The Longstanding and Successfully Symbiotic Relationship between Lalit Modi and Vasundhara Raje

16 June 2015
YOGEN SHAH-IPL 2010 / IPL VIA GETTY IMAGES
YOGEN SHAH-IPL 2010 / IPL VIA GETTY IMAGES

Today, the news television channel Times Now carried another reveal in the Lalit Modi case, in which Rajasthan chief minister, Vasundhara Raje, allegedly backed Modi’s immigration application to the UK in 2011 on the condition of anonymity. The documents that suggest Raje’s complicity were provided to the channel by Modi’s lawyer. That incident was not the first time Raje offered support to Modi. In this excerpt from Samanth Subramanian’s profile of the former Indian Premier League boss, which featured in our March 2011 issue, Modi makes a play for the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) by first serving as president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA). Raje's support and influence in political and business circles was assured.

Lalit Modi’s tenure as president of the RCA, which lasted from 2005 to 2009, was like a rough draft of his tenure as IPL commissioner: the details are different but the broad pattern is recognisably the same. There is, for instance, the same delirious mix of vaulting ambition, the pathological desire to monetise everything, the sleepless vigour, and the piercing business acumen. Ahead of the very first one-day international match to be played at Jaipur after Modi assumed power, CricInfo reported that the RCA had spent Rs7.5 million to install new seats, bring the pavilion forward, roof the stands, and make myriad additional changes to a stadium that had been poorly tended for more than three decades. (Another, costlier round of renovation would follow the next year.) His stadium thus ready, Modi then set about selling the cricket, marketing inches of the game that had never been previously visible to anyone, in a manner that would become intensely familiar to IPL audiences three years later. He excised the agency that acted as middleman in selling advertising space at the ground, preferring to do that himself; he sold boundary-rope advertising for Rs1.5 million per spot, more than double the previous rate; he refused to give away tickets for free, thus breaking with a mystifying practice that continues at many cricket grounds in India; he sold corporate box seats at the astonishing price of Rs125,000 per seat. Even before the Indian and Sri Lankan captains, Rahul Dravid and Marvan Atapattu, had walked out for the toss, the RCA had gleefully projected revenues of Rs24 million from the match. It remains the single most profitable cricket game ever played in India.

To that match also belongs another of the big-fish stories about Modi’s seemingly inexhaustible stamina. “The match went well, but there were some problems on the management side,” said Shamsher Singh, at the time a liaison officer for the Sri Lankan team. A couple of barricades had been erected incorrectly, and crowd control threatened to become a problem. “There’d already been a welcome party the night before, the match day was exhausting for all of us, and there was a party after the game as well.” Singh had been asked by Modi to accompany the teams to the airport at 5:30 the next morning—and to get a few cricket bats autographed by MS Dhoni, who had struck a magnificent 183 in India’s win.

By the time Singh reached home, he remembers, it was 3 am, and he fell promptly asleep. At 4:30 am, his phone rang.

“Make sure you get those bats signed,” a voice said.

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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