On May 6, Sourav Ganguly hosted Union Home Minister Amit Shah at his residence and grapevine had it that there was more than mishti doi on the dinner menu. A day later, the former India captain and the current BCCI president was sharing the dais with senior TMC minister and Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim at the inauguration programme of a private hospital in the city.
Ahead of his meeting with Shah, Ganguly told reporters: “Many speculations are rife, but I have known him (Shah) since 2008. While playing, I used to meet him. There’s nothing more than that.” On the sidelines of the hospital inauguration programme, he said: “I am also very close to Firhad Hakim. He has been seeing me since I was in Class I. He has been our family friend. All who approach him get help. I, too, have called him several times.”
Ganguly was unequivocal in his praise of Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as well. “Our honourable Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is a person very close to me. I had approached her to help up this institute.”
Is the BCCI president flirting with politics? The question has to be asked. Last year, before the Bengal Assembly polls, political circles had been abuzz that the 49-year-old could be BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in the state. Ganguly side-stepped the manoeuvres (if any). Speculations have been doing the rounds that he, or his wife Dona, could be a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha.
For a star-starved state, Ganguly offers the tenuous link to international stardom, which makes him the celebrity to fall for even after almost a decade-and-a-half of retiring from international cricket. On the face of it, close association with different political parties and high-profile political leaders has augured well for him. Ganguly was said to be former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s blue-eyed boy. Back in 2008, he had urged Tata group chief Ratan Tata not to shift the Nano factory out of Bengal, while supporting the Left Front government’s stand, even as Mamata Banerjee fought viciously against it. In 2015, after Jagmohan Dalmiya death, Ganguly paid a visit to Banerjee, as his elevation as the Cricket Association of Bengal president was announced from the state secretariat. Rumour has it that, his meeting with Shah ahead of the BCCI elections in 2019 paved the way for Ganguly to helm the Indian cricket board.
Ganguly, though, is not a case in isolation. Cricket administrators and political leaders have always been in close proximity and a lot of times, active politicians like NKP Salve, Sharad Pawar and Anurag Thakur have taken charge of Indian cricket. Many a time, Indian cricket has benefited from such associations. The current BCCI dispensation has a political overtone, but that also doesn’t offer any novelty.
Talking about political connections helping win cricket posts, this is also a long-standing practice in Indian cricket. For example, at the 2001 BCCI presidential election, Dalmiya had pulled off a coup by flying in former Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, which tilted the scale in his favour in an acrimonious battle against AC Muthiah. The latter had Pawar on his side, but besides Mahanta, Dalmiya also had to thank a high-profile politician who tragically died in an accident, just days later.
A story does the rounds that BJP doesn’t have a local face in Bengal to take on Banerjee and the reported attempt to project Ganguly for the 2021 elections was their pound of flesh. As Ganguly suffered a heart attack last year and underwent angioplasty, senior CPI(M) leader Ashok Bhattacharya had raised the issue. “Some people wanted to use Ganguly politically. That probably exerted pressure on him. He is not a political element. He should be known as Sourav, the sporting icon,” Bhattacharya, the BCCI chief’s family friend, had said, adding: “We shouldn’t create pressure on him. I had told Sourav he shouldn’t join politics and he didn’t disagree.”
So far, Ganguly has kept politics at arm’s length and people in the know, his close friends, believe that he is unlikely to take the plunge. “Sourav is the ‘Prince of Calcutta’. Don’t think he wants a division in his fan-base by committing to any political party. He has cordial relations with political leaders cutting across party lines. It’s likely to stay that way,” said one of them.
Amit Shah’s son Jay, the BCCI secretary, is Ganguly’s colleague in the cricket board. As the head of Indian cricket, the ex-India skipper needs to maintain the right rapport with the government. As regards to his political career in the future, this could be an evolving scenario, something that merits keeping an eye on.