Can Lalit Modi's Confidence in Himself Undo His Latest Scandal?

15 June 2015
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

Yesterday, the UK-based newspaper, The Sunday Times, reported that Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, facilitated the arrangement of travel documents for the former India Premier League chairman and commissioner, Lalit Modi, through UK minister of parliament, Keith Vaz. Modi’s passport was impounded in 2010 after the Enforcement Directorate found him guilty of appropriating funds during IPL tournaments. In our March 2011 issue, Samanth Subramanian profiled the former IPL chairman and the cricket empire that he built and then lost. In this excerpt from that article, Subramanian finds that Modi, sequestered in London after his ousting, remains supremely confident of clearing his name in the scandal.

If the IPL has not entirely shrugged off the shadow of Lalit Modi, it appears that Lalit Modi has not been able to move on either. Notwithstanding KK Modi’s contention that his son is helping to grow the family business to fresh heights in Europe, Modi—or, to be absolutely precise, his official Twitter stream, his consistent source of public statements—talks about little other than the IPL. When the player auction unfolded over two days earlier this year, and was televised in mind-numbing detail, Modi offered real-time commentary. He noted that all 10 teams looked good, he wished the new Pune franchise luck, he commiserated with Sourav Ganguly fans that Dada—“one of the Best Cricketers and Sportsman”—was not bought, and he analysed how the IPL’s playoff structure would skew the league. When the Chennai Super Kings play the Kolkata Knight Riders on 8 April to inaugurate the fourth season of the IPL, there seems to be little doubt that Modi will be watching avidly. He is the spurned husband of a diva, a man who can’t quite bring himself to look away, who needs her for his own identity and wants ferociously to be reunited.

Since he sequestered himself in London, Modi has only given one interview of any substance, and the story of how that interview came about is a classic illustration of the way he works. Late last year, at least two Indian business journalists—including Alam Srinivas—were close to procuring an exclusive interview with Modi, but the rug was entirely whisked out from under their feet when Modi decided to find his interviewer himself and post the video on YouTube. Modi had once said, Harsha Bhogle remembers, that “YouTube would become the biggest TV channel in the days to come”, which may account for some part of this change of mind. It’s difficult to say how successful his tactic turned out to be. The footage received some play, on various Indian channels, on the day of its release, but very little thereafter; the full interview and its bite-sized iterations on YouTube have only been viewed around 30,000 times, fewer than the average sneezing cat video.

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.

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