Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Maharaja, a Vacant Chair, and a Coup

Prabuddha Neogi writes on Saurav Ganguly's elevation to the president's chair at the CAB, a decision which is largely guided by political interests rather than cricketing reasons

Former India captain, Saurav Ganguly, has driven all opposition out of the window and is now sitting tight on the president’s chair at the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). His selection is the result of a carefully engineered plan perfected to the hilt, behind the closed doors of Nabanna, the West Bengal government secretariat.

It may be recalled that West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, appointed Ganguly as the top boss of Bengal cricket on 24 September, in the presence of senior CAB officials and state government ministers. 

What led Banerjee to involve herself with the CAB can be easily guessed. CAB is the most powerful sports organisation in the state and planting someone in the president’s chair will definitely lead to having a greater say in the state of affairs of the game at the national level. Besides, Mamata didn’t appoint any Tom, Dick, and Harry of her party to the president’s chair. It had to be Ganguly, the most influential cricket personality in West Bengal.

Popular opinion about Ganguly, at least in this state, is overwhelmingly in his favour. The hugely emotional race that Bengalis are, this was one decision that the public didn’t oppose. Dada, as Ganguly is fondly called in the state, can’t err, and that’s the general belief. Not even when he went knocking at the chief minister’s door so that she could throw all weight behind him to fill the chair which fell vacant after the death of Jagmohan Dalmiya.

Dalmiya's son Avishek (left), Ganguly, and Banerjee (front) at Nabanna
But what came as a shocker to the cricketing fraternity, was the way in which the chief minister announced Ganguly to helm Bengal cricket. She did it much in the style of announcing a Trinamool Congress (TMC) subcommittee, the party which she heads. Never, not even in the 34 years of Left rule in the state, was a sports administrator’s name announced from the annals of power.

That Banerjee and her party want to have a say in the affairs of every organisation is nothing new. Right from the schools, colleges and hospitals, TMC mandarins are found in the governing body of every other association. Even the 15-member committee to look after the T20 World Cup matches to be held at the Eden Gardens, has only four CAB office bearers. One of them, Dalmiya himself, is no more. Senior TMC leaders in the committee include Firhad Hakim, Arup Roy, Subrata Mukherjee, Partha Chatterjee, Arup Biswas, Krishnendu Narayan Choudhury, Jyotipriyo Mallik, Jawed Khan, city mayor Sovan Chatterjee, and MP Sultan Ahmed.

All the 121 affiliated clubs are annoyed over Ganguly’s selection. None of the clubs’ opinion was sought before the appointment. Besides, the law of the land states that an elected chair can be filled only by a fresh election. Ganguly’s appointment, in a way, has violated the principles of natural justice. Sources close to the development informed that former Mohun Bagan assistant general secretary Srinjoy Bose, along with his set of followers, was about to lobby before Banerjee for the CAB top job. Ganguly, sensing the move, pipped Bose to the post and successfully garnered the chief minister’s support.

Dalmiya fiercely guarded CAB from all outside influence
There are other uncomfortable questions that have no answers. While the CAB office was Dalmiya’s second home, Ganguly’s time is divided between his academy, cricket commentary, hosting TV game shows, brand endorsements and several other activities. How much time he can really devote to the game, is a big question. Besides, Dalmiya, one of the best administrators of world cricket, had protected CAB, an organisation that was much like his child, from all political interference and vested interests. Not even the then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee could bite his teeth by campaigning heavily for his handpicked presidential candidate Prasun Mukhopadhyay. Bhattacharjee was also despised by his party for blatantly involving in the electioneering of a sports organisation, something which the then ruling Left Front government never endorsed. Dalmiya had made several political heavyweights bite the dust for wanting to politicise CAB, an organisation which he passionately guarded from all influences.  But it’s surprising that the same officials who had rallied behind Dalmiya and won him against Mukhopadhyay, have now fallen silent. Maybe it’s because of the absence of Dalmiya himself. Maybe the voices have now been stymied from Nabanna.

Last heard, some of the clubs are seeking legal opinion and are scouring  a ‘safe’ way to move a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the appointment. A court case, undeniably, would bring ignominy to Ganguly. Worst still would be an interim order staying the selection. But the clubs are treading the path cautiously because none wants to earn the wrath of Banerjee.

Ganguly’s echelon to power, regardless of the manner, is unlikely to alter the larger Bengali psyche. Neither the Marathis, nor the Kannad, are melodramatically emotional about their cricketing icons Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, like Ganguly in West Bengal. He is petnamed Maharaja (the king) and who doesn’t know that the king can do no wrong.

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The writer is the chief editor of WebPressClub