The first story, of course, relates to Slimebag Lalit Modi, the Chairman and Commissioner of the cricketing Indian Premier League (IPL) who, at least until now, seemed to have a smug expression pasted permanently to his face and went round boasting nothing could touch him. And well he might have, given that his personal fortunes have risen as exponentially as the fortunes of the IPL. In three years of the IPL, Modi last year became one of the highest tax payers - if not the highest - in India. According to a report in The News yesterday:
"Modi’s fortunes are intrinsically linked with the IPL. In 2007, he made an an advance tax payment of Rs 19 lakh. In 2008, when the first edition of the IPL was launched, the advance tax shot up to Rs 2.5 crore. In 2009, when the IPL was shifted to South Africa, Modi paid Rs 32 lakh as advance tax and in 2010, the advance tax component has gone up to Rs 11 crore."
Of course, Modi's good fortunes are not what one begrudges him - and he has obviously worked hard to pull off the IPL as a world-class entertainment tournament no matter what one thinks of its cricketing worth. I don't even care that much about his previous criminal convictions for cocaine abuse, assault with a deadly weapon and kidnapping. No, it's just his persona that really rubs me (and dare I say, a lot of other people) up the wrong way. And by that I mean his mealy-mouthed platitudes and his obvious nouveau bravado. And what a fall from grace! From uncrowned king of India, he is now accused of corruption, allegedly having retained "silent stakes" in three of the IPL teams, allegedly being involved in match-fixing and betting as well as having made questionable business deals involving his relatives. He is likely to be removed as IPL Commissioner in the coming week because everyone seems to have turned against him.
Lalit Modi: smug no more (source: Getty Images)
As Indian columnist Aakar Patel writes in the Express Tribune, (referencing Modi's Twitter expose of Junior Foreign Minister Shashi Tharoor's alleged under-the-table stakes, which began the whole saga):
"The board dislikes Modi because he is flamboyant. He set up his office in the Four Seasons, Bombay’s most expensive hotel. He is driven around in a BMW, and is often seen signing autographs. He has made the official channel (Sony) cower, and they make reference to him in every match. Such hubris rarely escapes punishment, and it looks like it will come to Modi. This is a shame because, despite his stupidity and nepotism, he remains an organiser of world class ability. No Indian has been able to put together a tournament of this quality, much less in such a short time. He could have continued his success for years, but Modi needlessly exposed himself in his war with Tharoor. Why did he want Tharoor out? Because he wanted no politicians to share in the IPL’s cash."
But more than Modi's personal woes, what is perhaps more satisfying is to see the IPL venture itself come under some long-needed scrutiny. The Indian politicians who have dubbed it a "Corruption Premier League" may have their own axes to grind. But had such a venture taken place in Sharjah, Dubai or anywhere in Pakistan, you can be sure that the cries of it being a hub of illegal betting syndicates and match-fixing touts would have gained ground long ago. After all, the T20 format itself seems tailor-made for such involvement. Pakistan's cricketers should be thanking their lucky stars they were forced out of the IPL this time round.
The second story that has had me smacking my head at its unbelievable irony has to do with the abduction in Waziristan by militants and holding for ransom of the infamous Brigadier (retd) Amir Sultan Tarrar aka 'Colonel Imam' and Squadron Leader (retd) Khalid Khwaja. Both of these gentlemen, it may be recalled, are (officially former) ISI officers, who have long been unequivocal in their support of the Taliban.
'Colonel Imam': shepherding the righteous Taliban (source: Dawn)
'Colonel Imam' is considered one of the chief military advisers to the Afghan Taliban during Pakistan's days of direct support to the militia. He recently surfaced once again on the electronic media, espousing his support for the "God-fearing" Taliban. Khwaja's actual brief is far murkier - some journalists claim he is a loon - though he recently came to the limelight with his championing in courts of the alleged jihadists 'disappeared' ostensibly by the state's intel agencies post 9/11. He has also been in the forefront of fighting the Aafia Siddiqui case in Pakistan's courts.
Khalid Khwaja: human rights activist or loony double agent?
According to reports, the two were accompanying a British-Pakistani filmmaker Asad Qureshi out to make a documentary on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who is also missing. Militants calling themselves Asian Tigers (truly non-Taliban nomenclature if ever there was one) have released videos of the captured former officers and Qureshi, and have threatened to kill the three (beginning with Qureshi) unless certain big-name Taliban commanders recently arrested were not released and a US$10 million ransom not paid by the UK government.
Of course, this is not a situation anyone could ever be happy about, no matter what the irony of seeing Imam and Khwaja in militant custody. And there are also some big questions unanswered: such as, who are the Asian Tigers? (In fact, Khwaja's wife has claimed that it is the CIA that has picked up her husband and the others, a claim rubbished by the US).
I have to admit, however, that knowing the shady backgrounds of both Colonel Imam and Khwaja, I am not entirely convinced of this story. Or if you will, there seems to be too much irony in it for it to ring true. I hope my gut instinct is not completely off the mark.