Kolkata: Legendary Indian cricketer and former captain Sourav Ganguly will not continue his second term as the BCCI president. This decision has become entirely political and moreover, in Bengal, this has sparked a massive row. While Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has backed Sourav Ganguly and urged the Prime Minister to allow him to file a nomination at the ICC, the opposition Bharatiya Janata party has maintained strategic silence.
The BJP is desperately trying to make it look like that Banerjee is politicising this issue. However, in India, everyone knows that every state and national level of cricket, football and other organisations related to games and athletics are dominated by politicians. The TMC has pointed out that Jay Shah the son of Home Minister Amit Shah will continue his second term at the BCCI as the board secretary while the President has changed. The TMC and many other opposition politicians have alleged that the continuation of the Shah is a matter of power or politics.
But the story is not to explore the politics of the BCCI but to explore Bengal’s politics and how dada or Maharaja as Bengalis call Sourav Ganguly has repeatedly become a political talking point in recent years.
BJP’s grand plan
The Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party needed to win the 2019 Lok Sabha election badly. For the first time ever, the saffron party received a record number of votes and won 19 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal. Bengal assembly elections were slated to take place in 2021.
The Bharatiya Janata Party felt it had the momentum to win West Bengal after this historic victory. The first thing the BJP did was it took away several key leaders from the TMC. The BJP first thought that they can win the assembly election through defections, campaigning, and using the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But following the campaign, it realised that without a face the party cannot do well.
A senior BJP leader said, “That time the central leadership asked us to look for faces who can compete against Mamata Banerjee.”
According to the BJP sources, the party knew that the key strength of the TMC is the face and credibility of Bengal chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee. In 2019 Sourav Ganguly was appointed as the BCCI president. The BJP thought that he would eventually come in support of the saffron party openly. A Bengal BJP leader on the condition of anonymity said, "No one gave us a detailed account of what happened, but we understood that the top leadership of the party reached out to him and asked him to join but he declined."
The BJP anticipated Ganguly would join and take on the role of the CM face, but that did not occur. Mithun Chakravarty, the superstar, was abruptly brought in by the BJP, but he had little remaining credibility.
Distance with BJP
Amit Shah, the home minister, and Ganguly used to get along well, according to BJP sources. Ganguly hosted Shah at a dinner in Kolkata on May 5 of this year. However, it appears that Ganguly's decision to stay out of politics and not stand for the BJP has hurt the saffron party.
A person close to Ganguly said on the condition of anonymity, "Dada was adamant that he would not enter politics or the BJP. When they asked Dada to at least campaign for the party just like many stars do, he also declined. After that, everything began to alter. He also has his own method of doing things and was straightforward in his responses to the BCCI. Perhaps a lot of people didn't like this personality."
Mamata Banerjee's effort to connect Bengali sentiment
Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress is predominantly a Bengal-centric political party. In the 2021 Bengal assembly elections Banerjee created the idea that the BJP is an outsider-dominated political outfit. She repeatedly talked about how the TMC has been upholding the Bengali culture, Bengali language, and the idea and philosophy of Bengal.
A few days back Mamata Banerjee backed Sourav Ganguly and said, "Sourav has proved himself to be an able administrator, and I am shocked at his removal from the BCCI president post. This was injustice meted out to him. There are only one or two people who are entitled to go to the ICC. I will request the Prime Minister, my humble regards to the Prime Minister. Please take care that Sourav Ganguly must be allowed to contest the ICC election."
Similar statements were made by numerous other TMC leaders. The TMC leaders and Banerjee also emphasised how discrimination was evident in the fact that Jay Shah could continue while Ganguly was unable to. When Ganguly was also not sent to the ICC election, the Telegraph reported that Banerjee said, "Why was he not sent to ICC? It is to secure someone's interest (in the cricket board). They have kept the position vacant so that someone else can contest. I had spoken to various BJP leaders, but he was not allowed. He has been deprived. This is a shameful political vendetta."
According to the sources in the TMC, the party has been suffering massive setbacks from repeated charges of corruption against its leaders. The Panchayat elections are knocking at the door and that is why shifting focus towards the issue of outsiders vs Bengali could work well for the party.
A senior TMC leader who did not want to be named said, "The Bharatiya Janata Party will never acknowledge that this clearly involves personal animosity. The fact that Ganguly ignored Amit Shah leaves no room for doubt in the minds of Bengalis everywhere, and this undeniably exposes the BJP's criminal indifference to accepting Bengalis. The BJP and its leaders from Bengal did not issue a statement when Mamata Banerjee brought up the subject, calling the decision to deny Sourav Ganguly a second term a shoddy one. Every Bengali holds Dada in high regard, so we will never treat his betrayal lightly.”
Sourav Ganguly's politics
During Sourav Ganguly's time playing cricket in Bengal, the left predominated largely. Ganguly, in contrast to many other Bengalis, has consistently kept a clear distance from partisan politics. People were aware of Sourav Ganguly's friendship with former Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya during the left's rule. However, Ganguly has never participated in any political party's election campaign.
"Sourav Ganguly is very politically aware and conscious," a person close to him said under the condition of anonymity. The person also said that Ganguly opposes any politics that foster division. "Many of his close friends think that he was aware that the BJP had no chance of winning the state, he said.
But Sourav Ganguly and Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of Bengal, are now getting along well. Banerjee met him when she got home from the hospital after having a heart attack. The Bengal government's sizable pre-Durga Puja celebration was also attended by him.
Meanwhile, if Ganguly becomes the chief of the Cricket Association Of Bengal then TMC would like to keep the association in its favour.