x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

IPL furore topples minister

He brokered the purchase of franchise for Kochi, but a free stake to a female friend ignited attacks by political rivals leading to his resignation.

Shashi Tharoor, right, and Sunanda Pushkar attend a book launch in New Delhi last month.
Shashi Tharoor, right, and Sunanda Pushkar attend a book launch in New Delhi last month.

DUBAI // It began as a cricket story. It turned into an Indian political scandal that brought down Shashi Tharoor, India's minister of state for external affairs. The Press Trust of India last night confirmed that Mr Tharoor's resignation had been requested by the government, and accepted.

His fall comes just weeks after he brokered the US$333 million (Dh1.2 billion) purchase of an Indian Premier League cricket club in Kerala by Rendezvous Sports World, a conglomerate with significant ties to the UAE. Mr Tharoor's position in the Indian government became increasingly tenuous after it was revealed that the deal included a 25 per cent free ownership stake for several individuals, including Sunanda Pushkar, a close female friend of Mr Tharoor's.

Earlier yesterday, Ms Pushkar, who lives in Dubai, announced through her lawyer that she had voluntarily returned her stake in the Kerala team, expected to take their place in the IPL next year. In a written statement from Ms Pushkar to the team's owners, she said: "I am deeply distressed at the vile and malicious reporting of recent days surrounding my role in Rendezvous, the successful bidders for the Kerala IPL team."

She said she had been looking forward to "building the team's brand ? in India and the Gulf, in particular", but "given the deeply unpleasant publicity surrounding my involvement, I can no longer imagine being able to find the enthusiasm required to associate myself with any IPL activity". A former sales manager with Tecom in Dubai, Ms Pushkar described herself as a "woman professional". She said her credentials were questioned because she is a woman.

"I therefore voluntarily offer to return to Rendezvous, the sweat equity they had offered me," she said. The IPL team, to be based in the city of Kochi in Kerala state, was purchased by a group of businessmen from India and the UAE. The conglomerate was brought together by Mr Tharoor. When it was revealed earlier this month that Ms Pushkar was to receive a portion of the free 25 per cent stake in the team, a cricket story became a political football.

Mr Tharoor was accused by opposition parties of corruption and facilitating a free stake in the team that was worth millions of dollars to his female friend. The minister denied all charges against him. The week-long drama came to a head yesterday. Even as Ms Pushkar was returning her stake in the team, Mr Tharoor was summoned to meet Manhoman Singh, the prime minister of India, at noon. According to the Press Trust, Mr Tharoor gave his side of the story to Mr Singh.

Later that evening, the Congress Core Group "decided he should quit", according to the Press Trust. A spokesman for the office of the prime minister said: "Shashi Tharoor has submitted his resignation from the council of ministers to the prime minister today. The prime minister has forwarded his resignation letter to the president with a recommendation that it be accepted." Lalit Modi, the chairman of the IPL, is due in Dubai today to attend a two-day meeting of the International Cricket Council. Mr Modi has not attended these meetings before, and analysts suggest he is coming to discuss the controversy surrounding the Kerala team.