September 21, 2004
The presidency of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has become the latest Congress-BJP battleground. It is also being seen as a proxy conflict in cricket’s interminable telecast rights wars.
With Sharad Pawar, Union Agriculture Minister and Mumbai Cricket Association chief, throwing his hat into the ring — ‘‘I’m under pressure from my well-wishers,’’ he told journalists today — the candidacy of Arun Jaitley, BJP general secretary and Delhi and Districts Cricket Association chief, seems less secure.
The story of the September 29 election goes back three years, to the summer of 2001, when Jagmohan Dalmiya recaptured the BCCI chief’s post by defeating the rival A C Muthaiah faction. Dalmiya’s victory was facilitated by an alliance with Jaitley, then a Union minister. The understanding was that Dalmiya would back Jaitley as his successor.
It all seemed sewn up — until the NDA lost the Lok Sabha election. The murmurs began about Dalmiya seeking a president more acceptable to the new Congress government. ‘‘He still preferred Jaitley, with whom he had a good working relationship,’’ a senior BCCI official told The Indian Express, ‘‘but brought up the idea of Ranbir Singh Mahendra as a back-up.’’ Mahendra, Haryana cricket bigwig and son of former chief minister Bansi Lal, got into the act. A fortnight ago, he wrote a letter to party president Sonia Gandhi asking for support against ‘‘BJP man’’ Jaitley.
A senior Congress MP with access to the letter confirmed its impact: ‘‘The politicisation of the BCCI election could be said to have started with that letter. Till then Arun Jaitley was the favourite.’’ The Indian Express tried to contact Mahendra but messages at his office and calls on his cell phone fetched no response. Congress sources explained the rethink in the past week. ‘‘It was felt,’’ said a ruling party politician, ‘‘that Mahendra was a lightweight and Sharad Pawar was persuaded to take on Jaitley.’’ The BCCI electoral college consists of 30 affiliate units. The Congress controls nine of these votes. Three — Railways, Universities and Services — are institutional and will vote as per directives from the Railway, HRD and Defence Ministries. Six votes are with Congress politicians. R K Biswal, son of senior partyman B K Biswal, runs the Orissa Cricket Association. In Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh government minister G Vinod (son of former Union minister G Venkataswamy) is the city cricket body chief. In Gujarat, former state minister Narhari Amin calls the shots. The story is similar in Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Goa. To these nine votes, Pawar can add five more from his Western Zone — Mumbai, Maharashtra, Saurashtra, Baroda and Cricket Club of India (Mumbai). That gives him a base of 14, just two short of majority. In contrast, Dalmiya is said to have only seven ‘‘sure shot’’ votes: Cricket Association of Bengal, National Cricket Club (Kolkata), Tripura, Kerala, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. Jaitley brings to the table the DDCA and Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, controlled by the family of former BJP chief minister P K Dhumal.
As per the BCCI’s rotational policy, it is North Zone’s turn to send a president. The buzz is Pawar has been offered nomination by Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. The Jaitley camp says, however, it has been ‘‘promised the J&K vote’’. When contacted, Jaitley refused comment. A cricket official close to him said, ‘‘Politicians like Madhavrao Scindia and S K Wankhede have been BCCI presidents but they were active in cricket. Pawar, as MCA chief, has hardly attended Board meetings. For the first time, BCCI elections have been taken over by party politics. This is sad.’’
On its part, the BJP is said to be less than keen on Jaitley’s candidacy. As a senior party leader put it, ‘‘Arun did broach the subject with Venkaiah Naidu. But the party is unwilling to relieve him as a general secretary in a year packed with crucial state elections.
The BCCI is a full-time job.’’ The BCCI election has also intersected with the Zee-ESPN/Star Sports cricket rights case now being heard in court. The match continues.
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