In sports, it is often said that you need to focus more on the process, and the results will have no choice but to follow naturally. In politics, sometimes it is the end that justifies the means. With regard to the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) in India, a bit of both was at play as Sourav Ganguly was elected president, unopposed.
Clearly, Ganguly is the best available candidate, given the widespread disqualifications across the board following the court-mandated reform. But, even Ganguly can hold this office for only 10 months, following which he will have to go through a cooling-off period.
But, make no mistake. Ganguly did not get elected to the highest office — or appointed in this case, as there was no opposition — just because he was the best man for the job. What he also did was play his cards right.
In the run-up to the filing of nominations, there were broadly two forces at work. The first was the old guard of the BCCI, the likes of N Srinivasan, Niranjan Shah and other long-serving administrators who have been ruled ineligible to contest. In their respective state associations, these gents had already ensured that their next of kin, or similarly pliant proxies had been put in place.
The second force at work is one that has taken control of most institutions in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). With Jay Shah — the son of Amit Shah, who is the minister for home affairs and president of the BJP — taking the secretary’s post and Arun Singh Dhumal, brother of union minister of state for finance, Anurag Thakur, ensconced as treasurer, there was a strong push to have more appointments that conform with the ruling national party.
With this framework, it was Thakur who was pulling the strings and steering negotiations behind the scenes. “Look, as long as it was up to Anurag, Brijesh Patel was in the reckoning for the president’s post,” a source close to the developments said. But things changed swiftly in the 11th hour, he told The Federal. “Once Ganguly met Amit Shah, everything changed.”
Indeed, Ganguly himself had told reporters late on Sunday in Mumbai, where the high and mighty of Indian cricket administration were huddled, that Brijesh, the former Indian cricketer and veteran Karnataka administrator, would take up the top job.
However, when Ganguly was offered the post of vice-president or chairman of the Indian Premier League Governing Council, he politely but firmly declined, content to go back to what he was doing: being President of Cricket Association of Bengal, some media work and even a TV show. Here was a man who could not be co-opted into negotiations or horse-trading, in a manner of speaking, because he had nothing to lose.
There was only one thing he coveted and that was a meeting with Amit Shah that clinched the deal. The meeting further led to speculation that BCCI president’s post may have come with a rider that Ganguly should campaign for the BJP in the forthcoming West Bengal polls, something the former India captain was quick to deny. Or rather, he said that this was not discussed.
Often in politics, there are things that are sometimes left unsaid but expected to happen anyway, and perhaps this was the bridge Ganguly thought he would cross when he comes to it. The former Indian captain brings many skills to the table – outspokenness, experience, honesty and leadership. Besides, he has always been a keen politician. No Indian captain before or since has known how to keep all stakeholders happy as Ganguly has. No Indian captain has used the media as effectively, wooing it when it was called for, shunning it when it was warranted and always keeping perceived enemies as close as known friends.
Some people find it difficult to deal with politics of the informal kind, but the Prince of Kolkata thrived in these situations. Whether dealing with a difficult player, using an ally in the cricket board to get his way or winning the perception battle, Ganguly relished getting things done.
The optics are also in his favour this time around. After all, when Indian cricket on the field was at its lowest ebb, at the turn of 2000, mired in match-fixing allegations, it was Ganguly who took over and forced a clean slate. It was Ganguly who restored the faith of the public in the team and in that, they were doing all they possibly could to win matches at all times.
Similarly, when the Indian cricket administration is at its lowest ebb, kneecapped as it were by the Vinod Rai-led Committee of Administrators, Ganguly has ridden out on his white horse with the promise of better things.
The task this time around is considerably easy, simply because the bar has been set so low. India’s fans, who helped the board through undying support for the team that translates into broadcast and sponsorship millions, even billions, have little love for the old guard of the BCCI. And certainly, they are right to feel underwhelmed in the manner in which well-intentioned but ultimately misguided and ineffective reforms have been shoved down the throats of administrators by the courts.
The way ahead is far from clear, and the man at the helm is just about to feel the forces pulling him in different directions. What Indian cricket can take heart from is the fact that Ganguly was, is and hopefully will always be his own man. This is no rubber stamp president, even if some people pulling the strings from the fringes might think so.
(Anand Vasu has covered Indian cricket for more than 20 years. His work has won four national awards.)