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Lalit Modi’s billion-dollar scorecard

The rise and rise of the IPL and the dramatic fall of the man who started it all
The recent auction of TV and streaming rights for  the Indian Premier League (IPL) brought in Rs 48,390 crore.
The recent auction of TV and streaming rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL) brought in Rs 48,390 crore.
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Boria Majumdar   |   Published 20.06.22, 11:53 AM

Lalit Kumar Modi was the luminescent shooting star of the Indian cricketing world. He appeared on the firmament and took what was already the world's super-richest cricket board into an entirely new orbit where it was showered with riches even beyond the dreams of Croesus. The most recent auction of TV and streaming rights for Modi’s creation the Indian Premier League (IPL) had the world’s most cash-rich conglomerates in attendance and brought in Rs 48,390 crore, making it the world's second-most remunerative sporting event. The IPL was a dream born in Modi's mind and it has been successful beyond even what he could have envisioned.

Modi's rise to the top of the world's cricketing pile was the result of intricate manoeuvring and alliance-making. But his fall was equally swift and dramatic. Veteran cricket correspondent Boria Majumdar tells the story of Modi’s rise via the Rajasthan cricket board and how he was also the state's most formidable political force. And from a ringside seat he tells of the last few drama-filled hours of his final defeat. An excerpt:


That night in April, however, was different. The caller, I have to say in hindsight, influenced the decision-making to a large extent. He had been a trustworthy source for close to a decade and we had worked closely during a BCCI election as well—me as a journalist covering it while he was the principal election strategist. For him to lie to me or mislead me looked a farfetched proposition. Frankly, he had no reason to do so and in a relationship of trust he wouldn’t want to do anything to harm me. The decision had been made and I had made up my mind to do the story. When I mentioned the call and its contents to the editor of the channel, his expression changed. He knew we were onto a winner and it was a headline that will reverberate all over India. While he asked me a few times if I was sure, our association went back long enough for him to know I wouldn’t put my neck on the line for a wrong story. We decided to go back to the studio together and break the news. On field the IPL final was on at the Wankhede. Off field the finale was about to start and we were the openers taking the centrestage. We broke the story at exactly 9 p.m. and continued for over an hour and a half giving out details of what was going on backstage. It was important for viewers to understand the sequence of events and how things had unfolded over the last 2 weeks leading to the climax. Interestingly, however, even after an hour of us doing the story no other television channel had touched it. Not one. In fact, while we were on a break we jokingly asked each other what would happen if the story was wrong and turned out to be a false alarm. In short, we would be finished. This was Lalit Modi, the undisputed hero of the IPL and one of the most powerful men in the country at the time. And what we were saying was his time was up. We would have to pay a price if we were wrong. Surely Lalit would get back at us. Several things, however, told me the story was right. Chennai Super Kings was playing and yet N. Srinivasan, the face of the franchise along with M.S. Dhoni, was not to be seen at the ground. Each time the camera cut to the Mumbai Indians ownership, the Chennai management was conspicuous by its absence. Something clearly wasn’t right. At no point in the coverage had the broadcaster shown the BCCI officials enjoying the action. This was routine practice and their absence was bound to cause suspicion. In all this time I had tried to get the story verified by multiple people in power. What was surprising was each number I had dialled was switched off. I had tried to reach out to the BCCI President Shashank Manohar, Chief Administrative Officer Ratnakar Shetty, Vice President Arun Jaitley and IPL Co-Chairman Niranjan Shah. When I did manage to reach out to Rajiv Shukla, his phone was ringing, he wasn’t available to take the call. This was odd because not often do you fail to reach out to a single BCCI office bearer. Someone or the other inevitably corroborates a story and this was a sensational newsbreak to say the least. What I did know was that each one of them barring Shukla had refrained from going to the ground for the final. “Lalit had called Shashank multiple times to come and attend the final and give away the prizes. It was usual practice that the BCCI President would do the honours but Shashank was steadfast he wouldn’t attend and wouldn’t want to be seen with Lalit. Srinivasan too did not attend and nor did Arun Jaitley, Niranjan Shah and Ratnakar Shetty. It was a conscious call not to be seen with Lalit,” said a BCCI office bearer a few days later. The facts that came to light during this conversation were no less interesting. The BCCI had decided on suspending Lalit days before the final and was waiting for the tournament to get over. “There was no point disturbing the tournament and giving Lalit a chance to do further tamasha,” said the source. It was important that cricket wasn’t disrupted for that would hurt the IPL and the BCCI even further. It was a well thought out plan to distance themselves from Lalit and not be there for the final. No one would be on the dais when the prize distribution was on and that was signal enough for Lalit and everyone else that his honeymoon with the IPL was over. “We were in a hotel room watching the game,” said one of the top brass years later when I interviewed him for this book. “Srinivasan had his back to the TV screen because his team was playing. He very rarely watched a Chennai Super Kings game and if it was his room he wouldn’t even let the others switch on the TV! This was a superstition he was very serious about and each one of us knew about it and respected his sentiments. As far as the rest of us were concerned each one of us were watching the match. But to tell you the truth a lot was going on in our minds for reasons you know. And Professor Shetty had his computer ready with the BCCI Secretary’s email account open right in front of him. Every detail had been minutely worked out and it had been decided that the moment Lalit completed the presentation ceremony and stepped off the dais, the email of his suspension would be sent to him. This would mean he wouldn’t have an opportunity to do any further drama and the tournament would also have been concluded. Lalit had a whiff of exactly what was going on. He knew it was his last evening in power and yet was not one to just give up,” said one of the key actors of the drama. As far as Lalit Modi was concerned he was all flamboyance when he landed in the stadium in his helicopter. The suit and every piece of clothing he wore were perfectly colour coordinated and in place, it was impossible to gauge that here was a man going through the worst crisis of his life. It was literally his genius to be able to keep calm with all the goings on around him and conduct the toss and everything else as if it was routine. He did give it away though at the prize distribution. His address was more of a farewell speech than anything else and for anyone in the know it was a giveaway that his time was up. With a sense of satisfaction on his face, an emotional Lalit went on, “The IPL is clean… I am speaking as IPL Commissioner and the captain of the team. IPL has been unfortunately surrounded with off field dramas. The recent happenings are only based on innuendoes, half-truths and motivated leaks from all sides. I assure you all decisions are jointly taken by the GC [governing council] and were approved by the general body in the first and the second year of IPL. I reassure you that if there is any flouting of rules and any irregularities, I will take full responsibility. I would like to assure you fans from across the globe that the IPL is clean and transparent and I thank millions of fans for making it one of the best sporting leagues ever… IPL has faced many challenges this year, but we have faced these challenges head on.” In a speech full of sentiment, he went on to say, “As the Bhagvad Gita says, ‘Fear not what is not real, never was and never will be.’ What is real, always was and cannot be destroyed… All I wanted is to leave a small footprint in the glorious history of the game. I thank my family, my children who have stood by me through the trying times all these years and continuously stay with me; I take my strength from them. My final thank you is to you, the fans all over the world. We missed you last year in India and it’s wonderful to be back home. It’s your passion and this is the reason we built the IPL; it’s your passion that sustains us, your passion that enriches us, this is not the Indian Premier League, it’s the Indian People League. I humbly dedicate my dream to all the people in this country. Thank you.” It was as if Lalit was summing up years of hard work.

Extracted with permission from:  

Maverick Commissioner: The IPL-Lalit Modi Saga

By Boria Majumdar

Publisher: Simon and Schuster India 

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