Crime and Punishment

What is Team Modi’s next plan of action, now that the Indian cricket board has unanimously ratified all its charges and both civil and criminal proceedings will soon be initiated against him?
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Modi has two options if he’s expelled. He can lie low for a while, and then gradually return to the fold. Else, organise  another gig elsewhere. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

Approaching the glass doors of the Indian cricket board headquarters in Mumbai, you happen to look to your left. Something there makes you slow down and smile at the irony.   

There are two team dugout benches from IPL 2010, covered with logos of different corporations. They were used at IPL matches at the Brabourne Stadium. Now they were at the Board headquarters. Detritus from Lalit Modi’s carnival adorned the very premises where his end was being methodically—and perhaps deservedly—scripted. It was a bit like finding statues from Saddam Hussein’s palace in George W Bush’s garden.  

The 46-year-old Modi created the IPL, the most lucrative event in the history of Indian entertainment. The Board earned a profit of around Rs 300 crore each of the three seasons of the IPL. But it turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory.  

The broad contours of the man’s rise and fall—particularly his fall—are now street knowledge. Modi took his power for granted. His ego swelled. More detrimentally, Modi treated rules like playdough, bending them into whatever shape suited him, undoing the earlier profits with losses. He did not care what was legit. The Board, ruled by conservatives, was waiting for an opportunity to pounce on him, and Modi gave it to them on a Karbonn Kamal platter. He remains suspended as IPL commissioner.   

Farooq Abdullah, an IPL Governing Council member, said recently of Lalit Modi, “It was after the second team auction, when the Kochi and Pune franchises were added on, that the governing council became convinced Modi was influencing the process in an unfair way.”  

Modi is losing ground the way the US is losing oil. Last week, while Modi distracted himself by watching World Cup football in South Africa, the Board held a Special General Meeting (SGM) in Mumbai. On a day of heavy rain, the roof over Modi’s head was blown further apart. Shashank Manohar, the Board president, and Board Honorary Secretary N Srinivasan, a dab of holy vermilion on his forehead, walked into the conference room of the Board office to announce that all the charges against Modi were ratified unanimously by all 30 members of the Board. It also authorised Shashank Manohar to initiate civil and criminal proceedings against Mr Lalit Modi.  

Manohar did not put a figure to the losses the BCCI suffered because of Modi. What he did say was, “There are many (questionable) contracts and there are deals negotiated even without a contract. I can tell you about the deal with a ticketing agency called Ticketgenie for the two (IPL) semifinals, the third-place match and the final where there was no contract. So we don’t know how many tickets are printed, how many are issued.”  

Most of the team franchises enjoyed a rapport with Modi. Now, even they have decided to move on. A senior member of a franchise tells Open, “We were extremely comfortable with Lalit. Once a comfort level is established you want things to continue. And let’s face it, the IPL was his baby. But now we have no option but to look ahead. It’s a business.”  

Even at the Cricket Club of India (CCI), the mood that sodden evening of the SGM was to look beyond Modi, if coincidentally so. The CCI is a goal-kick away from the Board office. But the atmosphere could not be more different. It was a day after Dilip Sardesai’s third death anniversary. A talk was held at the CCI to commemorate the courageous batsman. Bishan Singh Bedi was chief guest. In his closing comments, Rajdeep Sardesai, Dilip’s son, said, “We’ve spent an hour and a half talking cricket and not yet mentioned IPL or Lalit Modi. So there is a world beyond.”  

Modi has two options if he’s expelled from the Indian cricket establishment. He can lie low for a while, maybe learn baking, and then gradually, respectfully return to the fold. Else, he can take his act elsewhere, organise another gig. 

But Modi is not conceding defeat in his current battle yet, even as he hops across the globe. His tweets reveal he’s been in Italy, England and, of course, South Africa. The background sound has changed from enchanting peals of the Big Ben or the Duomo to blaring vuvuzelas. Through it all, Modi has kept one ear on news coming from India. Two days after the Board SGM, Modi served the Board with a legal notice, asking for documents that formed the basis of decisions taken at the SGM.  

On Twitter, he said, ‘Not the type to loose (sic) a war. Battle maybe.’  

So what is the plan of action of Team Modi now? 

Mehmood Abdi, his general counsel, is the man working that out. “We want the Board to put on paper what was decided at the SGM and send that to us,” he tells Open, “We also want documents that formed the basis of the decisions. We had no direct access to decisions taken at the meeting. We only learnt about them through media reports. Different media reports say different things. We want a copy of the resolution, a clear picture, first hand from the Board. We have written to them for the same. Once we get a reply, we will decide the plan of action.”  

There is little doubt that it is going to be a swim against hard currents for Modi. Asked what they are banking on, Abdi responds: “We derive our confidence from the fact that Lalit Modi has never shied away from explaining anything he has been asked to by the BCCI. By way of his replies to the three show cause notices, he has clarified everything in minute detail. Still, the improprieties by Mr Srinivasan continued. This is being ignored and they (the board) are trying to find something new against Mr Modi. Despite being pointed out time and again that Mr Srinivasan has an inherent bias against Mr Modi and has a clear interest in the matter, he is the one who continues to take decisions. He manoeuvres issues and then puts them in front of the general body in such a manner that the decisions cannot be any different from what he has devised. We maintain that Mr Modi took all decisions concerning the IPL with necessary approvals and ratifications.”  

Abdi finishes with a dramatic note, “As Javed Akhtar once wrote, ‘Zindagi nursery school ke bachchon ki line nahin hai jo seedhi seedhi chale. Zindagi ek musalsal jung hai.’ The war is on. It is absolutely not over.”  Book your ringside seat.