Since the early eighties, Lalit Modi, the former head of Indian Premier League and a key member within the Board of Control for Cricket in India, has wrestled with many renowned names in his personal life, business dealings, cricket administration and in the field of politics.  While he has won a few glories in these intense battles, he has also suffered several humiliations.

Many who tangled with Mr IPL, the man who is widely acknowledged to have transformed the gentleman's game, have been singed and scorched. Some even hurt because of mere proximity to him.

Sushma Swaraj, Vasudhara Raje, Rupert Murdoch, P Chidambaram, Arun Jaitley, N Srinivasan, Rajiv Shukla, Shashi Tharoor and Narendra Modi are among those who feature in the latest storm around Modi. This one started on the weekend, after the British newspaper, the Sunday Times, reported that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj of the Bharatiya Janata Party helped the businessman obtain UK travel documents even though his passport had been impounded by authorities in India, where he is wanted for questioning by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with alleged financial irregularities related to the IPL.

Scuffles with parents

His wife, Minal, who is the real epicentre of the new controversy – SwarajGate, as it is being called  – was the reason for one of Modi’s early fights with his mother. Minal was his mother’s best friend, and nine years older than him. When he announced his intention to marry Minal, his mother didn’t speak to him for years.

Before the marriage in October 1991, Modi’s father, KK Modi, who owns a business empire that includes the Godfrey Philips tobacco company, ran into rough weather with his son. As he explained to this writer a couple of years ago, Modi wanted to go to the US for undergraduate studies. His father felt he should go later for his masters.

Without telling his parents, Modi appeared for the SAT and TOEFL exams, which are necessary for admission to most US colleges. In 1983, Lalit Modi got admission in Duke University, North Carolina, and did not apply to any Indian universities. KK had no option but to bow down to his son’s wishes. “Since his childhood, it was impossible to get him to change his decisions,” KK told this writer. "He would create circumstances that would force you to agree with him. He would find unconventional solutions to problems."

At Duke University, Modi got into one of his first tangles with the judiciary. In 1985, he and his friends allegedly went out to buy drugs; the dealer turned out to be a robber, who took $10,000 from them. According to reports [charge sheet here], Modi was charged with drug trafficking, kidnapping and assault. A year later, the Durham Country Court allowed him to return home (India) when he pleaded that he was ill.

Twenty five years later, Modi claimed that “there were no drugs actually there. There was no proof at all. You have the plea bargain system in the US. You just plea bargain and they charge you with a lesser crime.” Apparently, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of felony and assault.

Fashionable gambles
Over the next two decades, Modi clashed with businessmen, bureaucracy, and judiciary in business-related matters. He was angry with Michael Adam, the president of Fashion TV, whose channel was distributed in India by one of Modi’s companies. Modi claimed that Adam flouted the contract when he decrypted FTV’s signals and made the channel free-to-air in 2003. FTV felt that Modi’s idea to make it a paid channel was a wrong strategy. The matter was finally resolved by the courts, but the relationship remained tumultuous.

One of his business ideas was to start an online lottery in India that could leverage the Godrey Phillips network. Its initial success was marred by the attitude of the various state governments – lotteries are a state subject and are banned in several states – and the tax authorities. They eventually decided that Modi would have to pay the sales tax on gross revenues, and not on the net income (gross revenues minus the expenses).

Instantly, the business model became unviable. “The business had to be shut down,” KK Modi told this writer.  “But there was an additional problem. Most of the electronic machines had been purchased either by cigarette distributors or people who knew them. We figured the trade would get angry, and our most profitable cigarette business may suffer. So, we took the extreme step to buy back the machines. We lost Rs 1 billion.”

Modi & Murdoch
Modi was addicted to the business of sports. One of his first deals was in 1994 with ESPN, a sports channel. Modi had distribution rights for it. Excited by the vast cricket viewership in India, Modi advised ESPN to buy global telecast rights for cricket matches. They purchased the rights from the BCCI, and cricket boards in England, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies and Sri Lanka.

This marked the genesis of the first tussle between Modi and media magnate, Rupert Murdoch, who owned the Star bouquet of channels, which included Star Sports. Late to recognise what had happened under his nose, Murdoch was a late entrant and could only obtain the rights from South African and Zimbabwean cricket boards.

In a later interview, Modi boasted how he had beaten Murdoch at his own game. “But we had pretty much wrapped up the whole world," he said. "People, including [Jagmohan] Dalmiya [the current head of BCCI] told me, ‘You’re foolish. You’re paying us so much money.’ We had signed a contract for $12 million [with the BCCI for the rights], and Indian cricket had never seen such money in those days.”

However, his ambition got him in the end. In a bid to create a monolith that had all the cricket telecast rights, Modi asked his father to approach Murdoch about a merger between ESPN and Star. The idea was that it would reduce the fierce competition between the two channels, and push down the bidding values for the rights. This, Lalit Modi thought, would boost profits.

Murdoch agreed, but Modi was the loser. Since Star had its own distribution set-up in India, it didn’t need Modi to do the same job. So, while the merger talks progressed well, ESPN refused to extend its distribution contract with Modi. “We did not envisage this possibility,” rued KK Modi.  “Although we pushed the deal, we did not insist on any clause to protect our distribution rights.”

Ten and Doordarshan
One of his biggest coups was when Ten Sports, whose distribution rights were with Modi, got the opportunity to air the India-Pakistan series in 2004. It was dubbed as the mother of cricketing wars. Ten Sports was assured of a viewership of hundreds of millions people.

Sadly, there was a legal hitch. A 1995 Supreme Court judgment had said that “airwaves are public property and hence are owned or controlled by the Government”. It added that since cricket involved public interest in India because of its followers, no private company could monopolise the telecast rights of cricket matches.

The ministry of information and broadcasting and public broadcaster, Doordarshan, claimed that the India-Pakistan series was in “national interest”. Hence, it argued, Doordarshan should be also allowed to telecast the matches, even though Ten Sports had the legal rights. Doordarshan telecast the first one-day game with its own feed. Before the second game, the Supreme Court ruled that Doordarshan had to telecast the Ten Sports’ feed, along with the advertisements that the latter carried.

Both Doordarshan and Modi turned out to be losers. At a press conference, Modi estimated the loss of potential revenues – through subscriptions and advertisements – to be Rs 2 billion. Doordarshan said that because it was confident that it would be allowed independent telecast, it had signed advertisement deals worth Rs 1 billion, including the Rs 120 million it earned from the first match.

Two years ago, KK Modi lamented: “The Supreme Court asked DD and Prasar Bharti to set aside a total deposit of Rs 500 million to compensate for our potential losses. The money has still not been paid to us as the case still hasn’t come up for the final hearing.”

Cricketing conflicts
In the early 1990s, Modi tried to enter cricket administration. He tried to become a member of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association. Rajinder Zar, who headed it then, claimed that Modi used money and political power – at that time, it was possibly due to his father – but was refused permission to join. But the situation changed in 1999.

Raghubir Singh Thakur, another former head of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, said that “Modi helped the HPCA when it was in a crisis. He gave a donation of Rs 1.2 million in 1999 and was given HPCA membership after following due formalities. There was nothing wrong on part of the HPCA to get the donation.”

Within a year, Modi fought with Prem Kumar Dhumal, who was then the state’s chief minister and connected with cricket, and was asked to leave. Dhumal’s son, Anurag Thakur, is now the secretary of the BCCI. In May 2015, a day after the Enforcement conducted raids related to illegal betting syndicates, Modi tweeted,

Modi was forced to seek membership of another state cricket association. Since he was a mildly controversial name in Indian cricket, Modi did not use his family name, and applied for membership in the Rajasthan Cricket Association as Lalit Kumar. This led to an epic battle for control over the association, which was under the control of the Rungta family.

Tryst with Vasundhara Raje
Modi's fortunes changed in 2003, when Vasundhara Raje, a close friend of his wife and mother, became Rajasthan's chief minister. In August 2004, she promulgated the Rajasthan Sports (Registration, Recognition & Regulation of Associations) ordinance. People familiar with the situation claim that one of its purposes was to eject the Rungtas from the RCA.

One of its clauses stated that sport associations in the state had to be disbanded and registered afresh. Another stated that individual members would not be allowed to vote for posts in the associations. Another clause said that only office bearers of district-level sports associations and primary sports bodies could contest the elections.

These clauses implied that RCA’s 57 individual members, who included members of the Rungta family and their supporters, could not vote in the elections to its posts. Thus, the family, which had earlier a majority, would not be able to influence future elections. The Rungtas challenged the ordinance, but the Rajasthan High Court dismissed their petition in December 2004.

The stage was set for Modi to become RCA’s president in 2005. Modi claimed that he changed the fortunes of the association. He transformed the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, which became a regular venue for international matches. He turned the Rajasthan Cricket Association into a highly-profitable institution.

In February 2009, Outlook magazine featured him in a cover story which claimed that Modi used his clout with Raje during those days to act as a "Super Chief Minister". He operated from the opulent Rambagh Palace Hotel. The article went on to list other allegations as well:

*He facilitated entry of big builders in the state.
*Every big land deal had to have his clearance.
*He influenced changes in the state’s liquor policy that led to the proliferation of liquor outlets.
*He had a finger in a variety of industrial ventures, including mines.
*He personally acquired havelis in Amer by bending the laws.
*He had an extravagant lifestyle and owned a private jet. He would stay for days in the luxury suite of the Rambagh Palace Hotel.
*He was accused of forging signature to become a member of the Rajasthan Cricket Association. Critics say that the signatures of Lalit Kumar, who applied for the membership, and Lalit Kumar Modi do not match.
*He was named in an FIR for misappropriation of Rajasthan Cricket Association funds. The money has subsequently been deposited with the RCA.

Modi denied these charges. He told the magazine that he did not influence land deals or liquor policy; the bureaucracy could not have reported to him as he had visited Jaipur for 30-35 days in the previous year, and only for cricket matches; he had purchased the old havelis from private parties as his wife was keen to restore them; he had not accepted any money from the Rajasthan Cricket Association, the BCCI or IPL; and all the expenses related to the Sawai Man Singh stadium had been approved by the Rajasthan Cricket Association's executive committee.

Pawar, politics & power
The rise of Modi within the RCA fortunately coincided with another epic war within the BCCI. In 2004, Sharad Pawar, the powerful Maharashtra politician, ran for the post of BCCI president. Pitched against him was Ranbir Singh Mahendra, who was hand-picked by Jagmohan Dalmiya, who ruled the board with an iron hand.

Pawar was livid, when Mahendra scraped through with one vote. The crucial vote was that of Dalmiya, who said that as per the rules he had the right to cast a second vote as the outgoing president. The next year, in 2005, the battle lines were again drawn between the two camps. This time, Pawar, with the support of people like Modi and N Srinivasan, the former BCCI president, whose son-in-law's name later cropped up in illegal betting cases, easily won.

Modi’s reward was to oversee the board’s commercial contracts. His personal website boasts, “Under Lalit’s stewardship, Indian cricket enjoyed a commercial revolution. Through a series of innovative partnerships with leading brands and broadcasters including Nike, Sahara, Sony, ESPN and Viacom, Indian cricket’s revenues increased seven fold between 2005 and 2008. In 2008, the BCCI enjoyed record annual revenues of $1 billion.”

Cricket and commerce
In several interviews, Modi claimed that he dreamt up the idea of IPL. He had thought about it for years, and vainly tried to convince previous BCCI presidents, including Dalmiya, about its potential. In 2007, Subhash Chandra, who owns the Zee Group, was peeved about a telecast rights contract with the BCCI. He launched a rebel league, Indian Cricket League, along similar lines.

The BCCI urged Modi to launch the IPL. Thanks to his efforts, the first match of the first season of IPL was played within 11 months, in April 2008. Modi's rule over the league was supreme. He took his own decisions and ran a cricket fiefdom that became larger than the BCCI. At its peak, the IPL was valued at over $4 billion.

Sadly, the master of social media, a man who can’t take his fingers off his mobiles, was undone by a tweet. In early 2010, Modi expanded the IPL, and added two new teams to original eight. One of the winners was Rendezvous Sports World, a consortium of investors that won the bid for the Kochi franchise. It was supported by Shashi Tharoor, who was then the junior external affairs minister.

Kochi’s owners felt that Modi, who wanted the franchise to go to another company, delayed the deal. Tharoor intervened several times. On April 11, 2010, Modi was forced to sign the contract. The same day, he tweeted the name of a mysterious owner in Rendezvous Sports World. Her name was the late Sunanda Pushkar, who later married Tharoor.

Cricket and disgrace
All hell broke loose. It created a political furore and the matter was raised in Parliament. Tharoor lost his job as a minister of state in the Manmohan Singh government due to allegations that he was involved in doling out benefits worth Rs 700 million to the woman he was then dating (they got married in August 2010), and, thus, to himself.

Four years later, Puskar allegedly told friends that all was not well between her and Tharoor, and she would reveal the details about the IPL deal. Days later, she died under mysterious circumstances in a five-star hotel in Delhi. Though the case was initially considered a suicide, the Delhi police later charged that Pushkar had been murdered.

Decline of Modi
Within days of Tharoor's resignation, the media was filled with articles on corruption charges against Modi. It was alleged that he received bribes from Sony, which bagged the IPL’s telecast rights. He is alleged to have had several conflicts of interest due to relationships with several IPL franchise owners.

In its three show-cause notices to Modi in 2010, the BCCI charged that the former acted with impunity, doled out contracts to his friends, and caused huge losses to the board. Suddenly, everyone turned against Modi, who was sacked from the BCCI and IPL. Investigating agencies like Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate went after him and other BCCI officials. In long replies, Modi denied all allegations.

Political misfortunes compounded Modi’s problems. Pawar was out of the BCCI, Raje was no longer the chief minister of Rajasthan, Srinivasan had turned against him, and politicians associated with cricket like Arun Jaitley, the finance minister, did not come to his support. In fact, Jaitley was on the board’s disciplinary committee that found Modi guilty of several charges.

Fearing his safety and arrest, Modi fled to London. However, he remained close to several politicians like Raje and Swaraj, and left no opportunity to throw barbs at Srinivasan, Tharoor, and P Chidambaram, who had refused to provide security for IPL-2 due to the 2009 national elections. Although Modi successfully held the season in South Africa, he never forgot it.

The Delhi High Court restored Modi's passport in August 2014. But the government is now under pressure to appeal against the verdict.

Alam Srinivas is the author of Cricket Czars: Two Men who Changed the Gentleman's Game.