By Annesha Ghosh:
When a group of protesters under the banner of the Association for Protection of Domestic Rights (APDR), assembled outside Eden Garden stadium shouting slogans against Mamata Banerjee’s ‘intervention’ in the working of the state’s most reputed sporting body, their remonstrations were resonant of an unanimous sentiment, triggered among thousands of cricket lovers in the city, in the wake of a first-of-its-kind change of guard.
Two years ago, when the then Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken brought in the National Sports Code, the BCCI was quick to accuse the Sports ministry of trying to ‘assume control’ of sports federations. In no time, Maken was shunted out by a host of politicians controlling various federations, including the BCCI.
However, following the sudden demise of Jagmohan Dalmiya on September 20, when the West Bengal government intervened hastily to appoint Sourav Ganguly as the next president of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), no BCCI official came forward to slam the move, which showed up as a violation of BCCI as well as the state body’s autonomy.
The constitution of CAB, as a senior official pointed out to Gulf News on September 22, gave room for 60 days for the working committee to meet and choose the president. Sensing that there wouldn’t be any possible consensus candidate proposed by the association, the Trinamool Congress-led government jumped into the fray to secure a headway into ‘selecting’ a president.
There can be absolutely no doubt over Ganguly’s contribution to the Indian outfit in his playing days that proved to be a real paradigm shift in the history of cricket in this country. Neither can there be any reservations about his shrewd understanding of the game and its changing dynamics, as evinced in the clinical analysis he offers as an expert commentator. But, he is a cricket administrator now.
Was it not improper on the part of a player of his repute, to turn to the state’s most powerful person in order to occupy the top administrator’s chair in an autonomous organization, just like that? As the then joint secretary of the CAB, was it not incumbent upon him to let the election process take its natural democratic course?
It’s been only fourteen months since Ganguly has donned the role of a cricket administrator. As a joint secretary serving his first term, Ganguly has jumped the queue to assume the President’s chair, bypassing many veteran officials who have been part of CAB’s administrative set-up for years.
Although no CAB official was willing to say anything on record, the general feeling within the body was that the autonomy of the board should not be meddled with. Earlier, incumbent CAB treasurer Biswarup Dey, who was seen as a possible presidential candidate, had told in an interview that “any political pressure will be a bad precedent for an association which has always managed to stay away from the clutches of political bigwigs.”
The chief minister, on her part, was categorical in reiteration that she had played no role in Ganguly’s installation as the CAB boss. “Sourav has been an Indian cricket team captain, now let him lead Bengal cricket. Make no mistake that I am not making a decision for CAB, it is my way of supporting cricket, which is not my cup of tea.” Banerjee told reporters on September 24.
“We are going through a big crisis after his (Jagmohan Dalmiya’s) death. Somebody has to head CAB. So, it is important that somebody close to him (should run the show). My only request to all of you is that you must be together, remain united and take Jagguda’s legacy forward,” Banerjee said.
Despite her efforts to dispel any doubts that she had created pressure on the CAB in this regard, the very build-up to the announcement, compounded by the whispers in the State Secretariat Nabanna’s vicinity, were indication enough that Mamata Banerjee was putting her weight behind Ganguly. It was thus, unmistakably apparent that the government interfered in what should have been the prerogative of the CAB alone.
What took everybody by even greater surprise was how Abhishek Dalmiya, the 33–year-old son of the former president was pitch-forked into the power corridors of CAB. Despite having no prior experience in cricket administration, he was inducted as the joint secretary of the board. In June 2013, Dalmiya junior had forayed into sports administration following his nomination to represent Rajasthan in the Indian Football Association (IFA) governing body. That he would be installed in a high-profile executive role of a cricket administrator, which is usually accorded to those who have spent considerable amount of time in districts or clubs, insinuates a possible degree of rule-bending that might have been carried out at the chief minister’s behest.
At a time, when the onus across the cricketing sphere in India is on both cricket administrators and players, former and incumbent, to restore the credibility of the game, Sourav Ganguly’s anointment as the president of CAB in the unmistakable shadow of Mamata Banerjee somewhat sets an alarming precedent. While the Prince of Calcutta is expected to showcase his aggressive style of play even in this new role of his, it may not come as a surprise in the foreseeable future, if Ganguly finds himself needing to compromise with the ethics of his office, once too often for his liking, in order to appease the impulses of the Mamata Banerjee government.
Even as every cricket lover in Kolkata has hopes on Dada to provide a much-needed impetus to Bengal cricket, there can be no two ways about the fact that the former India captain has unwittingly played into the hands of the state officials.