16 January, 2021

Sourav Ganguly Denies Political Link With BJP - 'There Was No Barter With Amit Shah'

Sourav Ganguly didn't deny a BJP hand in his coronation as the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Indian cricket elections have always had a strong link with political forces, he told Outlook in an exclusive chat

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Sourav Ganguly Denies Political Link With BJP - 'There Was No Barter With Amit Shah'

Everyone wants a piece of Sourav Ganguly. It has been like that ever since he became India captain in 2000. Ganguly, Dada for all, rarely has an off day. The 47-year-old’s public life has suddenly taken a dramatic turn. Ganguly has been tasked with heading one of the world’s richest sporting bodies—the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Indeed, he has been Indian cricket’s crisis man—tasked with steering a team cowering under the shadow of match-fixing to becoming one of India’s most successful Test captains overseas. Monday (October 28) was a holiday in Calcutta—dressed in a casual yellow kurta and pyjama, Ganguly was “working from home”. He still found time to chat with Soumitra Bose in an exclusive conversation. Excerpts:

October 14 was a special day for Bengalis...Abhijit Banerjee won the Nobel Prize and you filed your papers to become BCCI president.

I feel extremely fortunate to be spoken in the same breath as a Nobel laureate. I get a lot of affection and I cherish every bit of it. What stands out is the faith people have in me.

Do you feel sad that Bengal is stagnating in terms of opportunities and excellence?

These are things beyond my control and I won’t like to comment. I try to excel in whatever I do—as a cricketer, as Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) president…now that I have a job to do with the BCCI, I will give everything I have.

Mohammed Azharuddin was at Eden Gardens when CAB feted you for becoming BCCI president. Given his controversial past, was inviting Azhar a conscious decision?

Azhar was invited by CAB. You must understand that he is president of the Hyd­erabad Cricket Association and there is no reason to create controversy.

Azhar has strong political links. He won as Congress candidate in 2009 in Moradabad, but lost in 2014. There is a feeling that Sourav Ganguly will never lose an election, irrespective of the party he stands for....

I am nowhere close to joining any party and that’s that.

Your meeting with Amit Shah, and the role of two senior BJP leaders—Anurag Thakur and Himanta Biswa Sarma—created a buzz ahead of you filing for the BCCI president’s post. The equation changed quite dramatically overnight. Even you said Brijesh Patel was going to be the president. Did the BJP influence the script?

You have a career in cricket administration. Have you ever seriously considered joining mainstream politics? Not at all. If I considered joining politics, I would have joined by now. I don’t think this is my cup of tea.

Every BCCI election in the past 40 years have had people from politics—Madhavrao Scindia, Sharad Pawar, Raj­eev Shukla were part of Indian cricket before I became a cri­­­cket administrator…. For me it’s about candidates fit to run the BCCI. The powers rest with the BCCI president or the secretary and not with a party. What’s wrong with political links in the BCCI? Mr Scindia ran the board well, as did Mr Pawar. Arun Jaitley had a big influence in the BCCI. There was absolutely no push from any party to join. Did I join Trina­m­ool when I became CAB president? Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was one of my dearest when CPI(M) ran Bengal. Did I join the party?

When Amit Shah says he will like you to join his party and the media is constantly attributing your BCCI post to the BJP, isn’t it normal that people will sniff a link? Some have said you will be the face of the BJP in the Bengal Assembly elections in 2021?

I completely understand. But there wasn’t any barter (with Amit Shah), it never existed. When Anurag Thakur became president, we supported him. When Shashank Manohar bec­ame president, Dalmiya backed him. It’s the same with Mr Scindia and Mr Pawar. Where is the question of joining the BJP?

You have a career in cricket administration; have you ever seriously considered joining mainstream politics?

Not at all...If I had considered joining politics, I would have joined by now. I don’t think this is my cup of tea.

Let’s talk about your BCCI team. Secretary Jay Shah (Amit Shah’s son) and treasurer Arun Singh Dhumal (Anurag Thakur’s brother) come from influential BJP families. It is by design or just a coincidence?

At some stage you have to look at individuals independently. Jay Shah’s father is a politician, he is not. The Waughs pla­yed for Australia, the Pollocks played for South Africa, the Currans played for Eng­­land—there was never any issue. They were ind­ividually brilliant, not bec­­­­ause they were related. This is a problem here. We tend to put everyone under one roof.

Given the kind of men we have had in these BCCI positions earlier, don’t you think your team is short on experience?

Jay is just 31, but full of passion. I met Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aaditya a couple of times on flights when he had nothing to do with politics. He was obsessed with cricket and now he is an MLA. So, let’s believe in the team and individual ability.

Can you shrug off the ‘old guard’? We saw officials like N. Srinivasan, Niranjan Shah, Rajeev Shukla around you when you filed your nomination.... According to the constitution, they are ineligible to be involved in BCCI affairs.

They have nothing to do with the BCCI. They are not even off­ice bearers in their own state associations. How can you stop people congratulating you? There is no interference at all.

You said BCCI’s image took a massive beating in the past three years when the SC-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) ran the show. Can you be specific?

Cricket will be strong only if it is administered properly. West Indies and South Africa are without proper administration and thus suffering. I said that Virat Kohli must get all the support to build the world’s best team. And full credit to the team for the way it has performed.

So where was the problem? India are No. 1 in Test cricket….

It was like asking a film star to run cricket or asking a judge to become an engineer. The CoA didn’t have the experience. It was appointed by the court to implement the order and move on. But they took time to implement the new constitution. A lot of time was lost.

You have just 10 months as BCCI president. Assuming you will follow the constitution and ‘cool off’ for three years, this tenure is definitely not enough....

I really don’t have an option.... I will do my best in 10 months.

Justice Lodha’s recommendations have not been enfo­rced completely. Is there a scope to review the tenure/cooling off clause?

It’s too early for me to say anything.

Do you think the ‘Conflict of Interest’ clause is restrictive in nature?

Absolutely. Conflict of interest has to be practical. We will not get our stalwarts if you ask them to leave their jobs and earning opportunities, and serve the BCCI.

How do you plan to run the BCCI?

If I have been empowered democratically, I should be given the authority to run it the way I want to. And you can’t be jud­ging me all the time. My immediate aim is to put the administration back on track, make the National Cricket Academy more effective and review the welfare projects for first-class cricketers.

The future of Test cricket is in jeopardy. Top nations are not producing quality red-ball cricketers. Batting standards have fallen drastically. South Africa’s capitulation was bad advertisement for Tests.

Yes, that’s a worrying aspect. Test cricket is a victim of red­uced attention span of people. Day-night games can revive Tests. When I suggested this to Virat, he agreed at once. India will be happy to play day-night games overseas, too. If this helps revive Tests, it will be great. No harm trying.

How will you address the BCCI-ICC conflict on revenue sharing? India doesn’t get the lion’s share it has demanded.

The BCCI has to be an important part of the ICC. It has to understand that cricket can’t survive without India. During our tenure, we will try to ensure India gets its due.

The BCCI may like to get more since it brings 70 per cent of the ICC’s revenues, but don’t you think the ‘equality’ model works better when it comes to evenly dividing fin­ances and promoting the game globally?

This does not work in a corporate set-up. You bring in the maximum revenue in world cricket and then end up getting an equal share (20 per cent). Is that a fair deal?

Azharuddin’s Wikipedia profile says he is “an Indian politician and former cricketer”. Five years later, what will Sourav Ganguly’s profile read like? Politician-cricketer?

Nope. Cricketer. Cricketer. Cricketer.

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