The most abiding legacy of Jagmohan Dalmiya, the wily Marwari from Bengal, will remain in his successfully challenging the White hegemony over world cricket and providing India the financial muscle that helped it turn the cricketing hierarchy upside down.
Those who may have seen images of him on their television screens trudging into or out of meeting rooms with vacant eyes, searching cluelessly around, need to be told that Dalmiya at the peak of his powers in the nineties and early 2000’s, was a firm, ruthless man, who controlled the Indian Board with an iron hand. No task was beyond him. If pragmatism did not work, then skullduggery would and the more powerful the opponent, the greater would be the manipulation employed to checkmate the resistance.
In many ways, N Srinivasan, out of power at present due to court intervention, may have learnt his initial lessons in boardroom games from the ‘Don’ Dalmiya himself. The two could well be mirror images of each other, with Dalmiya streets ahead in his time, as the odds he faced to succeed were almost thought to be insurmountable.
India, unlike now, were then just minnows in the world power structure. Dalmiya, with his more suave colleague Inderjeet Singh Bindra in tow, used the favourable post-liberalisation environment of the nineties which allowed multinational companies and private TV channels entry into the country, to rebuild the Board’s coffers and pave the way to rule the world.
The adage that power flows not from the barrel of a gun, but from the wealth accumulated in your bank account, was never more true than in those times when Dalmiya not only became the ICC president, but also started correcting the ‘wrongs’ being done to the Asian bloc.
The Mike Denness affair on India’s tour of South Africa in 2001, where four Indian cricketers were banned by the former England player acting as match referee, became a test case for India to prove its new-found power. It was a Test match in which Sachin Tendulkar was charged with tampering with the ball, and Sehwag was handed a one-match suspension as well.
India refused to play the next Test, and even threatened cancellation of England’s next tour to India, if the ban against Sehwag was not overturned. The world may have cowered under this threat, calling it blackmailing tactics, but Dalmiya had galvanized the entire Indian public opinion behind him. Reading the newspapers of that time, you would have almost believed India was fighting a second war of independence, the only difference being that cricket had become the new battlefield. And the war cry that the colonial White world will not be allowed to have its way and in this new world order ‘justice’ will have to prevail, had its resonance all across the third world countries, even where cricket was not played.
The cricket world did not have the stomach to fight the new financial power acquired by India and the market it provided due to the game’s popularity here, and gave in. India and Dalmiya had prevailed, never to look back.
This episode was perhaps a precursor to the ‘new’ India we so frequently flout these days, where money power and ultra nationalism combined to defeat an ‘enemy’, regardless of what price it came at.
Today, India is a cricketing giant among pygmies and its writ runs unconditionally in the ICC. At home, a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly, helps officialdom to survive. It is a tribute to the legacy of the original Dalmiya, that despite having been disgraced by the Srinivasan-Lalit Modi-Sharad Pawar-Bindra regime and having battled court cases, he strode back to power, though due to ill-health he was in no mental or physical condition to know what was happening around him.
It won’t be wrong or out of place to say that Jagmohan Dalmiya represented all that is best and all that is worst in Indian cricket.