Rai Bahadur Gujarmal Modi (9 August 1902 – 22 January 1976) was a renowned industrialist and philanthropist, who co-established the Modi Group of companies and the industrial city of Modinagar in 1933, along with his brother Kedar Nath Modi.A sugar mill in Modinagar marked the beginning of the Modi Group conglomerate, which later diversified into varied fields.
GM Modi established schools and colleges at his birthplace, Mahendragarh, in Patiala and in Modinagar. He also contributed a lot in the field of higher education by giving grants to established institutions such as Banaras Hindu University, and different colleges in Meerut and other places. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan by Government of India in 1968.He is the grandfather of Lalit Modi, the founder of the Indian Premier League (IPL), who transformed the game of cricket and made IPL the hottest sports property in the world.
Gujarmal Modi was born as Ram Prasad Modi on 9 August 1902, in Mahendragarh (now in Haryana state). He was the second child of his father, Multani Mal Modi, and the only child of his mother, Chandi Devi, who was Multani Mal’s second wife. Sadly, Chandi Devi died of sepsis only six days after the birth of Gujarmal. Multani Mal then married a third time, and it was his step-mother, Gujri Devi, who lovingly reared Gujarmal. All his life, Gujarmal was to share a relationship of great affection and attachment with his beloved step-mother. Indeed, he gave up his real name (Ram Prasad) in favour of the name “Gujarmal,” which he selected in honour of his step-mother.
The young Gujarmal married his first wife, Rajban Devi, in 1915 at the age of 13, when he was studying in Model School, Patiala. Gauna – the post-marriage ceremony where the bride comes to live with her husband – occurred two years later.
During his time studying in the tenth standard, Gujarmal, who was preoccupied with dealing with a student issue, neglected to pay his examination fees, which resulted in the loss of an academic year. This incident led to his father inducting Gujarmal into the family business at a young age while simultaneously being home-schooled.
After his second marriage, GM Modi fulfilled his long-standing desire of expanding the family business to new sectors and territories. In 1932 with an amount of Rs. 400 he left for Delhi on the lookout for viable ventures. The village of Begumabad was finally selected as the site of his first independent venture— a sugar mill.After initial difficulties in managing the sugar mill, Gujarmal successfully managed to turn things around to make his debut venture into a profitable entity. One of Gujarmal’s major successes was the toilet soap factory, which began operations in 1941. Gujarmal with the help of a Bengali gentleman figured out a way to produce toilet soap without the use of tallow— the substance used to make the soap cake dry and hard. Instead, his toilet soap factory used vanaspati, from his vanaspati manufacturing unit, which proved to be a huge success.
Gujar Mal Modi’s personal life had its fair share of ups and downs. As was customary in those days, he was married aged twelve, in 1914, to a girl who was exactly the same age as him. Six years later, their first child was born, but lived only a few hours, an event which was to be tragically repeated ten times over. During the years 1920-31, Modi’s wife bore as many as ten children, but every single one of them died either in childbirth or in infancy. Medical care in semi-rural Begumabad was abysmal, and the Modi family was not yet seriously wealthy. His wife also began keeping ill constantly, but it is not known whether this was a cause or a consequence of the loss of children. It became clear that further attempt at child-bearing would be both futile and dangerous to the health of the mother. Modi’s wife despaired of motherhood, and joined family elders in counseling him to bring another wife home, saying that she would rejoice in his children, for they would be like her own children.
Gujar Mal finally acceded to the entreaties of his father and first wife. Multani Mal set about searching for a suitable match, and on 19 June 1932, Gujar Mal was married to Dayawati Modi, a lady of his own Marwadi community hailing from Etah district of Uttar Pradesh.Dayawati, the daughter of Chheda Lal, a tradesman of Etah, was seventeen years old; Gujar Mal was thirty. The two co-wives lived harmoniously together, because Gujar Mal began treating his first wife as a family elder. Dayawati was to become the mother of eleven healthy children, five sons and six daughters. Several daughters were born before the birth of K K Modi, their eldest son, in 1940. Their other sons are Vinay Kumar, Satish Kumar, Bhupendra Kumar and Umesh Kumar.
Gujarmal was a staunch patriot and this was amply visible during his youth. In 1926, he was insulted on the basis of his nationality by an Englishman working in India by the name of Mr. Turner, after the young Modi outbid him during a public auction. An incensed Modi subjected the Englishman to a beating, which later resulted in a telling off by the Maharaja of Patiala; but earned him the respect of the public.
In 1945, after the end of the Second World War, the British government wanted to confer a knighthood on Gujarmal for the exemplary service provided by his companies during the War. Gujarmal instead requested the British to confer on him an Indian title. The British duly complied and decided to honour him with the tile of Raja Bahadur, which was the catalyst behind the renaming of Begumabad to Modinagar. In 1946, the interim government of India decided to stop conferring titles and the decision to honour Gujarmal was deferred
The Modi Group split in 1989, and the business was divided between the five sons of Gujarmal Modi, including Krishan Kumar Modi, VK Modi, SK Modi, B. K. Modi and UK Modi and the three sons of his step brother Kedar Nath Modi. Krishan Kumar Modi, Gujarmal Modi’s eldest son, owns Godfrey Phillips, the tobacco manufacturing company.
His brother K. N. Modi, died in 2005, at the age of 84. His son M.K. Modi is the head of Modipon Fibre, of the K.N. Modi Group, while his other son Y.K. Modi was FICCI president for many years.Since the division, the Modi Group companies have underperformed and failed to match the successes achieved by the late Gujarmal Modi.