x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Socialite in IPL cricket spat hits back

Dubai resident Sunanda Pushkar, who has a stake in the Kochi team, says she has been personally insulted in row over her friendship with a minister.

Shashi Tharoor is facing political pressure to resign for reportedly favouring Sunanda Pushkar to win ownership of an Indian Premier League team.
Shashi Tharoor is facing political pressure to resign for reportedly favouring Sunanda Pushkar to win ownership of an Indian Premier League team.

DUBAI // A socialite at the centre of a political storm over her role in the ownership of an Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket team and her relationship with an Indian minister spoke out to defend herself yesterday. 

Sunanda Pushkar, a Dubai resident, lashed out at critics for presenting her as a "proxy" for her close friend, Shashi Tharoor, the minister of state for external affairs. "My own business interests and assets are substantial, and efforts to besmirch Tharoor by presenting me as a proxy for him are personally insulting for me as a woman and as a friend," said Ms Pushkar in a statement given to IANS, a news service in India.

She is in New Delhi and said her statement was to set the record straight about her role in the public controversy. Mr Tharoor is facing immense political pressure to resign after it emerged that Ms Pushkar had been given a free stake worth millions of dollars in a new IPL team from Kochi. The minister had provided help and guidance when Rendezvous Sports World, a group comprising businessmen from India and the UAE, bought the IPL Kochi team for a reported US$333million (Dh1.2bn). 

The main opposition party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has accused the minister of corruption by alleging that the free stake is worth US$15 million and was given to his friend in return for her efforts. Ms Pushkar defended her free stake in the team by saying that she was offered this in lieu of her salary for professional services. "I have built up a respectable and successful career while coping with widowhood and raising a child as a single mother," she said.

"Yet I have been reduced to a caricature in the media, portrayed with inaccuracies and falsehoods. In view of my extensive international experience as a business executive, marketing manager and entrepreneur, I was invited to assist Rendezvous, particularly in the areas of fundraising, networking, elsewhere; event management; and brand building." More details about Ms Pushkar's life in Dubai emerged yesterday after her former employer, Tecom, confirmed that she had worked for them as a sales manager until last month.

Indian media reports have suggested that she and Mr Tharoor plan to get married soon - a notion hinted at by Ms Pushkar herself yesterday. pmenon@thenational.ae