The other side of Lalit Modi

Joby Joseph presents the life of the headline-maker beyond the boundary of the Indian Premier League.

Published: 25th April 2010 09:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 02:06 PM   |  A+A-

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Lalit Kumar Modi was born in a wealthy and successful business family on Nov­ember 29, 1963 in Delhi. His father, Krish­an Kumar Modi, is the chairman of Modi Enterprises, which was started by his gr­andfather.

Much before he finished school, Modi was keen to go to the US for higher studies. To realise this dream, he skipped his school-leaving examination in India, making him no longer eligible for admission in any of the Indian colleges. Lalit hated life in boarding schools in Shimla and Nainital. With no other option, Modi’s parents agreed to send him to America.  To his credit, he performed well in SAT, or the Scholastic Aptitude Test, essential for admission to American colleges.

As an undergraduate in the US, Modi wanted to buy a Mercedes. But his father gave him $5,000 and asked him to pick up a cheaper car. Instead, Lalit used the money to pay the first installment for a brand new Merc, becoming the first one in the Modi family to buy a car in instalments.  There’s more to Modi and cars: in his ea­rly teens, he wandered through the roads of the Indian capital in his family car without a driving licence! He still drives a Mercedes, wears Armani and likes to spend New Year’s Eves at Amanpuri in Phuket, listed by the American Conde Nast Traveller magazine as one of the world’s best resorts. He has a lifestyle now that includes a private jet, a luxury yacht and a fleet of Mercedes S class and BMW cars.

While busy with his studies in the US, he was also honing his skills working in the American tobacco company Philip Morr­is in 1985 and cosmetic giant Estée Lauder in 1986. This helped him a lot when he worked as the president of the Modi En­terprises-owned International Tobacco Company from 1987 to 1991. Later, he was appointed executive director of Godfrey Philips India Ltd in 1992 — India’s seco­nd-largest cigarette-manufacturer.

The luxurious Prince’s Suite at the Ramb­agh Palce Hotel in Jaipur once belonged to Maharani Gayatri Devi’s son Jagat Si­ngh. For the past four years, the suite is where Modi has spent several days every other month.

In 1985, while studying at Duke University in the  US,  he was convicted for possession of 400 gm of cocaine and charged with assault and kidnapping. The Durh­am County court punished him for a two-year suspended prison sentence. It has  been alleged that he is also involved in a court case for cocaine abuse in the UAE as recently as 2006. At almost the same time that the Shashi Tharoor-vs-Lalit Modi saga started, another controversy broke: it was reported that Modi had ap­pro­ached Tharoor and the foreign ministry to not renew the visa of Gabriella De­metriades, one of the contestants in Miss IPL Boll­ywood in So­uth Africa.  

Earlier, Modi was attacked for his close ties with Va­s­undhara Raje, former Ra­­jasthan chief minist­er. This friendship has a lo­ng history. Vasundhara and Modi’s grandmothers were close friends, it is sa­id. Moreover, both were de­v­otees of spiritual leader An­a­n­damoyee Ma. In what might be more than a coincidence, so­on after the BJP lost the elections,  resulting in the ouster of Raje, Modi also lost his job as RCA president. Moreover, after the BJP governme­nt was replaced by Congress rule, more than 20 cases — relating to alleged tax evasion and financial irregularities when he was at the helm of the RCA — were opened against Modi.

After he came back to India from the US, and after a short stint in the family’s textile unit in Mumbai, cricket entered Mo­di’s life for the first time — he started distributing ESPN as part of a joint ventu­re floated with Walt Disney, which then owned ESPN. Later, Modi lost the distribution rights in Ind­ia wh­en Rupert Murdoch for­med ESPN STAR  with Wa­­lt Disney. But in a fruitful meeting with Murdoch, Modi got another high-profile friend — Murdoch’s son James. Modi Entertainment Ne­­twork now distributes Fashion TV in the country.

When Modi was a student, though he pl­ayed football and tennis, he hardly ca­me to the cricket field. But after becoming a successful businessman upon his return to India, he carefully watc­hed the power centres of cricket administration. Eyeing entry into the BC­CI, Modi started net­w­o­rking, but he was si­d­elined by the then BC­CI president Jagmohan Dalmiya. Me­an­while, he joined the Himachal Pr­ade­sh Cricket Association in 1999. Then he made it into the Rajasthan Cricket As­so­ciation by becoming a member of the Nagore district with the na­me Lalit Kumar as he was already a me­mber of the HPCA with the name Lalit Modi. La­ter, in the 2005 Rajasthan Cricket Association elections, he took over the reins of the RCA with the he­lp of a government ord­inance that took aw­ay the voting ri­ghts of 59 RCA members and allowed on­ly 32 district cricket associations to vote. Later that year, he beca­me the yo­ungest ever BCCI vice-president and took over the boards’s co­mm­ercial activities. He suffered his first major embarrassment in March 2009 when he was defea­ted in the RCA elections.

Modi is also the pres­ident and managing director of Modi Enterprises and executive director of Godfrey Phillips India.

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