The Mumbai chapter of the Lalit Modi mess

  • Ayaz Memon
  • Updated: Jun 23, 2015 16:33 IST

Lalit Modi’s revelations have rattled not just the Indian cricket establishment, but also the government in Rajasthan and at the Centre.

For the BJP, it’s been a double whammy. Not just a chief minister from the party, worse even, the minister of external affairs has been bundled into unarguably the year’s biggest political controversy.

The flamboyant former Indian Premier League chairman and commissioner clammed up after an interview he gave to a TV channel indicted – directly or indirectly – the BJP leaders, but the damage had been done.

Just how this drama will play out from here is anybody’s guess. The BJP has pooh-poohed any suggestion of misdemeanour by its leaders. But if the high-decibel brouhaha in the capital is any indication, the monsoon session of Parliament will be stormier than the weather experienced by Mumbai in the past couple of days.

Some effects of ‘ModiGate’ have resonated in Mumbai too. Labelled a loose cannon by those stung by his seemingly devil-may-care statement, Modi has – advertently or otherwise – dragged the NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel and Mumbai police commissioner Rakesh Maria into at least the ambit of speculation in the matter.

Mumbai, of course, is integral to the Lalit Modi saga. While he may have also studied in Delhi and overseas, and became vice-president of the BCCI from Jaipur, this city was his home and the hub of the diversified business group of which he was heir.

It was in Mumbai that he set up Modi Entertainment Network about two decades ago. Even then, Modi talked of big ticket sports properties, among them if I recall correctly, a city-based ODI cricket league. The venture never took off because the fuddy-duddies in the BCCI dithered and dithered.

Modi’s rise to global eminence in 2008 began at the extreme end of SoBo. The IPL had been announced in late 2007 as a counter to the Indian Cricket League floated by a private television channeland the firstauction was held at the Trident (the Oberoi) Hotel at Nariman Point.

Skeptics in the media were bemused at the jamboree Modi had assembled: films stars, big businessmen and the usual suspects from the BCCI were all present. What was he trying to showcase?

When the eight franchises were sold for prices ranging from approximately 65 mn USD to 110 mn USD, the environment became electric. This was serious stuff.

Soon came the first player auction: M S Dhoni bought by Chennai Super Kings for a whopping 1.5 mn USD and announced by Modi. He had arrived on the global stage.

In 2009, threatened by a delay of the IPL because of the general elections, Modi scoffed at the government by taking the tournament to South Africa. The second season was a rousing success too and Modi was being hailed as a maverick genius.

At the end of the next season, however, he had to flee the country on charges of embezzlement and other financial improprieties. That year, he had made the Four Seasons Hotel at Worli his hub, running up a mountain of a bill which the BCCI later refused to play and which is still under litigation.

I met him there last for an interview for Mint in March of 2010 just before the season began. Two new teams were to be added to the IPL, and the bidding process had opened up an internecine war within the BCCI. Modi looked hassled. The usual chutzpah was missing..

What really transpired in the volatile season of 2010 is still the subject of much debate. There are several facts available as to what led to his ouster, but the truth is still mired in doubt.

Indeed, as the current controversy unravels, Modi’s three-year tenure as IPL commissioner acquires new dimensions, most of them uncomplimentary not only to himself, but several others across the cricketing and political spectrum of the country, some of them completely unexpected.

P Chidambaram and Arun Jaitley -- apart from N Srinivasan -- were in his line of fire over the past few years, but who would have thought that it would run so deep and wide as to suck in even Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje? It’s likely that more leaks and revelations might arrive soon. This could leave a few more worthies – in the cricket, political, business, entertainment and bureaucratic establishments stumped for explanations – if not bowled lock, stock and barrel. The next few weeks promise to be exciting.

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