Home > News > Columnists > Swapan Dasgupta
We need more Dalmiyas
October 04, 2004
Are we in a time warp?
Are we living in 1974 rather than 2004?
These questions come to mind in the immediate aftermath of the Union Government's surreptitious bid to have the Board of Control for Cricket in India declared a de facto State body.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court threw out the government's plea that every institution of national eminence had to be judged by the norms of the public sector. This was not least because the BCCI had the resources and the self-confidence to zealously guard its autonomy.
Yet, the mere fact that the government had the gumption to attempt a backdoor takeover of India's richest and most high-profile sporting association suggests that the dinosaurs who stalked the land three decades ago, nationalising everything in sight, haven't become extinct. They are lurking in the wings, sharpening their fangs and awaiting every opportunity to reclaim their turf.
Last week's spirited battle for control of the BCCI was at one level a battle centred on the personality of Jagmohan Dalmiya.
The outgoing BCCI president evokes polarised reactions. There are those who laud him for making India the hub of the world's cricket economy and for breaking the stranglehold of Lord's on the game. He, it is said, and not without a tinge of justification, took on the English and Australians in the committee rooms, and won.
At the same time, there are many who resent his stranglehold over decision-making within India, his considerable manipulative skills and his inability to share power. Although the analogies are not exact, Dalmiya's position is akin to the 15-year stranglehold of A S De Mello over the BCCI. It took a formidable alliance between the then Indian captain Lala Amarnath and the so-called 'Bengal clique' led by the pugnacious Pankaj Gupta to oust De Mello from power in 1952.
After some 15 years at the helm of Indian cricket management, Dalmiya has understandably made both influential friends and powerful enemies. Even those who admire his abilitities have been well and truly put off by his preposterous bid to have himself anointed patron-in-chief of the BCCI. Dalmiya, many are convinced, will never relinquish his control over Indian
This year's assault on Dalmiya's dominance was qualitatively different from earlier occasions when the gentlemanly A C Muthiah was proffered as the anti-Dalmiya candidate. A powerful minister of the ruling UPA like Sharad Pawar was wilfully thrown into the ring by Dalmiya's detractors for two reasons. First, they were determined to thwart the election of Arun Jaitley as Dalmiya's successor in the BCCI.
Since Jaitley was a formidable candidate who also had the backing of Dalmiya, the anti-Dalmiya camp believed he could only be defeated by making the contest appear as a political battle between the UPA Government and the BJP.
In such a contest, the advantage would inevitably lie with the government side.
Second, they believed that control of the BCCI could only be wrested from Dalmiya with the help of a government that was never at ease with the notion of autonomy.
Pawar was not merely a politician who was, like Madhavrao Scindia and N K P Salve before him, expanding his personal fiefdom by having the BCCI under his belt. The Pawar offensive against Dalmiya was perceived as an instrument for the government to impose its version of social control on the BCCI. No wonder the CPI-M decided it had to declare its party's support for Pawar -- a silly move that generated much mirth but a move that honestly proclaimed the intentions of the political class.
Influenced by lobbyists for a media group, even a section of the BJP threw its hat into the Pawar ring. It is a different matter that this unwarranted intervention had no effect on Jaitley who had wisely opted out of the contest but who remained a
What is significant about the government affidavit declaring the BCCI a state institution was that it was filed on the assumption of a Pawar victory over Dalmiya's undistinguished nominee from Haryana. Despite post-facto suggestions of the Congress Party's neutrality in the spat, the evidence suggests that Pawar's victory would have triggered a process of tightening government control over the BCCI.
The babus in Shastri Bhavan have never liked the way in which the apparatchiks of cricket thought themselves superior because they never had to come with a begging bowl.
The cricket establishment in India could not be patronised by either the politicians or the babus.
In a strange sort of way, Dalmiya ended up as the unlikely champion of autonomy. Even those who have misgivings over his style could not but agree that he was preferable to a minister-bureaucrat takeover of Indian cricket. Regardless of his present hold over the state associations, Dalmiya's power is not permanent. Like De Mello in the 1950s, he can be dethroned any day. Unfortunately, once the government gets a toehold, the process becomes permanent.
In the end it was a very close call but the signals emanating from the BCCI battle are ominous. Since it assumed charge, the UPA Government has been at pains to extend its control over institutions of civil society. Whether it is the Auroville Society, the National Book Trust or the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library-bodies that ought not to be either politicised or brought
under the sway of the government -- there is a monstrous desire to exercise control.
It is the nationalisation fetish of 1974 being replayed. Accustomed to one-party dominance, the Congress, it would seem, has not been able to reconcile itself to an environment where the State no longer wields clout over the 'commanding heights.' Upfront nationalisation has been rendered an unacceptable option, so the thrust is on more innovative approaches.
Consequently, we are witnessing the formation of committees to establish communal quotas in education, caste quotas in the private sector and to roll back the liberalisation of the media. It is just another version of the 'social control' sought to be imposed by Indira Gandhi on the private sector in the 1970s.
The BCCI clash could well be a foretaste of battles that will engulf the rest of civil society.
State expansionism must be resisted.
We need more Dalmiyas to ward off a predatory state that is trying to re-emerge.