IPL Cricket Controversy Forces Indian Minister Tharoor to Resign From Post

India’s junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor quit after a week of opposition claims that he influenced the award of a cricket franchise to his benefit, a controversy that last week stalled Parliament.

Former UN undersecretary general Tharoor, 54, resigned late yesterday, bringing to an end a year in office punctuated by embarrassments to the ruling Congress party triggered by his stay in a five-star hotel in New Delhi while the government launched an austerity drive, and regular tweets on his Twitter account.

President Pratibha Patil accepted Tharoor’s resignation on the recommendation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the president’s office said in a statement. Singh has had a tough few weeks with two major legislative bills stalled and opposition pressure mounting over rising prices. Frequent adjournments in Parliament risked delays to the government’s agenda, including approval of this year’s budget.

The “Tharoor episode added to pressure on the government,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the Centre for Media Studies in New Delhi. “Smooth functioning of Parliament is essential.”

Tharoor on April 16 dismissed opposition claims that he benefitted from free shares given to a friend by Rendezvous Sports World Ltd., which heads the group that won bidding for the Indian Premier League team in southern Kerala state with a $333 million offer.

Mentor Role

“My role in mentoring the Kerala consortium was throughout within the bounds of appropriate conduct of a member of Parliament,” Tharoor said in a statement. “As a minister, I was in no position to influence the bid process, let alone its outcome.”

Following the controversy over the Kochi team, the ministries of finance and corporate affairs are planning a comprehensive probe into the affairs of the Board for Control of Cricket in India, the Indian Premier League, and its multiple franchisees, the Financial Express reported today citing officials it didn’t name.

An investigation into the IPL issue by “the concerned department” has already begun, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in Parliament. “All aspects, including sources of funding and routes through which the funds arrived would be looked into,” Mukherjee said.

Tharoor, who has lived overseas for most of his life, was elected to the lower house of Parliament for the first time last year and appointed to a senior position in India’s foreign ministry.

Hotel Stay

In September, he vacated a luxury hotel after a senior minister advised him to stay in a government-allotted house as the government grappled with ways to cut expenditure. Tharoor said he was paying his own bill as his official house was prepared.

Tharoor was criticized by party colleagues after posting a Twitter message saying he would be flying “cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows,” as Congress cut back on official expenses.

The eight teams playing in this season’s IPL tournament include owners such as Mukesh Ambani, the world’s fourth-richest man and chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd.; billionaire Vijay Mallya, chairman of UB Group; and movie star Shah Rukh Khan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net.

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