India’s most influential captain and Cricket Association of Bengal chief Sourav Ganguly emerged as the lone contender Monday in the race to be BCCI president, confirming his phenomenal rise to the top of Indian cricket.
However, Ganguly’s march to world cricket’s most coveted seat was anything but a cakewalk.
His nomination came after a dramatic 24 hours of intriguing negotiations, phone calls from Delhi and an informal meeting at a Mumbai five-star hotel Sunday night where Indian cricket’s most powerful faces came together to firm up strategy for the board elections on October 23.
With former BCCI president N Srinivasan throwing his weight behind another former player, Karnataka association’s Brijesh Patel, the house was divided initially over who would head the board. In contrast, it was smooth sailing for Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah for the secretary’s post, and former Board president and MoS Finance Anurag Thakur’s brother Arun Dhumal for that of treasurer.
On Sunday, the power meeting that was to start at 4 pm was delayed as the Thakur brothers and Jay Shah visited the Siddhivinayak temple. By 7.30 pm, the state association representatives started to assemble. Till then, it was believed that Patel was favourite to be president.
In the hotel lobby, Srinivasan’s men waited for the arrival of Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who had been part of the state association earlier and now heads the Badminton Association of India. The meeting was further pushed back as Sarma and Thakur attended an engagement ceremony in the hotel. Other top BJP politicians were, meanwhile, seen in the lobby.
As he headed to join his BCCI colleagues, Thakur cryptically remarked that a cricketer running the body would be best suited.
Around 10.30 pm, when Ganguly spoke briefly with reporters, he seemed to have conceded defeat. But then, things changed dramatically post-dinner, when Srinivasan was asked to join Jay Shah along with Anurag and Sarma in a closed-door huddle, with a few powerful voices joining by phone.
After about 30 minutes, sources said, Srinivasan was asked to announce Ganguly’s nomination. Even as he was being summoned to this meeting, Ganguly told reporters before taking the elevator that Brijesh would be president. Later, he revealed, he got to know only close to midnight that he had become the consensus candidate.
“I didn’t know I would be the president. You (reporters) asked me and I told you it’s (former India middle-order batsman) Brijesh (Patel) and when I went up and I came to know it has changed. I have never been in a BCCI election and I never knew it worked like this,” Ganguly said.
The former captain then went down to the lobby at 12.45 am to get a printout of his ID and photo proof, the documents needed to file his nomination.
According to those who had been tracking the developments, the ball was set rolling for the final decision in a series of meetings with BJP president Amit Shah over the last few weeks. While Srinivasan was told that Brijesh would lead the board, Ganguly had met Shah at his residence.
— Sourav Ganguly (@SGanguly99) October 14, 2019
But by 4 am Monday, Thakur was seen leaving for the airport with a satisfied look on his face.
Those supporting Ganguly described his elevation as “good optics”, since the Justice R M Lodha reforms had pressed for more power to players.
In the end, after Ganguly’s name was finalised to lead a reformated BCCI under a Supreme Court-approved and updated Constitution, board officials said the BJP now had tight control over Indian cricket — and the former Indian captain might be campaigning for the party in the 2021 West Bengal elections.
But when Ganguly was asked about his meeting with Shah and a possible deal, he said: “No, no, nothing of that sort. Nobody told me anything.”
While filing his nomination papers, Ganguly also spoke about the challenge at hand. “I’m taking over at a time when BCCI has not been in the greatest of positions for the last three years. Its image was hampered quite a bit. It’s a great opportunity for me to do something good,” he said.
By afternoon Monday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee posted a tweet: “Heartiest congratulations to @SGanguly99 for being unanimously elected @BCCI President. Wish you all the best for your term. You have made India and #Bangla proud.”