Badminton World Federation (BWF) just concluded the last marquee tournament of the year, Syed Modi International Badminton Tournament at Lucknow, before world tour finals to be held at Guangzhou. Indians had a fabulous run at the tournament with 4 out of 5 finals having Indian representation. India’s final score at Syed Modi stands as 3 Silver and 1 Gold. Definitely, a smashing way to end an otherwise disappointing year for Indian Badminton.
Syed Modi tournament started as a national level tournament in 1991. It got BWF recognition in 2004. From 2009, it got Grand Prix status and has been witnessing participation from eminent players from China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea and Denmark among others. However, do we know who Syed Modi was and why we have a BWF tournament named after him? Probably the only person who has a BWF tournament named after him until 2017 when the Indian Open got renamed to Dr Akhilesh Das Gupta Indian Open.
Syed Modi was one of the most promising players of India hailing from Uttar Pradesh. Few of his biggest laurels include Gold at CWG in 1982 at Australia and Bronze at Asiad in 1982 held at Delhi at the mere age of 20. He has won several European circuit championship as well. An Arjuna Awardee, Syed Modi was 8 times national champion consecutively from 1980 to 1987.
On the evening of 28 July 1988, at the age of 26, Modi was shot dead as he was coming out of KD Singh Babu stadium, Lucknow after a practice session. A brilliant career was cut short as Syed Modi, hailed as the next Prakash Padukone of India, died an unfortunate and untimely death.
Soon after the murder, UP police arrested 7 persons including Modi’s wife Ameeta Singh, Congress leader Sanjay Singh who was a close friend and classmate of Rajiv Gandhi and another Congress leader outlaw-turned-politician, former MLA from Rae Bareli Akhilesh Singh for criminal conspiracy and murder. As it was a high profile murder case where the accused were powerful politicians, for the fear of scuttling the investigation, the case got shifted to CBI. CBI charge sheet named all 3 along with few others and hinted at the extra marital affair of Ameeta with Sanjay Singh to be the root cause of the murder. However, they denied all such charges.
Later, Rajiv’s friend Sanjay Singh got his name as well as Ameeta’s name dropped from CBI charge sheet and went on to marry Ameeta in 1990 while still being legally married to Garima Singh, a relative of VP Singh. Garima filed a case alleging polygamy to which Sanjay replied that he had sent divorce notice to Garima’s address to which Garima never replied. Hence court granted him an ex-parte divorce. The case has been dragging on to this date with Sanjay still legally married to Garima but lives with Ameeta.
Marital discord started in Modi’s life soon after the marriage. Ameeta and Syed belonged to a different religion, social strata and culture. Despite strong opposition from both families, they got married in 1984. However, differences soon started cropping up owning to professional jealousy and adulterous nature of Ameeta. While Modi went on to win several national championships, Ameeta had to take a break as she was expecting their first child in 1987. The gaps widened to a point where Syed Modi suspected that the child is not his. Marital discord affected his game as well and he lost his first ever senior nationals title in 1988. Soon they started living separately. On 28th of July 1988, Modi was shot dead in front of the stadium as he was coming out after a practice session.
So what happened to Rajiv’s friend and his new wife after being charged with heinous crimes such as criminal conspiracy and murder? Of course, Congress rewarded him with Rajya Sabha nomination in 1990 while the wife got an MLA ticket from Amethi assembly constituency. Sanjay Singh has been a Lok Sabha member in 1998 and 2009. He is incumbent RS MP from Assam. Ameeta contested UP assembly elections in 2017 from Amethi on an INC ticket against estranged wife of Sanjay, Garima Singh who was contesting as a BJP nominee. Both declared Sanjay Singh to be their husband in respective election affidavits. Garima won the elections by a margin of 5065 votes.
While Syed Modi and his family never got justice, the nation lost a bright star in the field of Badminton. The perpetrators were never brought to book because they knew all the right people. While Badminton Authority of India, in memory of the legend, started Syed Modi Championships which has now become an international BWF event, one should draw solace from the fact that Congress party has not renamed it as Rajiv Gandhi memorial Badminton tournament.