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Cricket is a power game for Maharashtra politicians

It's not just about money. Numerous cricket clubs across Bombay have a large number of aspiring youth with impressionable minds.

columns Updated: Sep 25, 2013 15:41 IST
Sujata Anandan

I do not know who was more startled--former Indian cricket captain Ajit Wadekar or I--when both of us literally bumped into each other at the door that led to Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's drawing room.

Some days previously, I had interviewed Wadekar on his plans to contest the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) elections against Pawar who had just split the Congress and formed his own Nationalist Congress Party. Pawar had until then lost only one election--to Sitaram Kesri for the post of the Congress president. His ignominious defeat by one vote at a Board Of Control For Cricket In India election was yet to come. Wadekar was being propped up by former chief minister Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena but Pawar was hell-bent upon being elected unopposed. There were more than 300 clubs voting for the MCA elections and persuading them all would have been a strategic nightmare.

Wadekar, however, was adamant on not withdrawing and when I met him he was full of nasty comments for Pawar. Some weeks later, when I asked Pawar for an interview on an unrelated subject, he told me I might have to wait at the reception for he was expecting a guest to lunch but was not sure if he would accept the invitation.

In the event Wadekar did lunch at Pawar's residence and when I asked the Maratha strongman what he had achieved by contesting the MCA polls (he had defeated Wadekar), he said, "There are a lot of factions in the association whose infighting is destroying cricket. I want to bring them all on the same table. My meeting with Wadekar was part of that attempt."

I am not a cricket aficionado but I can see he did not succeed. Now contesting the MCA elections again after being president of both the BCCI and the International Cricket Council (ICC) is rather like returning to the state as chief minister after being a union minister. What can he achieve?

But for politicians in Maharashtra, cricket has been more than just a game. Power and money, of course, go with that game in India but, I guess, it is also about votes and not just in the MCA elections. The numerous cricket clubs across Bombay have a large number of aspiring youth with impressionable minds. The Shiv Sena had perfected the art of controlling many cricket clubs across Bombay and after the formation of the NCP, Pawar too seems to have taken the same route. Now Gopinath Munde of the BJP is jumping on to that bandwagon and even chief minister Prithviraj Chavan is queering Pawar's pitch by being nominated as a MCA voting representative from one of the clubs in Bombay.

The conflict between Pawar and Chavan is now well known and not so long ago, I remember, it was Vilasrao Deshmukh, who had been similarly taking on Pawar in the political arena. Deshmukh was instrumental in beating down the NCP's demand for a larger seat share during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls as Chavan is doing now. The NCP has a share of 22 out of 48 seats and Chavan is insisting that they deserve to contest no more than 18 seats, given their overall performance and winnabilty (or lack of that factor) at the 2009 Parliament and subsequent assembly elections.

I wonder if Pawar will use the MCA elections again to cool the ardour of the chief minister as he attempted to do with Deshmukh in the past. However, at that point of time Pawar was ineligible to contest because his permanent address was in Baramati rather than Bombay. Now he has taken care to change his permanent residence to Malabar Hill for just that contingency and I wonder, with that kind of seriousness, how far he will go to persuade Chavan, who has not yet made it clear if he will contest or not, to allow him a cakewalk victory unlike cricketers like Wadekar and Dilip Vengsarkar in the past.

But Pawar also desperately wants a stadium named after him. If Bombay does need a third stadium why not one named after Sunil Gavaskar or Sachin Tendulkar? Wouldn't that be more appropriate?