Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Conflict, With Interest

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Given India's obsession with the world of celebrities, particularly celebrity feuds, it comes as no surprise that the country is currently gripped by the public spat between Shashi Tharoor and the 'commissioner', Lalit Modi. The entertainment angle of this media war is engaging, to say the least. The serious angle, perpetuated by many, is utterly baffling. The contention that Tharoor has somehow done wrong by the people of India, owing to a perceived conflict of interest is the most preposterous theory I've heard in a long time!

Details of this latest instalment from the controversy factories that are Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi are most accurately perused here, here, here and here. So, is there actually a conflict of interest on the part of Modi and Tharoor?

In an extensive Twitter debate with Arnab Ray (aka Greatbong; follow him here and The Match Referee here), I argued the point that there is no conflict of interest, perceived or otherwise, on Tharoor's part and I stand by this contention.

My premise is simple: a conflict of interest would have existed if Tharoor had used and / or abused public funds or other public resources to secure the Kochi IPL franchise for Rendezvous Sports World or the 5% stake in the franchise for his lady-to-be. To date, no information has been published that remotely indicates that Tharoor placed or was perceived to place the interests of his privileged friends ahead of that of the people of India. Despite his lofty position in society Tharoor is still entitled, just like the rest of us, to the basic human right of applying his skills and influence to the benefit of anyone of his choosing, as long as the public interest is not compromised.

The IPL is a private entity and the grant of new franchises is a private matter for the IPL over which the Government of India has no official control. A conflict of interest would have existed if the government was responsible for granting franchises and if Tharoor had used the power, influence or other resources of his ministerial office to force a decision in favour of his next of kin, friends, girlfriend or himself. This is clearly not the case. So where, then, is the said conflict?

Those peddling the view that Sunanda Pushkar's acceptance of a stake in the Kochi IPL franchise and / or Tharoor's actions somehow resulted in a perception of conflicted interests or that there may be conflicts of interest in the future are simply clutching at straws, or have an axe to grind. To what extent should those associated with ministers and their ilk be prohibited from furthering their personal financial or professional ambitions, especially if their actions present no harm to the interests of the government or the people?

Another contention offered by Arnab, and I suspect one that is pushed by others who subscribe to the school of thought to which he belongs, is that I and others who argue along similar lines have a natural bias towards Tharoor because of his "refinement". This assertion could not be further from the truth and merely serves to highlight the inadequacies of the argument that proposes the conflict of interest.

Many conflicts of interest of members of the broader 'IPL family' may be exposed if Tharoor receives the backing that he ought to receive from his political masters. Modi's conspicuous absence from his favourite online forum gives us an accurate picture of the state-of-mind of a man for whom the penny may just have dropped.

We can all look forward to more stories of underhand dealings, death threats and general crack snorting daftness, which will undoubtedly surface in the coming days for this drama proves, once again, that reality is often a lot stranger than fiction. Bollywood scriptwriters, eat your heart out!

In the meantime, can someone please present me a cogent and logical argument outlining exactly how Tharoor is actually or potentially suffering from a bout of conflicted interests? Anyone?


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