This Article is From Oct 18, 2022

Opinion: Behind-The-Scenes Of Mamata vs BJP Over Sourav Ganguly

Didi is on Team Dada. Today, Mamata Banerjee, known as "Didi" on her home turf of Bengal, has said she appeals to the Prime Minister to exercise an intervention in support of Sourav Ganguly aka "Dada".

The issue is this: Sourav Ganguly, 50, has been refused a second term as the boss of the super-powerful BCCI or Board of Control for Cricket in India. Mamata Banerjee says "the pride of Bengal" being dropped is "a matter of shame." Therefore, she says, Sourav Ganguly should be allowed to contest the election for International Cricket Council, the globe's top governing body for the sport. In order to do that, Ganguly will have to be endorsed by the BCCI. After the falling out, unless Modi intervenes, as asked for by Mamata Banerjee, the BCCI is unlike to endorse him.

Sports is just the cover. Dada has become the latest proxy battle between Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress and the BJP. Behind the scenes likes a juicy mix of cricket, fame and bare knuckles fight.

The widespread belief is that Sourav Ganguly is being punished by the BJP because he spurned its overtures to sign up as its Chief Ministerial candidate for the Bengal election earlier this year. That election was won spectacularly by Mamata Banerjee. Both she and her party make the point that Sourav Ganguly was allowed a three-year extension as chief of BCCI by the Supreme Court - with that, his term would end on October 23. The same extension was allowed to Jay Shah, BCCI treasurer and son of Home Minister Amit Shah. If Jay Shah can continue in office, Team Trinamool argues, why not Sourav Ganguly? The BCCI is currently pretty much run by the BJP with top posts of Secretary & IPL Chief belonging to close relatives of the party's cabinet ministers.

It's a classic case of dynasty privilege, or "parivarvaad", said Derek O' Brien, TMC parliamentary party leader in Rajya Sabha, speaking to me for this column. He said he echoed a poster he had shared on social media which was snarky about Shah and Arun Singh Dhumal, brother of Sports Minister Anurag Thakur.

Derek O' Brien called Sourav Ganguly a cricket legend and said he has been unfairly treated by the BJP. Amit Shah, who has been the most senior BJP leader attacking the Trinamool, mainly on corruption charges,is now seeing retaliation from the Trinamool's red-flagging of his son's position in the BCCI.

For this column, I spoke to a cross-section of BJP and Trinamool leaders who were unanimous that "things had soured between Ganguly and the BJP recently". This is also apparent in the timeline as the BCCI, just a month ago, had approached the Supreme Court to allow its top functionaries including Shah and Ganguly to continue for a second term without the mandatory cooling off period of three yearsthat is required. From that to removing Sourav Ganguly is a large leap in a very short time.

BJP leaders confirm that Amit Shah saw in Sourav Ganguly an icon in West Bengal to fight against Mamata Banerjee or just be a star campaigner for the BJP in the election this year. As talk was growing of his joining the BJP, Sourav Ganguly suffered a mild heart attack and was hospitalised.

Ashok Bhattacharya, a senior CPI(M) leader who is a long-time Ganguly friend, had at the time stated that the BJP was pressuring Ganguly to join the party. The implication was clear - that the stress had made Dada very sick.

On a recent trip to Kolkata, Amit Shah had dinner at Sourav Ganguly's home with other BJP leaders. Sources close to Sourav Ganguly say that leaders from the BJP in Bengal tried to get him to condemn violence against BJP workers but he refused to oblige, making it clear that he's not interested. The Amit Shah version of the BJP is not used to political stonewalling and Sourav Ganguly's refusal to get involved reportedly upset some leaders. "It was Ganguly's dream to be BCCI president and if the BJP had not supported him, it would never have happened. He played along with us till he got the job but wouldn't commit to anything political at all. This upset our senior leaders," said a BJP leader who has worked in Bengal. Sources say the breaking point was reached at a midnight meeting at Amit Shah's Delhi home last week when N. Srinivasan, former President of the BCCI, complained about "non-performance" by Sourav Ganguly and got a receptive hearing.

A decision was apparently taken to drop Sourav Ganguly as the BCCI chief. Given cricket's standing in the country - and the sort of money it drives - it is fated to be political ground. Take a look at this list. Jay Shah as BCCI Secretary; Rajiv Shukla, Congress Rajya Sabha MP, set to retain his post as Vice President; Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar will become Treasurer, replacing the Sports Minister's brother, who will now head the IPL; Assam Cricket Association's Secretary, Devajit Saikia, who is extremely close to Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, will be the BCCI's new Joint Secretary.

Suvendu Adhikari, BJP leader, said if Mamata Banerjee is so concerned about Sourav Ganguly, she should make him the brand ambassador of West Bengal, a role held by superstar Shah Rukh Khan for years. Derek O' Brien's response: "We can have two brand ambassadors. What's the big deal".

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.