THE CRICKET czar was slayed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) when it realised that he had become a monster who would swallow the well-established veteran officials of the game. That was in 2010, when Lalit Modi fell from grace and fled the country to escape prosecution in a money-laundering case.
Hardly anyone in cricket circles was surprised, for Modi had created an army of foes with his intemperate behaviour. The success of the Indian Premier League (IPL) had catapulted him to the enviable position of being the head of a top-class cricket administration. He had brought money and glamour to the game and was basking in the glory of the 2009 edition of the IPL, which was held in South Africa. This proved the turning point, and Modi’s troubles with the authorities began.
He was a stranger in cricket circles until former BCCI president I.S. Bindra introduced him as an enterprising businessman with bright ideas to boost the financial prospects of the game. And what a ruthless entry Modi made into cricket administration! In 2005, he did what many had failed to do for more than three decades. He ended the rule of the Rungta family which had controlled the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) for more than three decades. A belligerent Modi used his proximity to the then Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje to pull off the coup. The Rajasthan government brought in the Sports Act, which meant that the voting powers to the RCA now rested with the 33 districts and not the individual members of the association. Modi’s panel came to power, he took over the RCA, and Rajasthan cricket saw a new dawn. It is entirely to Modi’s credit that Rajasthan acquired and developed modern cricket infrastructure and, in due course, it won the Ranji Trophy, a pleasant proof of the gains that come from proper administration.
Taking control of the RCA and then becoming the BCCI vice-president was a huge leap for this ambitious businessman. His rise was meteoric. And baffling. He was quick to identify the huge potential cricket held in terms of revenue from the commercial market. Things moved fast as Modi set his vision in motion, aiming to make India’s the richest of all the cricket boards.
He feared none and won support by taking on BCCI secretary N. Srinivasan (who went on to become president) openly. He made instant friends once it became known that he could be used as a tool to tackle the growing influence of Srinivasan. His stature in the BCCI rose and he became an authority by himself.
Modi worked out a broadcasting deal that made BCCI in charge of the production. The players were happy because they were making good money.
The IPL was Modi’s brainchild really and the BCCI was happy to back the venture since it suited some old hawks. India had won the inaugural T20 World Cup and the BCCI was eager to cash in on the success. The IPL was launched with much fanfare in 2008 and the eight franchise teams fetched $720 million.
He cared for none, and ran the IPL on his terms. Cricket had seen nothing like this. True, Kerry Packer had hit the traditional ways of the game hard by introducing day-night cricket and coloured clothing. Pyjama cricket was how it was derided then. In subsequent years, Packer had the last laugh as the world came to accept this new form of cricket, which had glamour and entertainment.
Modi capitalised on the cricket madness that was begging to be tapped. The entertainment and glamour quotient roped in those who had not followed cricket because it was said to be a time-consuming game and too technical. Cricket, in the form of T20, conquered the drawing rooms of the Indian household and the BCCI laughed its way to the bank. The stadiums were packed and the crowd enjoyed the sight of Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta cheering their teams from the stands. This was intoxicating stuff for the young fans even as Modi now set his sight on making his way to the top of the BCCI.
Modi became the cynosure of all eyes even though the platform was full of iconic cricketers, film stars and businessmen. He was hailed as a messiah and there was a race to get close to him. He hobnobbed with the best from the sports and cine worlds. The aura around Modi could be best illustrated by an incident that happened on the day of a final in Mumbai. When everyone travelled by road, including the players, Modi took the aerial route in a helicopter. That one act set him apart. There was no stopping Modi until he ran out of luck and goodwill and fell from grace.
The first IPL was a huge success. The expectations from the next edition were higher but the tournament was rocked when the government refused to provide security for the conduct of the 2009 IPL because of the general election. Modi reportedly took it as a personal affront and floated the idea of taking the tournament overseas. Initially it appeared a far-fetched idea. The logistics was a nightmare and the time available was limited too. But Modi’s enterprise ensured that the IPL did not miss its second edition. South Africa proved a great host and the IPL carved a place for itself in world cricket. It is common belief that the government felt slighted at Modi’s organisational abilities. He was now a marked man.
Initially he enjoyed the support of the BCCI top brass because he had gifted them a business module in IPL with guaranteed revenue. But the show was being run by one man, and he was becoming increasingly intolerant and arrogant. He was taking instinctive decisions even at the cost of earning the displeasure of some officials in the BCCI. He made no secret of his dislike for veteran Jagmohan Dalmiya, obviously because of the support he enjoyed from Bindra.
He was in a hurry to make his points, and even antagonised the International Cricket Council (ICC) with his brash ways. He called the shots in the BCCI, prompting a veteran to comment: “He was a dictator. He could be ruthlessly demanding and leave you embarrassed with a humiliating comment in public.”
The BCCI now saw him as a threat. He was popular with the players and the media and was also reportedly looking to dominate the cricket administration. Some of his decisions were reportedly taken unilaterally. This was not the way the BCCI had functioned.
Observers point out that Modi brought money to the BCCI and with it came corruption. From an ambitious RCA official, Modi had come to dominate the parent body. And there was a method to his madness as Modi, after taking control of the BCCI, set his sights on the international body.
The 2010 edition of the IPL came under scrutiny and charges of alleged money laundering put Modi in a spot. He was also accused of manipulating the auctions and broadcast deals. He also caused a flutter by announcing Union Minister Shashi Tharoor’s interest in an IPL team through his wife Sunanda Pushkar. The government was embarrassed and Tharoor had to put in his papers. As Modi often puts it, a war broke out between him and the Congress, but he fled the country and has remained overseas since, fearing arrest and at times citing danger to his life as the compelling reason for not returning home.
Modi, true to his character, has remained defiant and, time and again, has continued to leave the BCCI red-faced, which has united it in its effort to keep him out. He vows to return and gain control of the BCCI again. He was banned by the BCCI in 2013 by a panel that included the Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley. The government is currently engaged in getting him back to India, what with the Enforcement Directorate ready to issue notices to him.
But the last has not been heard yet in this sordid tale of Modi and his cricket exploits.