons will not be allowed to take part in the auction process?’
Before we get into the answers to these questions, it is important to trace a brief history of the Chellarams since not much is known about the family in India.
The Chellaram family started its business in Nigeria in 1923, comprising trading in consumer goods. Chellarams Plc, the parent firm, was incorporated in 1947 and listed on the Nigerian stock exchange in 1978. According to its 2006 annual report, the company’s turnover was just over Naira 8 billion, and the figure for the group was nearly Naira 9 billion. The gross profit for the same year was Naira 1.23 billion and Naira 1.32 billion respectively. Suresh Chellaram, a British citizen, was listed as the firm’s MD.
The annual report of the company states, “The Distributive Trade Division has continued to be the core of our business accounting for about 75 per cent of the total turnover...
‘Subsequent to the year end, Chelltek Industries Limited commenced the manufacturing and assembling of bicycles, motorcycles and two-wheelers...
‘The sachet-packing of Oldenburger powdered milk which is handled by the manufacturing division also recorded successes in its business during the financial year under review expanding its operations into packaging for other companies...
‘The Group equally expanded its activities in the property development market through the acquisition of a 5 per cent stake in Chellarams Nigeria Property Company Limited. The latter has acquired 2, Goriola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos for future development.’
A Google search shows that at least in the early 1990s, Suresh Chellaram was also involved in the import of cigarettes from London-based BAT, which has a huge stake in India’s ITC.
In July 2008, a release by Reliance Money, part of the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, announced ‘its début in Nigeria joining hands with Lagos-based Chellarams Plc, as a part of plans to expand its global footprint. This is the first initiative by an Indian broking and distribution company to offer a bouquet of financial products and services to retail investors in Nigeria, one of the largest financial markets in Africa also having the largest population in the region.’
In the press release Suresh Chellaram stated, ‘We are extremely happy to partner with Reliance Money and the new venture will be an efficient platform in Nigeria to transact Indian financial instruments. This partnership would also help us utilise their expertise by providing enhanced investment tools to a large section of population, who have not been able to use these services earlier.’
If Chellaram’s connection with Rajasthan Royals was not enough, it transpired that another co-promoter, Manoj Badale had business, commercial and other links with Modi. According to an Indian Express investigation published before Modi lost RCA election in 2009, Badale ‘... runs the Cricket Star Academy in Jaipur. Modi is also president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association and the RCA’s Future Cricket Academy, which has tied up with Emerging Media (owner of Rajasthan Royals Team) to launch Cricket Star T20, a televised nationwide talent hunt, of which former India coach Greg Chappell is also a part.’
The Jaipur Twist became complex after Rajasthan Royals won in the first IPL season. Conspiracy theorists had a field day about how this was an almost-perfect ending to the tournament. David won against other ‘Goliath’ teams, Modi’s and his friends’ team won, and that too in an exciting last-ball finish.
There were other ‘Modi’ connections. ‘One of the owners of Kings XI Punjab is Mohit Burman of the (Delhi-based) Dabur family. His brother Gaurav, who is based in UK, is Modi’s step son-in-law,’ revealed the Indian Express piece. When contacted, Burman told the newspaper that ‘It’s not just me alone, there are three other investors and naturally they won’t be putting their money because I am related. The IPL is a good business opportunity and the relationship with Modi is a mere coincidence.’ BCCI members too supported Modi as Niranjan Shah, the Board’s secretary, told the Indian Express that ‘there is no conflict of interest.’
But rumours that IPL franchise-searching process was a closed one refused to die as people realised that Vijay Mallya, chairman, UB Group, and the owner of Bangalore Royal Challengers, was the vice-president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association and also a member of the BCCI’s marketing committee. Similarly, N Srinivasan, vice-chairman and MD of India Cements, the owner of Chennai Super Kings, was a treasurer of BCCI. Now what can be more obvious than that?
However, distancing himself from the controversy Srinivasan said, “I’m BCCI’s treasurer in my personal capacity, while it is India Cements, the company that owns Chennai Super Kings. There’s no no conflict of interest. Moreover, the franchise bids were opened in front of fifty people, and in anycase (sic) there was daylight between India Cements’ bid of $91 million and the second-highest bidder (for the Chennai team).’
In retrospect, the bidding process does seem odd. Modi and his supporters claimed that they approached hundreds of potential investors to participate in the franchise bidding. Finally, four of the eight teams were owned by ‘interested’ parties. It seemed as if people were cajoled to make sure that there were enough bids to begin with, and for the whole process to be successful. As an outsider, one could sense that no stones were left unturned to ensure that.
In fact, it was surprising that IPL’s first season was steeped in cricketing and non-cricketing controversies at regular intervals. It would be as inane as SRK’s smoking, or the presence of scantily clad cheerleaders, as explosive as Harbhajan slapping Sreesanth or Mohammad Asif testing positive for dope, and as entertaining as the non-stop verbal altercations between Warne and Ganguly. It was as if even these were remote-controlled and deliberate.
We don’t think any other tournament, or a series, has had so much of off-the-field action as IPL, apart from the infamous ‘Bodyline’ series between England and Australia or the Kerry Packer series. There was non-stop drama and excitement. And the media revelled as much in them as in the cricket.
IPL: AN INSIDE STORY — CRICKET AND COMMERCE
Authors: Alam Srinivas and T R Vivek
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