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.