Political game: Is Sourav Ganguly’s elevation as BCCI president part of the BJP’s design for Bengal?

The BJP reportedly wants to make the former captain of the Indian cricket team the face of its election campaign against Mamata Banerjee.

WrittenBy:Shaunak Ghosh
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In 1996, a lanky young left-handed batsman — Sourav Ganguly — announced himself to the cricketing world when he scored a scintillating debut century at Lord’s, the mecca of the sport. Even when he became the captain of the Indian cricket team, he took Indian cricket to new heights by becoming the first team to beat the likes of Pakistan and Australia on their own turf.

Ganguly even led a relatively young Indian side at the 2003 World Cup final, an achievement that many thought was not possible at that point of time. Individually, too, he has achieved a lot in the sport. In fact, he is only one of three Indians to play more than 300 ODIs and 100 Test matches, and only one of five Indians to have more than 10,000 ODI runs.

Now, more than 11 years after he announced his retirement, the Prince of Kolkata is back again in the thick of things in Indian cricket, and this time it is not on the field but as the head of administration, as he is set to be the new BCCI president come October 23.

According to reports, Ganguly, the current president of the Cricket Association of Bengal, was initially offered the role of the board’s vice-president or the chairman of the IPL governing council. Former Karnataka cricketer Brijesh Patel was backed by former BCCI chief N Srinivasan as the frontrunner. Ganguly, however, was adamant that he will only fight for the post of the president.

It was around 10.30 pm when former BCCI president Anurag Thakur got an ominous call, some say from Home Minister Amit Shah, after which he suddenly spoke in favour of Ganguly, after which most state associations also started favouring the former India skipper.

It was the next morning that Rajiv Shukla, the current chairman of the IPL, broke the news in a press conference.

Steadying the ship

The time of appointment of Ganguly as BCCI president is somewhat strikingly similar to when he took over the reins of the captain of the Indian cricket team in 2000. Back then, Indian cricket was in serious turmoil, with serious match-fixing allegations against Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Hanse Cronje.

Add this to the fact that India was one of the worst-performing teams at the time, bowing out of the group stage in 1999 World Cup. The team was broken, with no hope of surviving the storm that had broken over their heads. Amidst this, Sourav Ganguly took over the reins and completely transformed Indian cricket. We beat the invincible Australians after being pushed to a follow-on in the now famous 2001 Kolkata Test match.

India started to win matches abroad, and slowly started to become a force to be reckoned with, and the foundation that he laid in the early 2000s was carried forward by Mahender Singh Dhoni and now Virat Kohli, with India now considered the No. 1 team in the world.

Similarly, the BCCI too has been in muddy waters for the past three years, ever since the Supreme Court took over the administrative reins of the board, with a committee of administrators (CoA) led by ex-civil servant Vinod Rai taking charge of BCCI. This was after the numerous allegations of spot-fixing and political manoeuvring inside the board.

There have been several complaints against the CoA of mismanagement, and complaints of them not being strong enough to handle administrative decisions of the BCCI. Most of the board decisions were taken by CEO Rahul Johri, who in turn was ousted after an allegation of sexual harassment against him. He was later reinstated after charges were cleared and received a hefty performance bonus.

For the past three years, BCCI has been a headless institution, that is certainly not up to the power and pedigree of the boards of the past. Be it an inexperienced selection committee, or over-dependence on the choices of Virat Kohli on who the backroom staff of the Indian cricket team should be, the BCCI is surely in muddy waters – like the Indian team was in 2000.

A strong, astute character like Sourav Ganguly is required to make a difference to this board. As the leader of the Indian cricket administration, he will remain headstrong and not back down under any pressure. Be it waving his jersey on the Lord’s balcony or coming out late to the toss to teach Steve Waugh a lesson, Ganguly has always been aggressive on the field. It is the same aggression that he will bring to the table as BCCI president.

Ganguly himself has said that bringing stability to the BCCI is his primary objective now as president. “The house needs to be set in order… Hopefully, in the next few months, we can bring normalcy back… There was an emergency-like situation in the BCCI”, he stated to the press.

Deft administrator

As an administrator too, Ganguly has shown tremendous potential. He was made CAB chief in 2015, when Jagmohan Dalmiya passed away, and he has subsequently turned around cricket in Bengal.

Under him, the infrastructure at Eden Gardens saw a massive improvement. The stadium was notorious for its poor rain protection facilities, and immediately after Ganguly was made president, he brought in covers all the way from England, so that the grounds can be fully covered as protection from rainfall. He then made sure that the drainage system was improved. A stadium where games used to be called off even when there was a little rainfall, now has games start within an hour of torrential downpour. Case in point, the all-important India vs Pakistan match in the 2016 World T20, where in spite of the heavy downpour, spectators witnessed a full-fledged match.

The Eden pitch, which was considered sluggish and dusty, was properly taken care of, and now we see a green pitch that helps fast bowlers, and also a genuinely good batting track — one which is essentiality given the nature of cricket today. In the past five years, Eden Gardens have won two annual awards for the best stadium, and one for best pitch in the entire country.

He built another state-of-the-art facility where cricketers could practice and hone and improve their skills.

Bengal cricket, which hardly ever saw any player at the international level, now has two essential members of the Indian squad, Mohammed Shami and Wriddhiman Saha. Abhimany Easwaran, another Bengal player, too is knocking on the doors for an international call up, and sooner rather than later he too will don the Indian jersey. This has all come under the watch of Ganguly, who being a cricketer himself knows how to improve the state of the game and what.

“It has been a treat to work with Sourav Ganguly in the CAB for the past five years. He is the most hands-on administrator, knows what is good and bad for cricket, and I am certain that he will do a splendid job in BCCI”, says one of his close associates at the CAB.

As BCCI president, however, he has much more on his plate – from handling the press to maintaining relations with the ICC, but Dada has kept his priorities straight.

Improvement in the first-class cricket structure is the first and foremost thing that he wants to do. “I have been very vocal about looking after the first-class players, especially the time they invest. First-class cricket is the base, the strength. I have written so many times in the last few years that the remunerations need to increase, and increase manifold. So that’s going to be a priority to set the first-class cricket in order”, Ganguly said.

He has also issued somewhat of a statement to the ICC, when he said that BCCI does not get due monetary benefits from the international body, even though the board generates 70-75% of the cricket revenue in the entire world.

Ganguly in his statements and actions, has proved that he is more than capable to handle the top job in Indian cricket, and will do his job with the same intensity as when he faced the likes of Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee on the pitch.

Not enough time

However, Ganguly has very little time to leave his stamp on the BCCI – 10 months to be precise. This is because, according to the Lodha committee recommendations, a person cannot be in any administrative post in cricket for more than six years at a stretch. Ganguly first entered cricket administration in 2014 as CAB secretary and has 10 months till he completes six years as an administrator.

After that, he must go on a three-year cooling-off period, wherein he cannot apply for any post in any administrative body in cricket- be it the state or BCCI. So, Ganguly has just 10 months, and whether he can leave a huge mark on Indian cricket has to be waited and watched.

Dada vs Didi in 2021?

There can be nothing in Indian cricket administration without politics being involved in it. Be it Sharad Pawar or Arun Jaitley, time and again politicians have been involved in some capacity or another in the decision making within the BCCI.

We can see the clear hand of people in power having an influence on this year’s committee, especially with the appointment of Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah as BCCI secretary and Arun Singh Dhumal – brother of former MoS Finance and BCCI chief Anurag Thakur as treasurer.

Sourav Ganguly too had a meeting with Amit Shah the previous night in Delhi, and many speculate that the ominous phone call made to Anurag Thakur at 10.30 pm was from none other than Shah himself.

Apparently, Shah did this keeping in mind the upcoming 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections. Making Sourav Ganguly the BCCI president was, in fact, a strategy to please the people of Bengal — keeping in mind the emotion that Bengalis share with their son of the soil.

Speculation has been rife that Sourav Ganguly will join the BJP after he finishes his term as BCCI president, and Shah hopes to make him the face of the BJP election campaign against Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. So much so, that they could even push him as their chief ministerial candidate in the state.

If this turns out to be true, then Shah will have played a masterstroke. There is a saying that the four pillars of Bengali pride and emotion are Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Satyajit Ray and Sourav Ganguly, and BJP by projecting Ganguly as CM candidate is bound to win the hearts of all Bengalis. There will be no stopping the BJP then, as they will sweep the polls if such a thing happens.

The BJP has been on the back foot of late, especially due to the Babul Supriyo controversy at Jadavpur University, and the intemperate remarks made every now and then by BJP Bengal chief Dilip Ghosh. So, making Sourav the face of their election campaigns is sure to put them back in the driving seat.

Ganguly, however, has rejected all such speculation, saying that he has no intention of entering politics, and had no such conversation with Amit Shah. Will Dada enter politics after his term? Only time will tell.

But one thing is for sure. Whatever the role is – be it as captain, player, now as the BCCI chief, or maybe Bengal CM someday – Ganguly knows only one way to play. Stepping down the ground and hitting a six over the bowler’s head for a six in trademark Dada fashion.

This article was first published in The Patriot


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