The Indian Premier League has grown into one of the largest sporting leagues in the world, being valued at $6.7 billion and generating revenues over ₹2,000 crores for all parties involved. This annual festival of cricket has brought with it a lot of employment, talent, joy, and frustration for the fans and professionals of the gentleman's game. None of this would have been possible without the vision of the founder of the IPL, Lalit Modi. While instrumental in the development and functioning of the IPL, Lalit Modi's greed was the reason for his downfall and disgraced exit as the Chairman of the Indian Premier League and Vice President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
In its 14th year of functioning, this would be an opportune time to ask, who is Lalit Modi?
Lalit Modi was born in 1963 into one of India's leading business families from Delhi, as the eldest son of Krishan Kumar Modi and Bina Modi. He had a knack of getting into trouble early on in life, having been expelled from his school for bunking and watching a movie, and later found guilty of cocaine trafficking and alleged kidnapping during his education in Duke University, Northern California.
He was able to reduce his two-year sentence into 200 hours of community service and was eventually allowed to return home on grounds of ill-health, allegedly facilitated by some of his father's business friends.
Return to India and early business career
Lalit came back to India in 1986 and joined his family business as the President of International Tobacco Company Limited, and the Non-Executive & Non-Independent Director at Godfrey Phillips India, one of India's largest tobacco companies. He was made the Executive President in February 1992, a position he retained till August 1, 2010.
In 1993, Lalit Modi founded Modi Entertainment Networks (MEN), with a 10-year joint venture with Walt Disney Pictures, to broadcast Disney's content in India. MEN was later awarded a ten-year contract from ESPN worth $975 million as a pan-India distributor. However, ESPN did not renew the contract, alleging underreported revenues and financial manipulation.
Lalit later went on to found a lottery business in Kerala and also became the president and managing director in his family business.
His first foray into cricket
Impressed by the glitz and glamour of American and British sport leagues, especially the English Premier League and the American NFL, Lalit pitched a domestic franchise-based cricket league to the BCCI in 1995. Upon being rejected, he resolved to join the BCCI and make powerful internal allies to make his ambitious dream project come true.
In 1999, he managed to get selected into the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Board. His attempt to gain control failed and was asked to step down, having later joined the Punjab Cricket Association as the Vice-President, a position he retained till 2008. He was also able to use his connections with Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje to gain control of the Rajasthan Cricket Association as the President. As the RCA president, he oversaw the construction and maintenance of the state-of-the-art Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.
Lalit Modi, BCCI, and the Indian Premier League
As RCA president, Lalit helped the Nationalist Congress Party(NCP) leader Sharad Pawar win the BCCI Presidential elections, who in turn appointed him Vice-President of BCCI. He was heavily involved in the commercial side, increasing the revenue sevenfold and touching the $1 billion mark.
After having proven his capabilities with administration and his dedication to the growth of Indian cricket, the BCCI finally gave a go-signal to the Indian Premier League, which commenced in April 2008 with the Kolkata Knight Riders vs Royal Challengers Bangalore. The unbelievable success of the first season of IPL named Lalit Modi as The Most Innovative Business Leader of the Year 2008 by NDTV Profit.
The revenue of BCCI grew multi-folds from the 2008 season to the 2010 season of the IPL, attracting the best overseas players as well as giving the spotlight to the brightest talents of the country. 'Where talent meets opportunity' was the motto of the IPL and it lived up to the hype, the promise, and the drama. Lalit Modi was internationally admired for his work with the IPL and was a business star in cricketing and non-cricketing circles...
...for about two years
Hot, hot waters
Signs of a downfall began with rumours of a rift between Lalit Modi and N. Srinivasan, the then-President of BCCI, over allegations of favoring and rigging the bidding process for his friends and contacts. He had also accused the sitting MP from Thiruvananthapuram and External Affairs Minister Shashi Tharoor of being involved in the consortium for the bidding of his home team Kochi Tuskers Kerala. Tharoor's then-wife Sunanda Pushkar had also held sweat equity in KTK. This forced the External Affairs Minister to resign from his post, adding to more eyeballs on Lalit Modi.
A day after the IPL final on 24 April won by the Chennai Super Kings, Lalit Modi was suspended from the BCCI on multiple charges, including bid-rigging, bypassing the governing council while taking decisions, awarding contracts to his friends and selling franchises to members of his family, betting and money laundering.
He was also later accused by the Enforcement Directorate of the Indian government of buying a jet using shell companies in the Cayman Islands, guiding selective bidders during the 2008 auctions and also planning to form a rival cricket league in England, while being the sitting vice-president of BCCI.
Where is Lalit Modi?
Lalit Modi is currently residing comfortably in London, not willing to return to India to fight all the allegations and charges against him. He claimed that there was a threat to his life in India, with Mumbai Police endorsing his claim of underworld gangsters threatening him after he refused to pay extortion money.
The Enforcement Directorate of the Indian government had requested Interpol to issue a global warrant against Lalit Modi, which was rejected in 2017 after having delayed it for a long time. The Government of India is continuing to fight for his extradition.
Lalit Modi's net worth is estimated to be somewhere between $1 million and $5 million as of 2021.