Dynastic Control Over Football Clubs Will Do More Harm Than Good
It’s a tale of two brothers with a controlling influence over a wide swathe of sport in West Bengal. The duo’s unchallenged ascent is seemingly made possible by their relationship with chief minister Mamata Banerjee. She happens to be their sister. Ajit Banerjee is the president of the Bengal Olympic Association (BOA), notionally the biggest sporting institution in the state, whose path to power was paved by the chief minister soon after the Trinamool Congress had taken over from the Left Front government in 2012.
She let it be known – it was no classified information – that she’d rather her eldest brother became BOA chief and his progress should be rendered unimpeded. It was. From there, to becoming an executive committee member of East Bengal (one of the Kolkata Maidan’s dominating duo) proved a cinch.
Growing Clout of Mamata’s Brothers
All East Bengal heavyweights know what it implies to have the chief minister’s brother among them. They are dutifully deferential, not least, perhaps, because they also know of his identity as a high-up in the state weightlifting association.
If Ajit babu has at least been associated with a Calcutta Football Club – which has recently made the top tier – before his spectacular pole vault, Swapan Banerjee, the younger one in the pair, had never been known for any sporting inclinations, performing or administrative, until making it big as an official.
He is the archetypal overnight success story. As of now, he is in the BOA in a secretarial role, apart from having hockey and boxing in a stranglehold and spearheading a body-building organisation not favoured with recognition (yet) by the BOA. He is also the ground secretary of Mohun Bagan, a position that, for obvious reasons, entails an incumbent's involvement in financial dealings.
‘East Bengal and Mohun Bagan Need Shoulders to Lean On’
It’s doubtful that chief ministerial power works similar miracles elsewhere in the country but the question central to the matter is, how did it happen? Did the Banerjees – Ajit and Swapan aren’t on easy terms with each other; have seldom been – gatecrash everywhere, or were they welcomed by self-serving insiders?
“It's a bit of both,” say people in Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, requesting anonymity. “The two brothers wanted platforms and perks and the extent of their participation in the Maidan’s everyday activities widened as some associations felt that proximity to them might clinch lots of things, given their access to the chief minister,” said a long-time official, adding: “East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are scared. They’re worried about the probe into the Sarada chit fund scandal. The clubs need shoulders to lean on.”
That the whole thing was set going by the chief minister was endorsed in a roundabout way by former BOA chief Kamalesh Chatterjee, who found himself elbowed out of the institution when the new order was ushered in.
I was called to a meeting with Tutu Bose, Mohun Bagan supremo, who had two Trinamool ministers – Bobby Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee – flanking him. Bose said I’d do well to pull out of the voting, though the last day for withdrawals had long been over. I knew I’d no options. Even if I won, they wouldn’t let me work. Mobike-borne ruffians were never very far off.Kamalesh Chatterjee, Former BOA Secretary
Dynastic Control Over Kolkata Maidan
Not that things have been looking up since dynastic control came to be institutionalised on the Kolkata Maidan. Bengal started slipping when the Communist Party of India (Marxist), looking upon sport as a constituency and not much else, imposed itself upon every facet of it, 24x7.
Also, it yielded Subhas Chakrabarty, the then sport minister, a lot of cash, scooped up from exhibition football matches here, there and everywhere featuring the big clubs of the metropolis. Trinamool, if anything, has made things a little worse by formalising family control. If stagnation was yesterday’s theme, further deterioration will be tomorrow’s.
(The writer is a Kolkata-based senior sports journalist)
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