The BJP-led government in Tripura has appointed former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly as its tourism brand ambassador.
This has triggered a storm of criticism against Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who made Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan the brand ambassador of her state in early 2012.
Banerjee had, at that time, ignored calls by many to make the cricket icon, who is also a native of Bengal, the state’s brand ambassador.
Many had, at that time, pointed out that Ganguly is well-known across the country and also in many parts of the world. And that Ganguly would be better-placed to represent Bengal since he is a Bengali.
But Banerjee ignored those calls and decided on Khan. The BJP and even common citizens had frequently criticised her for that decision and alleged that it was a political one driven by her ‘overwhelming desire’ to win over and appease Muslims (Khan is a Muslim).
The BJP made it an issue in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Even last year, BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari asked Banerjee on the floor of the state assembly to drop Khan and make Ganguly Bengal’s brand ambassador.
While appointing Khan as the state’s brand ambassador, Banerjee had said that the move will result in a rush of tourists and investments to Bengal.
But Khan could not spare much time for promoting Bengal and Banerjee was left sorely disappointed. Apart from featuring in a short video promoting Bengal as an attractive tourism destination, Khan had little to show as Bengal’s brand ambassador in the long time — more than 11 years — he has held the title.
On 15 March this year, Banerjee sprang a surprise while chairing a meeting of the state’s industrial promotion board.
“Shah Rukh Khan is usually very busy. So Dev (Bengali actor Dipak Adhikari) will be the brand ambassador of Bengal from now,” she said at the meeting.
Dev, who is a popular Bengali actor and also a Trinamool Lok Sabha MP, was caught unawares, but accepted the proposal.
However, many Bengalis wondered why Banerjee had ignored Ganguly once again and gone for Dev, who is unknown outside Bengal, as the state’s brand ambassador.
Social media was once again full of angry and critical comments against Banerjee. Many pointed out that Ganguly is a cricket icon who has a pan-India brand value while Dev is known only within Bengal. Also, Dev’s acting skills are little to write home about.
Mamata Uncomfortable With Ganguly
Senior Trinamool leaders told Swarajya that Banerjee is not very comfortable with Ganguly.
“She shares a cordial relationship with Ganguly, but is wary of him at the same time. Didi (Banerjee) had, many years ago, sent word to Ganguly that she would like to field him as a Lok Sabha candidate, but Ganguly firmly declined and said he is not interested in joining politics. Since then, Didi has nursed a grudge against Ganguly,” the senior Trinamool leader confided to Swarajya.
Another top Trinamool leader who is also a minister said that Banerjee is quite unforgiving and remembers slights, real or perceived. She took Ganguly’s outright refusal of her request as a slight that she has neither forgotten nor forgiven.
Banerjee also did not take too kindly to Ganguly hosting Union Home Minister Amit Shah for dinner at his residence at Behala in South Kolkata in May last year.
“But that does not mean she does not hold Ganguly in proper esteem and does not extend favours to him. She does. But she will draw a line when it comes to making him the face of Bengal. She will not involve him in anything that’s official or in any government programme,” he said.
Banerjee had met Ganguly a few times, the latest being on 16 January this year. She held a closed-door meeting with Ganguly at her office at the state secretariat for about 15 minutes that day.
Though no one commented officially on what transpired at the meeting, it was later learnt that Ganguly had met her about some official clearances to a property owned by him.
However, Banerjee does not shy away from trying to gain political capital out of Ganguly. In October last year, she made a huge hue and cry over Ganguly being reportedly denied a second time as BCCI chief.
“But I told her that if she is so concerned about Ganguly, she should make him Bengal’s brand ambassador. That she won’t, and only because she is peeved with Ganguly for turning down her request to join the Trinamool,” Suvendu Adhikari told Swarajya.
Tripura’s Tourism Minister Sudhanta Chowdhury, accompanied by two top officers of his department, went to Ganguly’s Behala residence on Tuesday (23 May) afternoon and got his formal approval to become the brand ambassador of Tripura.
Chowdhury tweeted after the meet: “For the state to make strides in the tourism sector, we need a strong brand ambassador who is famous across the globe. And, who can be a better fit in the role rather than our ‘Dada’? The former captain of the Indian international cricket team has followers spread all over the world”.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Shah also spoke to Ganguly over phone and that the cricket icon’s representation of the state as its brand icon would boost the sector.
Ganguly is scheduled to travel to London early next month, and will go to Tripura immediately after his return to India.
Snub To Banerjee?
Many say that Ganguly’s decision to accept the role of brand ambassador of Tripura is intended to be a subtle snub to Banerjee.
He would have definitely known that Banerjee wouldn’t be too pleased to hear about his acceptance of Tripura’s offer, especially since the northeastern state is governed by the BJP.
Ganguly and the Tripura government kept the entire process under wraps till Tuesday (yesterday). It is learnt that Ganguly requested an emissary of the Tripura government who approached him a couple of months ago to maintain secrecy till the formal announcement is made.
That was to pre-empt the possibility of any pressure from the Bengal government on him to walk away from the deal with Tripura when discussions between the two sides (Ganguly and the Tripura government) were still under way.
Once the formal announcement was made, it became a fait accompli and Banerjee can do nothing about it now.
Ganguly knew well that if Banerjee had gotten wind of Tripura’s proposal while it was being discussed, she would have intervened and asked Ganguly to decline the offer. But he preempted that by keeping everything a secret till the formal announcement on Tuesday.
Ganguly played his cards close to his chest, and Banerjee will not be too happy about it. But there is little she can do about it now.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.