It is getting, as they say, curiouser and curiouser! India’s Captain Cool, M.S. Dhoni, the shrewdest skipper India has ever had in cricket, moved the Supreme Court recently against builder group Amrapali claiming arrears of Rs. 38.95 crore against endorsement fee payable to him for the period 2009 to 2016; Rs. 22.53 crore as principal amount owed, and Rs. 16.42 crore as simple interest calculated at 18% per annum. In a move as calculated, and as astute as when he is behind the stumps, Dhoni has actually tried through the petition to the highest court in the land, to deflect all the negativity in the Amrapali matter away from himself, positioning himself as an aggrieved party alongside the 46,000 home buyers who have been crying their hearts out for the past 10 years.
#AmrapaliMisuseDhoni was the anguished cry of thousands of home buyers in 2016 when the entire Amprapali fraud went public. Dhoni quit as Amprapali’s brand ambassador after the residents claimed that civil and electrical work at the first phase of Amrapali’s project Sapphire at Noida Sector 45 was not completed though 800 families had already moved in. Later Dhoni said that he would take up the matter with the builder and it must deliver on its promises. "If you see the economy, it is quite tough for the builder as of now. But at the same time, whatever is promised, I think it needs to be met," Dhoni had then said. What role Dhoni played subsequently in alleviating the problems of the home buyers he had enticed as brand ambassador to buy Amrapali flats is not known. But the Hon’ble Supreme Court last month sent Anil Sharma and two Amrapali directors to police custody for interrogation. And thousands of home buyers, having invested savings of a lifetime in Amrapali, remain without a roof over their heads. Captain Dhoni, through his petition to the Supreme Court, has wisely (and strategically) chosen to join the list of those distressed and oppressed by Amrapali, lest he too be kayoed as an accomplice in the Amrapali scam.
For the record, in the Amrapali case, Dhoni’s involvement with the disgraced builder was not merely that of a brand ambassador, much as he may have claimed in media as part of his innocence act. Dhoni’s wife Sakshi was a director at Amrapali Mahi Developers Private Limited and this firm was involved in running a hospital and a charity in Dhoni's home state Jharkhand. Sakshi remained a director of this entity well after Dhoni quit as Amrapali’s brand ambassador.
Questions that come up as a result of Dhoni’s Supreme Court petition are very simple :
1. As brand ambassador, was Dhoni directly or indirectly responsible for Amprapali’s commitments to its home buyers?
2. Can Dhoni just claim to be ‘paid help’ and escape any role or responsibility in the cheating of thousands of middle class home buyers?
3. Prima facie, it would not be unfair to believe that the presence of Captain Dhoni in Amrapali ads helped lure a lot of the buyers. His endorsement of the builder was a ‘confidence building measure’ in the purchase of the house from Amrapali. When the builder defrauded, how much was Dhoni’s culpability? Dhoni’s accountability? Dhoni’s answerability?
4. If Dhoni was so thick with the Amrapali folks as to have a co-branded firm in place with them where his wife was an active director, can he really and realistically feign ignorance of the plans and designs of the real estate developers to cheat thousands of customers?
5. The case filed by MS Dhoni in the Supreme Court is a civil suit for recovery of dues. Dhoni has steered clear of any criminal charges despite claiming to be cheated. This is a fine nuance of law, but to those who understand its significance, it is an important dimension of how Dhoni’s defence team is looking at this entire case. Attack, for them, is the best part of defence. But attack that is calculated and calibrated just to bare fangs, not hurt or kill.
6. It is surprising that civil society has fought shy of implicating Dhoni in the case. There was some social media turbulence in 2016 versus Dhoni but he is not seriously a respondent or defendant in any of the civil and criminal cases filed against the promoters. It is perhaps the halo of the man that has cocooned him from litigation and potential prosecution. The moot question is whether that is entirely fair?
7. Were Dhoni to theoretically win his claim against Amrapali and be awarded his dues by the highest Court, would he rightfully be entitled to them? If Dhoni has distanced himself from the proposition that Amrapali were making, and dis-avowed any connect to their claims, then what are the arrears being claimed for?
8. If Dhoni collects the arrears, will he share the spoils with the poor souls he was instrumental in getting to buy homes-that-never-were at Amrapali? Should there be a role for play of conscience even for celebrities?
Dhoni’s claim in the Supreme Court is a mere legal ploy by smart lawyers to ensure he remains unaffected and unharmed in the Amrapali matter. This may not immediately benefit or enrich Dhoni but gives his legal team a tenable position vis-à-vis his erstwhile partners and friends. The home buyers have been cheated. They have no homes. They have no savings left. They have little or no hope. But Dhoni still has a potential Rs. 40 crore claim : he is a lucky captain, some say….
Dr. Sandeep Goyal has a PhD in Human Brands from FMS-Delhi.