NEW DELHI: Saurav Ganguly’s ascendancy as the president of the world’s richest cricket board has happened with a tinge of politics but the country’s cricket cognoscenti are not worried over the saffron touch because cricket and politics have always worked hand in hand in a billion-plus nation where the willow game is more than a religion.

Ganguly is now back in Kolkata, his home and favourite city where he hosts a popular television show, Dadagiri, and runs Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), which has, among other responsibilities, the big task to maintain and host big buck cricket matches in its majestic Eden Gardens stadium. Kolkata is still basking in the glory of the Prince of Kolkata having got the crown of the King, sweetmeat sellers are now selling the Dada brand of rosogollas. For the records, one liquor company has already been selling a Dada brand of country liquor that is high in demand among the city’s intellectuals, writers and filmmakers.

The former Indian skipper, who was once photographed bare bodied waving his shirt after an Indian victory over England in the finals of the 2002 Natwest Trophy and compared to God in India, has decided to downplay his meetings in the Indian capital with BJP’s president and all-powerful Amit Shah and Minister of State for Finance and top BCCI honcho, Anurag Thakur.

But he still triggered breaking headlines, some religious head even went to Twitter to say how the troika was like Ekalavya meeting up with Lord Krishna and Arjuna, a clear hint that Ganguly was a rank outsider before the actual show started in the confines of Mumbai’s Trident Oberoi. In the epic Mahabharata, Ekalavya—whose arrows were the fastest—was politically pushed away by Arjuna, who even used guru Dronacharya to succeed in his game plan.

It would be very wrong to presume that Ganguly was in the race all through. The late Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, when he was alive, had made it clear to the powers that be in the BCCI that his choice for the president of the cricket body was the lanky and suave Rajat Sharma, his friend and media baron, and also head of the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA). But Sharma’s chances dwindled following Jaitley’s sudden death. Worse, DDCA got mired in all kinds of controversies, including financial.

Ganguly’s name was considered by the BJP leadership because it wanted to send some strong signals to some top powerhouses in Bengal, which is slated for a state election in 2021. The build-up for the big show of strength and power has already started in the state currently ruled by the all-powerful Trinamool Congress. The BJP, it is reliably learnt, is in the fray to find some big names for political alignment, if not total switchovers. Ganguly was the biggest catch. In Delhi’s power corridors, the buzz was that Ganguly was called for deliberations with Shah and Thakur, who explained the BCCI roadmap to the former Indian captain, considered the smartest of the lot among retired cricketers. Some BCCI officer bearers sent WhatsApp messages to Ganguly to choose between the vice-president’s post or chairmanship of the IPL’s governing council. Ganguly declined, probably by then he had got calls from the top leadership of the saffron brigade.

The BJP played it cards well. Ganguly finished his meetings with the two powerhouses and then flew in a late night flight to Mumbai and the next morning, many were surprised to see him entering Trident with N. Srinivasan. It was like rivals Karna and Arjuna calmly walking hand in hand for cricket’s most coveted throne.

Srinivasan was all set to plug his candidate, former test cricketer Brijesh Patel, as the Big Boss. So confident was Srinivasan that he did not feel like asking Rupa, his daughter and head of Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) to be present in the meeting. Srinivasan wanted to show the cricketing world his power and ability to turn things upside down. Representatives of state associations who attended the meeting were told one powerful corporate giant had booked rooms at Trident Mumbai, the venue for the meeting. Who it was…there are no prizes for guessing.

The meeting started and the original plan started to tumble like a pack of cards. Only two talked, mostly, Thakur, who was ably supposed by Assam cricket chief Himanta Biswa Sarma and Jay Shah, son of BJP’s powerful former president and Home Minister, Amit Shah. No one asked if Sarma had ever handled cricket, no one asked why Jay was talking as if he was the chief commentator. Expectedly, everyone fell in line, they were mere spectators.

Srini continued his rant and said he wanted Patel as the BCCI president. But around 2245 hours, Ganguly emerged as the rival candidate; he was ready to contest. Now multiple calls were made to Delhi—including some made by Srinivasan himself—and the representatives were told a new canvas has been painted. Srini fell silent, he had, by then, made those calls to some important person in the Indian capital. While all of this was happening, Bengalis across India were busy worshipping Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth who rides her white owl and silently enters homes in the night to bless all. It seemed Ganguly had some supernatural powers for support. It seemed the goddess blessed Ganguly.

His meetings in Delhi with Shah and Thakur were finally bearing fruits, like fresh steel coming out of a blaze of red fire from a newly set up plant. Eventually, Srinivasan threw in the towel and Ganguly emerged like a statesman, a leader, a ruler. He was named to be the president of BCCI. Srini continued to fret, he was eventually told to calm down—and that he would be the Indian representative to ICC, the game’s global body. And Patel was accommodated as next IPL chairman. But it is a different issue altogether as to why no one asked why Jay, rarely involved in cricket and also why Arun Singh, who runs a franchise of Delhi Public School in North India, were holding such important slots. And no one asked who was Mahim Verma of Uttarakhand who got BCCI’s vice-president’s position.

A NEW KINGMAKER

At the same time, it would be extremely wrong to think that the BJP only had Bengal on its mind while selecting Ganguly. Pushing Saurav Ganguly into the top of the world’s richest cricket board is just one idea for the new kingmaker. He is Anurag Thakur, the government’s blue-eyed boy who has been asked to take total charge of the BCCI. Thakur has Jay Shah on his side and even N. Srinivasan—the former BCCI boss—has fallen in line along with Brijesh Patel. Thakur, it is reliably learnt, is working on a roadmap to become the ICC chairman, he also wishes to use a corpus from the earnings of BCCI to promote other sports in India to gain brownie points for both BCCI and the government (read BJP) and eventually create a South Asian cricketing ecosystem—including Pakistan—led by BCCI and not ICC. In short, he wants BCCI to outsmart ICC and get more ICC funds to South Asia and not to England, South Africa and the Caribbean nations. Thakur also has a mandate from the government to use cricket as a tool of diplomacy in countries like Afghanistan, Myanmar, China, Singapore and South Korea and some West Asian nations. The government does not want the BCCI to be just a body pushing cricket, it wants the BCCI to be a body with global status. And for that, it needs to outsmart the ICC, the game’s very own controlling body.

Once Congress dominated cricket and now that its leaders had fallen all over like ninepins, it was a cakewalk for BJP to dominate the world’s richest cricket board. Will it translate into a big win for BJP? It is too early to start the guesswork, ostensibly because of Ganguly’s excellent relations with Mamata Banerjee, who, in fact, helped install Ganguly as the Cricket Association of Bengal president after the demise of Jagmohan Dalmiya. Ganguly’s resignation from CAB means the slot could go to the late Dalmiya’s son, Avishek, the current CAB secretary.

The game has just begun.

Shantanu Guha Ray is the India Editor of Central European News, a Vienna-based wire agency.