New Delhi: Indian Premier League chief Lalit Modi’s fall from grace was even quicker and more spectacular than his remarkable rise to become one of cricket’s most powerful figures. Modi, the brash driving force behind the money-spinning IPL, was suspended from all his roles in Indian cricket by the country’s cricket authorities amid an escalating scandal over tax and match-fixing allegations.
The 46-year-old scion of a prominent north Indian business family, who was once arrested for drug-trafficking and assault in the United States, was virtually unknown outside cricket circles until five years ago.
Modi hit the headlines in 2005 when he joined political heavyweight Sharad Pawar in an acrimonious but successful campaign to end Jagmohan Dalmiya’s two-decade reign at the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
A grateful Pawar rewarded Modi by ensuring his election as the youngest vice-president of the country’s richest sporting body whose assets were then worth an estimated 50 million dollars.
Three years later, BCCI revenues had tripled after Modi launched the glitzy Indian Premier League to counter a rebel Twenty20 league owned by the country’s largest listed media house, Zee Telefilms.
The multi-billion IPL, featuring the world’s top cricketers in eight franchises owned by India’s leading businessmen and film stars, changed the landscape of what was once a leisurely sport.
The ruthlessly ambitious Modi ran the IPL like a personal fiefdom, bringing in corporate sponsors who tumbled over each other to join the party. After three editions of a spectacularly succcessful tournament, Modi boasted that the IPL was “recession-free” as its brand value rose to more than four billion dollars.
But his abrasive and brash behaviour rubbed many an ego the wrong way, which ultimately led to his downfall. He has also been suspended as vice president of the BCCI, a role which also gave him the chairmanship of the T20 Champions League, a club tournament jointly organised by the cricket boards of India, Australia and South Africa.
Modi fell foul of the government last year when he shifted the IPL’s second edition to South Africa after authorities refused to provide top-notch security due to the impending parliamentary elections.
The sudden change in the venue created the impression that India was an unsafe venue for sporting events, riling a government preparing for the Commmonwealth Games in New Delhi in October 2010.
Modi further antagonised the government by embarrassing junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor, with revelations on microblogging site Twitter that a female friend of Tharoor’s had been given a free stake in a new IPL franchise.
Tharoor, a former UN undersecretary general who swapped international diplomacy in New York for the rough and tumble of Indian politics last year, quit this month over the scandal.
The nationwide tax investigation into the IPL, lapped up by a hungry media, convinced an embarrassed BCCI that Modi could be dispensed from even his own billion-dollar baby.
Former India captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, one of the country’s most respected cricket personalities, said Modi was himself to blame for his decline. “His style puts off people,” said Pataudi, a member of the IPL’s 14-member governing council.
“Modi’s biggest failure is that he has been doing it all alone.He doesn’t want anyone else involved. That is his biggest strength and his biggest weakness.”