New Delhi: In an exclusive interview to NDTV's Barkha Dutt, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor says that his party has not left him out in the cold, and that "resigning would mean I've given up." (Read: Exclusive - Full transcript of Tharoor's interview to NDTV)
Tharoor says he will convey the details of his relationship with the Kochi Indian Premier League (IPL) to Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister. "I have done nothing wrong, I stand with my head held high," he said.
The minister has been accused first by IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi and then by the BJP and Left of inappropriate links to the Kochi IPL team bought last month for Rs 1,530 crores.
The Opposition has demanded that Tharoor be sacked, and his party has distanced itself from the minister, describing this as a personal matter and one that the minister should explain. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said he will examine the facts before deciding whether any action is required. (Read: Need facts first: PM on action against Tharoor) Sonia Gandhi met with senior party leaders on Wednesday evening to discuss the Tharoor controversy. The BJP has confirmed it will bring up the issue in parliament on Thursday. (Read: Sack Tharoor, says BJP; Congress keeps distance | Sonia meets Congress leaders)
Tharoor tells NDTV, "I'm still reeling...I've spent a lifetime in international public life without the slightest taint...on my integrity... It's the one thing I never thought anybody would ever have any excuse to say against me. So I'm pretty angry. I've gotten to the point, it seems, where I can do nothing without being attacked."
Tharoor explained that he "wanted to see cricket coming to life in Kerala." He said, "As an elected representative of my state, I said 'let me try and help get an IPL team to my state. I've mentored a group of business people of which I am not a part...and they have participated in a fair and transparent manner."
When asked about charges of quid pro quo - that he used his ministerial office to lobby for the team that won the bid and that in return, his close friend, Sunanda Pushkar was rewarded with a gift of 70 crores in equity - Tharoor said , "How on earth can any minister use influence to get an outcome guaranteed from a closed envelope process? I didn't even know the amount this team was going to pay... that wasn't part of my help for them. There were 5 bidders after all...no minister can guarantee the numbers of the other bidders. How could I use my ministerial power to guarantee the outcome?" (Read: I am not a proxy for Tharoor: Sunanda Pushkar)
Referring to Pushkar, he said, "Our media cannot accept the notion of an attractive woman as a capable professional in her own right...it's insulting to say she must be there as a proxy for me... that she cannot be there in her own right." He added, "She is one of several people in the consortium. She is somebody who has been a senior business professional who has worked in brand management, event management. I'm not part of this business arrangement but this is sweat equity...she has to earn it over the years if the franchise succeeds. Right now, nobody is making any money...there may be profits later."
He stressed, "My involvement has nothing whatsoever to do with her."
Tharoor said that he is "recently close to Pushkar...only recently...but close." He described Pushkar as a professional with valuable marketing experience, who had also been approached by a promoter of the Kolkata Knight Riders earlier to help market that team. Tharoor said that offer came at an inconvenient time for Pushkar. He said this proves that while she may not know much about cricket, as alleged by the BJP, she is an asset.
Tharoor said that the Rendezvous Sports World, which is the main owner of the team, told him that they were under considerable pressure from Modi to walk away. "They have aggrieved a lot of people to expect the team to go to them," Tharoor charged. In an interview to NDTV, the CEO of the consortium, Shailendar Gaekwad, said that Modi offered the group 50 million dollars to sell the team. Tharoor described this as "A closed shop was operating and they breached this by winning (the bid)." (Read: Modi offered $50 mn to sell team: Kochi owners)
He says that Modi's version that Tharoor called him to ask that he not disclose the real ownership of the team, including Pushkar's, was incorrect. The minister says that in fact, he called Modi to ask why the process of transfer of ownership was taking unnaturally long. He says any request to withhold information on the owners was aimed at protecting the confidentiality of all IPL ownership agreements.
Also read: (Read: Tharoor received death threat SMS, says aide)