The Confidence Man

How Lalit Modi, possessed of inhuman energy, ambition and audacity, built a billion-dollar cricket kingdom—only to be rudely ejected from its throne

01 March 2011
Lalit Modi during the Indian Premier League final in Mumbai, on 25 April 2010. He would be suspended from his position as the league’s commissioner within a matter of days.
RITAM BANERJEE-IPL 2010 / IPL VIA GETTY IMAGES
Lalit Modi during the Indian Premier League final in Mumbai, on 25 April 2010. He would be suspended from his position as the league’s commissioner within a matter of days.
RITAM BANERJEE-IPL 2010 / IPL VIA GETTY IMAGES

EVERY SPRING, for the past three years—for the first three seasons of the Indian Premier League—Lalit Kumar Modi’s life would swing into a pattern of perpetual motion, his days filled with the kind of incessant activity that he promised to deliver to his audiences on the cricket field each evening. In the morning, if he hadn’t already flown out the previous night, Modi would eat breakfast— spartan, like all his meals—on his personal plane, en route to the first of that day’s IPL venues. (“That plane had golden toilet fittings,” recalls a passenger who rode along once, at Modi’s invitation, from Jaipur to New Delhi. “It was like a bloody throne.”) Once at the ground, Modi would begin to intensively micromanage events, striding in his characteristic quick, purposeful gait around the stadium. On his BlackBerry, which seemed to be welded into the palm of his hand, he would deliver clipped instructions. “He’s very fast with SMS,” said Dilip Cherian, a prominent public relations consultant who has worked with Modi and with his family’s businesses in the past. “He has to think as fast as he types.”

Over the course of a game day, Modi would eat little. He would smoke ceaselessly, but he would begin a cigarette, drag on it a couple of times, and then toss it away, as if each cigarette was just another one of the tasks he needed to strike off his To-Do list for the day. As the cricket commenced, Modi would sit, either in his own box or in the box of the home team, and mug for the Modicam, the camera deputed to follow him around in each game. He would chant team slogans and sing team songs, the metal rims of his spectacles glinting in the spotlights, his forehead often speckled with drops of perspiration, the knot of his tie always loosened and askew just so. (“This indicates,” one image consulting website self-seriously concluded in an analysis of Modi’s look, “that he is ‘casual’ with a ‘care-a-damn’ attitude and that he doesn’t bother about what people talk about him.”) But through all these lusty exhibitions of fandom, Modi would be acutely alert to the demands of his positions as IPL commissioner and as vice-president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), his eyes always cocked for something going wrong – for an unwanted guest in an exclusive box, or for a brand not getting quite as much play as it had paid for.

Modi—BlackBerry welded into the palm of his hand—with his wife, Minal, and Sushmita Sen at the 2010 IPL final.. RITAM BANERJEE-IPL 2010 / IPL VIA GETTY IMAGES Modi—BlackBerry welded into the palm of his hand—with his wife, Minal, and Sushmita Sen at the 2010 IPL final.. RITAM BANERJEE-IPL 2010 / IPL VIA GETTY IMAGES
Modi—BlackBerry welded into the palm of his hand—with his wife, Minal, and Sushmita Sen at the 2010 IPL final.
RITAM BANERJEE-IPL 2010 / IPL VIA GETTY IMAGES

Samanth Subramaniam is a contributing editor at The Caravan and the India correspondent for The National. He is the author of This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War, and Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast.

Keywords: cricket Lalit Modi IPL KK Modi Indian Premier League BCCI Rajasthan Cricket Association Rajasthan Cricket Academy World Cup
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