Indian minister quits over cricket scandal

Shashi Tharoor has resigned over allegations of corruption in India's multibillion-dollar premier cricket league.

updated: April 19, 2010 10:32 IST
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New Delhi:

Shashi Tharoor, a former top UN diplomat and prominent government minister, has resigned over allegations of corruption in India's multibillion-dollar premier cricket league.

The junior foreign minister, a reformist-minded politician who was known for building a large following on the micro-blogging site Twitter, submitted his resignation late Sunday.

It was accepted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil.

The move marks a dramatic fall from grace for the former UN under-secretary-general, who swapped international diplomacy in New York for the rough and tumble of Indian politics, winning a seat in the southern state of Kerala in May's general election.

Pressure had been building on Tharoor to step down after news broke a week ago that a female friend -- said by Indian media to be his girlfriend -- was given a free stake in a new franchise in the money-spinning Indian Premier League (IPL).

Opposition parties say the stake, worth 15 million dollars, was for Tharoor's behind-the-scenes services in putting together the consortium that bought the Kochi team, which will be based in Kerala state.

The alleged deal was revealed by powerful IPL chief Lalit Modi, who leaked details on Twitter.

Tharoor, 54, denied any wrongdoing, saying he had helped only by "mentoring" the Kochi bid.

However, with opposition protests threatening to stall the passage of the budget through parliament, senior leaders of the ruling Congress party reportedly decided there was no choice but for the minister to resign.

Tharoor, who spent almost three decades with the United Nations before quitting in 2007, joined Congress in 2008 and made enemies within the party for being an outsider who was elevated so rapidly.

"Tharoor's lack of familiarity with the Indian political system cost him dearly," said political analyst Rasheed Kidwai.

"The Congress did not spell out to him the party's do's and don'ts and he did not bother to learn them either."

Tharoor's short tenure as junior foreign minister was marked by various "gaffes" and an outspokenness that garnered both critics and admirers.

In September last year, with the Congress party pushing an austerity drive, Tharoor was found staying in a five-star hotel while waiting for his ministerial residence to be prepared.

A few weeks later, with ministers forced to travel economy, Tharoor upset conservative Hindus by tweeting that he was travelling "cattle class in solidarity with all our holy cows."

At one point he criticised his own government's visa policies and also seemed to suggest that Saudi Arabia could play a mediating role in India-Pakistan relations.

The Indian government has always rejected any third-party involvement in its disputes with its Muslim neighbour.

"All politicians have to espouse their party values publicly even if they don't subscribe to them in private," Kidwai said.

"His exit puts question marks over the future entry of other professionals into the Congress party and the Indian political system at large," he added.