Why Sourav Ganguly Might Just Be On His Way To The BJP
Will it be Dada vs Didi in ‘Bengal 2021’?
Hours after former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s demise on the evening of 16 August, former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly’s set off another round of speculation about the latter joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ganguly’s homage - “Bharat loses its gleaming Ratna” (a play on Vajpayee being a recipient of the ‘Bharat Ratna’) - was seen as a strong indication of the cricket legend ultimately accepting the BJP’s invitation to join the party.
It is no secret that many top leaders of the BJP had requested Ganguly to join the party. Even Narendra Modi is said to have extended an offer to ‘dada’ (as Ganguly is fondly called) to join the party before the 2014 polls. Ganguly is said to have politely turned down the offers, saying that he was not yet ready to join politics. But the fact that he has never - publicly or privately - ruled out the possibility of joining politics has kept speculation alive. He has also never discounted past rumours of his joining the BJP.
But the BJP has not been the only party to extend an invitation to Ganguly. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M) is believed to have been the first to make such an offer back in 2006, when Ganguly was still playing international cricket, to boost the party’s flagging fortunes. But that time, undoubtedly, was too early for Ganguly to take the plunge. Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee, who only knows too well the importance of ‘star power’, had also requested Ganguly many times to join the party. Banerjee has often, and successfully, fielded movie stars, successful sports persons and leading lights from the world of art and culture as her party candidates in the assembly and Lok Sabha polls and some of them are even members of her council of ministers.
But Ganguly, say people close to him, had politely turned down all such invitations and overtures to join the Trinamool. The foremost reason, says a close associate who did not want to be named, was that he does not want to play second fiddle to Banerjee, as he must if he joins the Trinamool. “He (Sourav) is too much of his own man to be a second or third-rung politician in the Trinamool. His captaincy (of the Indian team) is proof enough of the fact that he likes to lead from the front and be the undisputed leader of the team. That would not have been possible in the Trinamool,” said the associate.
“Sourav is aggressive in nature and is a no-nonsense sort of a person. He is a team leader and cannot be a sycophant. Thus, he would never have been comfortable in the Trinamool with its culture of sycophancy and with being a mere showpiece in that party,” said a close friend of Ganguly. “Sourav has enough political sense and knows that in the Trinamool, he will be used only as a vote-catcher and will not be given any leadership role. He definitely cannot aspire to lead the party and, worst of all, will have to defer to Mamata’s nephew (and chosen successor) Abhishek Banerjee like even the seniormost Trinamool leaders do,” said this friend who has known Ganguly for the last 25 years.
But, says this friend, it is an entirely different proposition as far as the BJP is concerned. Ganguly can be the leader and the face of the party in Bengal. He has reportedly been assured by the BJP's central leadership that he will not have to play second fiddle to the current state party leaders. It has been suggested to him that he can join the party before the next Lok Sabha polls and will be fielded as a candidate from Bengal. Once he wins (which he surely will), he will gain a lot of heft as an MP. He will also be given responsibilities at the Centre and, in a phased and carefully crafted manner, be given responsibilities in Bengal. Ultimately, before the 2021 assembly polls in Bengal, he will be given a crucial role in the state and even be projected as the BJP's chief ministerial candidate.
What goes without saying is that once Ganguly is given a prime role in the 2021 poll campaign, he will have his own team in place. That is an exciting prospect for Ganguly, who had nurtured and inspired a crop of aggressive young talents who went on to change the course of Indian cricket.
But, say Ganguly’s close associates, the cricket legend had been holding back from joining the BJP since he was not too sure about the party’s prospects in Bengal. “After having been a star, he obviously did not want to lose his eminence by joining a party with little electoral prospects. It was a no-win situation for him,” said a friend who has business ties with Ganguly. But that, he added, has changed. The BJP’s vote share in Bengal has increased and in the recently held panchayat polls, the party won 6,000 seats despite all the rigging (it won none in the 2013 panchayat polls). The BJP has now positioned itself as the main opposition party in Bengal.
Ganguly, if and when he joins the BJP - many say it is no longer a question of if, but when - will definitely bring a lot of positives to the table. He is a highly respected and hugely popular personality in Bengal and his appeal cuts across all age groups, class divides and communities. He will be more than a match for Mamata Banerjee, who retains popular support in Bengal.
It is not just mass appeal that works to Ganguly's advantage. His leadership skills are well known and he has proved himself to be an able administrator as the chief of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). Ganguly is much more acceptable to the Bengali bhadralok than Banerjee, who is considered to be a mercurial and brash rabble rouser. Ganguly’s social background - he belongs to a wealthy and prominent family - gives him an edge over Banerjee as far as the genteel Bengalis are concerned.
What will also excite Bengal's electorate, fed up as the people are with the petty, fractious and violence-ridden politics of the state, is that Ganguly can bring in a healthy dose of sobriety to the state's politics. Ganguly is widely considered to be a man of substance and that stands in stark contrast to Banerjee's persona.
The BJP in Bengal doesn't have any leader with broad appeal. They are all untested and many don't even have a clean image. The party's state unit is ridden with factionalism and none of the present crop of BJP leaders in the state are considered to be worthy of becoming the chief minister of the state. Ganguly’s possible entry into the BJP will give the party a much-needed chief ministerial face.
However, his entry into the party may not be a smooth one. Despite the enthusiasm of the party's central leadership and the workers to have him in the party, the state party unit leaders are not likely to welcome him with open arms. Ganguly will want, and get, a free hand in revamping the party in Bengal and will want his own team, quite like what he did when he became the CAB president. His entry will definitely upset many apple carts in the party and adversely affect vested interests. Thus, he could face the prospect of sabotage from within.
But, undoubtedly, Sourav Ganguly will be a huge asset for the BJP in Bengal. His entry will inject a massive dose of excitement and will boost the party's electoral prospects. Ganguly, maintaining a studied silence now, is said to be seriously weighing the pros and cons.
Earlier this year, Ganguly released his autobiography titled A Century Is Not Enough. He, perhaps, had much more than the cricket pitch in mind when he chose that title for his tome.
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