By Tirthankar Mitra
Standing bare-chested at Lord’s cricket ground pavilion and waving his shirt at the crowd in celebration of his team’s success, Sourav Ganguly, then Indian cricket team captain courted controversy and was comfortable with it. Little did he know that he will be squirming with unease when controversy came calling again recently when he found himself in public glare after accepting the assignment as tourism brand ambassador of the BJP government in Tripura.
An iconic figure in his home state of West Bengal even a decade after he hung up his batting gloves, Ganguly now finds himself in the eye of a storm. For his acceptance of the assignment of tourism brand ambassador of the BJP ruled Tripura has opened a floodgate of allegations and counter allegations.
It is no secret that BJP and Trinamool Congress are sworn political opponents. Small wonder, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee feels that Ganguly has been “hijacked” by the saffron camp though she and her party leaders consider him to be a part and parcel of the state where her writ runs.
Ganguly had been replaced as the president of Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI) by Roger Binny, another cricketer whose feats on the playing field was nothing to write home about. Meanwhile, Jay Shah, son of Union home minister Amit Shah retains the post of BCCI secretary, a portfolio he held in Ganguly’s tenure.
In this backdrop, it seems TMC and BJP are voicing the feelings of their respective outfits about the former national cricket squad skipper. The BJP has welcomed Ganguly accepting his latest assignment while TMC unable to criticise Ganguly’s decision is attacking the saffron camp for not being at the former skipper’s side during his unceremonious removal as BCCI chief. Seeking to pour oil on troubled waters, Ganguly has called upon one and all to dissociate politics from his brief in Tripura. But he is not finding too many takers for the defence of his act.
The former national cricket team captain, a hard hitting and stylish batsman is clueless whether to duck the controversy or hit it out of the park. For the former left hander finds himself in a cross fire of a verbal slugfest between the ruling dispensation Trinamool Congress and BJP, the principal Opposition outfit. Both are locked in a battle of one-upmanship. For Ganguly is the last person to be rubbed the wrong way.
Ganguly’s fans will never take kindly to their idol’s humiliation. Truth to tell, both the ruling dispensation and the principal Opposition outfit is aware that the fans’ ire will find expression in the voters withdrawal of support in the elections to come. Once known for his proximity to former urban development affairs minister and CPI(M) leader from Siliguri Ashok Bhattacharya, Ganguly was wooed by TMC after 2011 when it came to power. Rumours of his joining politics peaked before the 2021 state Assembly polls.
But Ganguly refusing to take the plunge put the rumour mills to a halt. But they churned to full speed in May, 2022 when he hosted Union home minister, Shah for dinner at his home. The spin reversed in October, 2022 when Ganguly was dropped from the BCCI chief’s post. It sparked a war of words between the TMC and BJP.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee came out in support in support of the “Behala boy” while BJP leaders like Samik Bhattacharya asked if she had do much regard for Ganguly why has Shahrukh Khan been chosen as the brand ambassador of West Bengal. It seemed both the sides had scored points even as the former cricketer did not utter a word.
Elections are inching closer in West Bengal. While the panchayat elections will be a warm up match, both TMC and BJP are aware that 2024 Lok Sabha elections will be a make or break electoral battle. No stone will be left unturned by both the ruling dispensation and Opposition camps to rope in Ganguly. For though long past his playing days, his popularity has not ebbed which makes him a crowd puller be it as a candidate or a campaigner. One would be curious to know where does Ganguly stand. In so many words, he is sitting pretty.
There is one essential precondition for this state of existence of the former ace cricketer. It is a state of splendid isolation. Ganguly’s fan following cuts across the political divide in the state. But though they have cheered him as a prolific batsman and a canny skipper there will be erosion in their ranks once he joins a political party as supporters of Sourav have not thrown their political allegiance overboard.
Ganguly is keeping the political parties guessing. Thus he is continuing to enjoy the adulation of his fans and the support and the political outfits. Yet no political party can dare to tag Ganguly an opportunist. It would send a wrong message to the voters, a most unwise course of action as the election season is setting in. (IPA Service)