The Maharaj of Kolkata aka Sourav Ganguly, on Friday, hosted the Union Home Minister Amit Shah along with few senior BJP leaders of West Bengal at his South Kolkata residence. The (Mutton) Biriyani-loving Ganguly arranged a vegetarian spread for the minister. The menu may not have appealed to many Bengalis but the meeting itself became the topic of many delicious political conversations.
Being the biggest icon of Bengal, every political party likes to woo the prince of Kolkata. But Dada diligently plays along even though the pitch conditions are not favourable.
Ganguly joining politics has become a seasonal episode in Bengal that happens every two years. Saturday’s episode is one such but happened in an unusual time.
Soon after Amit Shah’s itinerary for a two-day Bengal trip was out, media channels started speculating about Ganguly’s political plunge.
Some media houses on Monday reported that Ganguly was offered a Rajya Sabha nomination by Shah, but it was declined by him. Speculations are rife that Ganguly’s wife Dona, a notable Odissi dancer, may be nominated to the Rajya Sabha.
Terms of two President-nominated members from West Bengal, actress Rupa Ganguly and former journalist Swapan Dasgupta ended a couple of weeks back necessitating new nominations.
Speaking to The Quint, senior BJP leader from Bengal Shishir Bajoria said, "I don't understand why the media is speculating on the honourable Home Minister's visit to Sourav's house for dinner. A couple of weeks ago, Sourav met the West Bengal Chief Minister at Nabanna, but nobody made any news about it. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Shah was invited. Senior leaders of our party throughout the year engage themselves in various social outreach programs. I don't see anything beyond that.”
A day after Shah paid a visit to his residence and had dinner, the BCCI president’s statement on Saturday further added fuel to the speculation. Ganguly spoke of his close relation with the Bengal Chief Minister. "Our honourable Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is a person very close to me. I had approached her to help up this institute," he said.
He was attending the inauguration programme of a private hospital along with his wife and senior TMC minister and close confidant of chief minister Firhad Hakim. Just a week before Shah’s visit, Ganguly met the West Bengal CM at Nabanna.
A senior editor of a Bengal news channel, who does not wish to be named, told The Quint, “I don’t think he will take Rajya Sabha offer from BJP now, because he has earlier declined a similar offer from TMC. Also, he is a very intelligent person and knows how to manoeuvre political baits.”
Before the 2021 assembly election, BJP left no stone unturned in convincing Ganguly to join the party, however, the skipper remained firm in his decision. He later suffered a mild heart attack in Kolkata following which he underwent angioplasty.
Veteran CPI(M) leader and close friend of Ganguly, Ashok Bhattacharya then said, “Some people wanted to use Ganguly politically. That probably exerted pressure on him. He is not a political element. He should be known as Sourav, the sporting icon.” Someone wrote “Cricket politics runs in the Ganguly family”. To be more correct, cricket and politics run in the Ganguly family. And Sourav Ganguly’s core skills are positioning and balancing. Over the years, Dada changed his batting stance depending upon the bowlers (politicians) and the pitch conditions (political circumstances). He is having quite a knock. He is always known for his good pitch assessment skills, post retirement he has mastered that.
Ganguly better known as Dada was once the blue-eyed-boy of former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. People of Bengal remember his close proximity to various senior CPI(M) leaders from Bengal the same way they frequently recall the former Indian skipper’s century on his debut at the Lords Cricket Ground in the summers of 1996.
Ganguly used to appear frequently in various events organised by the then Left government in Bengal. The former chief minister even wrote a letter to the BCCI, requesting Ganguly’s inclusion after he was dropped in 2005.
In 2005, the Left Front government handed over a 4.89 acre plot for a period of 30 years to Ganguly to set up his cricket academy at Salt Lake in Kolkata.
In 2006, Ganguly went against his long-time mentor, Kolkata-based businessman and cricket administrator, Jagmohan Dalmiya for the presidential election for Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) in a bid to support Bhattacharya’s choice of candidate.
Few years later, Ganguly returned those favours, when at the peak of Singur land agitation he batted for Tata's manufacturing plant and said, “If the Nano project at Singur went elsewhere, West Bengal would become a dark spot.”
At that point, Mamata Banerjee lashed out against the cricketer and asked, "Does Sourav know where Singur is? Does he know how many farmers were killed in Singur? Does he know how many women were raped in Singur?”
When Bengal witnessed a historic transition of power in 2011, Ganguly’s transition of proximity to power happened seamlessly.
Didi and Dada
After winning the high-voltage Bengal assembly election, the oath taking ceremony of Chief Minister of Mamata Banerjee was a lowkey affair at the Governor’s house because of the raging Covid-19 second wave. Only 13 persons were invited and Ganguly was one of them.
Just two-months after coming to power for the third consecutive time, Mamata Banerjee for the first time visited Ganguly’s residence in Behala to wish him on his 49th birthday.
Ganguly stated, “Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is a person very close to me.” It did not happen overnight. His position started shifting right after the 2011 election and on most days, his balancing act is even more deft than his cover drives.
From being very close to the top the communist leaders of Bengal, he became close to Banerjee and other senior TMC leaders. In 2013, the Mamata administration instituted an award for the sports personalities Ganguly and tennis ace Leander Paes were conferred the Lifetime Achievement award on the inaugural year.
In 2014, the West Bengal state government allotted him a two-acre plot for an international school in Rajarhat. But in 2020, he returned the land document to the state government because of litigation.
Dalmiya passed away on September 20, 2015, five days later, the chief minister announced that Ganguly will be chief of CAB. Even though CAB is an autonomous private body.
After serving four years at the helm of CAB, in October 2019, post a series of dramatic events, Ganguly was elected 'unanimously' as the president of BCCI, the apex body of cricket administration in India.
Dada became the first cricket captain to function as BCCI President. Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah was made the secretary of the BCCI.
Different political parties, at various junctures tried to woo Ganguly to plunge into electoral politics. But he successfully dodged them and continued dodging them with ease. And while maneuvering he always ensured advancement for himself in terms of position and public image. Not many know Ganguly’s first love was football, cricket came much later.
(Himadri Ghosh is a Kolkata-based journalist reporting on politics and policy in the state of West Bengal. He tweets @onlineghosh. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the authors' own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)