The alleged denial of a second term as head of the powerful and prestigious Board of Control For Cricket in India (BCCI) to cricket icon Sourav Ganguly, and the subsequent ‘refusal’ of the powers-that-be to back him for the post of International Cricket Council (ICC) chief, triggered a lot of outrage in Bengal.
Leading that outrage was, of course, state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who saw the developments as yet another example of the BJP denying Bengal (and Bengalis) their due.
Banerjee launched a full-throated assault on the BJP, accusing it of disrespecting a Bengali icon and a “living legend of cricket”. She alleged that the BJP was getting back at Ganguly for the latter’s reported refusal to join the saffron party before the 2021 Assembly polls.
The Trinamool supremo even went to the extent of issuing a public appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to back Ganguly for the post of ICC president.
The tenure of current ICC chief Greg Barclay will end late next month and Banerjee wanted BCCI to back Ganguly for the post.
What is more, Banerjee spoke privately to some senior BJP leaders, including a couple of Union cabinet ministers, in support of Ganguly.
But all that came to naught and not only did Ganguly hand the BCCI baton to Roger Binny last week, there was no commitment forthcoming from the BCCI about backing Ganguly for the post of ICC chief.
There is no doubt that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee chose to bat for Ganguly for purely political reasons. She reckoned that she would reap political dividends by backing Ganguly who is revered as an icon by most Bengalis.
It was a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ gambit by Banerjee. Had the powers-that-be in the BCCI (read Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah and other BJP stalwarts) done a rethink and handed a second term as BCCI chief to Ganguly, or better still backed him for the ICC chief’s post, Banerjee would have claimed success in defending Bengali pride.
And in the event of the BJP refusing to play ball, Banerjee reckoned she would have a heavy stick to beat the BJP with, portraying it as ‘anti-Bengal’ and ‘anti-Bengali’.
That didn’t happen because other political developments overtook Banerjee last week and occupied centre stage in Bengal.
However, Bengalis did get worked up over the perceived ‘insult’ to Sourav Ganguly. Bengali television commentators tried to outdo one another in spewing outrage and anger at the BJP.
Many fell back on the old bogey of ‘step-motherly’ treatment of Bengalis and Bengal by the powers-that-be in Delhi.
Many drew parallels with the Greg Chappell-Sourav Ganguly controversy of 2005-2006 (read ) and cast the BJP as Chappell (the villain of the piece).
Realms of newsprint were devoted to the ‘unfair treatment’ meted out to Ganguly by an allegedly ‘petulant’ BJP that was unhappy with Ganguly over his ‘repeated refusals’ to join the saffron party.
The affront to the Bengali cricketer remained the topic of discussion at venues ranging from the hallowed halls of Kolkata’s famous Raj-era clubs to the pedestrian roadside tea stalls of the city and from chic drawing rooms to street-corners addas.
But the main point that almost all Bengalis missed was why they were fretting over a cricketer well past his prime not getting his so-called due—a second term as the head of the BCCI.
In their outrage, and the din of accusations against the BJP, Bengalis became deaf to not only voices of reason but also the ludicrousness of their statements.
The point that almost all these Bengalis missed was this—that they were batting for a yesteryear cricketer because they have no one else to bat for!
Bengal today is woefully bereft of heroes in any field. Be it sports, culture, arts, the world of professions (doctors, engineers, architects, chartered accountants etc), literature, cinema, adventure or even politics—Bengal has no heroes to count for.
There was a time when Bengalis dominated art and culture and many other fields. Many Bengalis were celebrated icons in their respective fields and won accolades and acclaim from across the world.
But over the past few decades, no Bengali from Bengal (that is, living and working in Bengal) has been able to make a mark in his or her respective field at the international or national level.
Yes, economist Abhijit Banerjee did achieve global recognition in 2019 with the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences (mistakenly called the Nobel Prize in Economics).
Amartya Sen had bagged the same prestigious award in 1998. But then, they had left Bengal for greener pastures a long time ago and were Bengalis in name only!
Bengal today has no Bengalis who have made a name for themselves. And this sharp decline can be attributed solely to the brain drain from the state since the 1970s triggered by communism-induced flight of capital from the state.
Ever since the communists came to power in Bengal in 1977, the politicisation of all institutions, especially those of learning and research, drove away whatever talent that remained.
The best professionals shifted out of the state and Bengal became a stagnant cesspool of mediocrity.
Things have only gone downhill since 2011 when Mamata Banerjee came to power in the state. Bengal today is truly a state of mediocres where mediocrity is celebrated.
Sourav Ganguly remains perhaps the only Bengali in Bengal who is known all over the country and has a brand value. He brought laurels to Indian cricket and his place in the galaxy of Indian cricket stars is undisputed.
But it is distressing to see the Chief Minister of a state batting for a former cricketer being denied a second tenure at BCCI. No other chief minister would have done that, and no community (save for the Bengalis of Bengal) will find the time to fret over such an issue.
The fact that Bengalis (of Bengal) led by their mercurial Chief Minister chose to outrage over Ganguly being denied a second tenure as BCCI chief shows that the Chief Minister and her subjects do not have graver matters to ponder and pursue. Or that they would prefer to indulge in fruitless pursuits.
And it also proves that Bengal has no ‘stars’ to celebrate anymore. Ganguly is the only one alive in Bengal, and so every Bengali in the state likes to bask in Ganguly’s reflected (but fading) glory.
Bengal, surely, has come a very long way from the time it produced a string of litterateurs, artists, dramatists, cinematographers, academicians, technologists, innovators, explorers, sportspersons, politicians and public figures who won national and global acclaim in the not too distant past.
The state, today, only has one Sourav Ganguly to celebrate and outrage over. A truly sorry state of affairs!
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