'The concept of an MP IPL team is the brainchild of Kamal Nath.'
'If the Congress government comes to power in the state, he will assemble an IPL team for MP with the assistance of his business contacts.'
In the realm of election promises, one stood out as particularly unique.
The Congress manifesto for Madhya Pradesh featured a total of 59 pledges spanning 106 pages, but the most standout declaration was found in Item 9.6.
It stated, 'Given the popularity of cricket among young people, the Congress will take steps to help create an MP team that will take part in the Indian Premier League (IPL).'
This has raised more questions than it has answered.
If the Congress secures power, will the MP government 'own' an IPL team?
If so, is a new revenue model for Indian cricket on the horizon, where state governments, rather than corporate houses, 'buy' players and teams?
Alternatively, will the role of the MP government, under a Congress leadership, be limited to creating favourable conditions for business enterprises to host more matches in the state?
Thus far, no state government has actually 'owned' a cricket team. Odisha, an exception in sports sponsorship, established the Odisha Sports Development and Promotion Company in 2013.
The publicly traded OSDPC is classified as a state government entity and 'owns' two teams: The Kalinga Lancers, one of the six teams in the Hockey India League, and the Odisha Juggernauts, the fifth franchise in the Ultimate Kho Kho League.
This sponsorship is not solely funded by the government; OSDPC collaborates with leading steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India to support the Odisha Kho Kho team.
However, cricket occupies a distinct position.
As Congress MP Shashi Tharoor asserts, "In our country, cricket is much more than a sport; it is also a political tool, a lucrative industry, a source of prestige, and a powerful lever for exerting global influence."
A trusted aide of Kamal Nath, former chief minister and Congress leader, told Business Standard: "The concept of an MP IPL team is the brainchild of Kamal Nath. If the Congress government comes to power in the state, he will assemble an IPL team for MP with the assistance of his business contacts."
"This may involve a single business entity or even a consortium. They will be incentivised to form an IPL team for MP, similar to the Lucknow Super Giants of Uttar Pradesh, by providing various types of incentives."
"MP already boasts two international stadia in Gwalior and Indore. Kamal Nath has deep connections with cricket, actively participating in the campaign to combat corruption in the Delhi and District Cricket Association in the early 1980s," the aide add.
"He has maintained an enduring interest in DDCA affairs. MP has contributed cricketers like Colonel C K Nayudu, Chandu Sarwate, Syed Mushtaq Ali, Narendra Hirwani and Rajesh Chauhan.
"The current coach of the Indian cricket team, Rahul Dravid, was born in MP. In such circumstances, Kamal Nath believes that MP should have its own IPL team."
Syed Jafar, general secretary of the MP Congress Committee, who hails from Kamal Nath's sphere of influence in Chhindwara and is considered close to the former CM, remarked, "The IPL symbolises the aspirations of the youth in our country. With an IPL team in MP, not only will local players have opportunities, but it will also generate numerous direct and indirect job opportunities.
"Clearly, Kamal Nath's announcement is directed towards the state's youth, providing them with opportunities to fulfil their dreams since the formation of an IPL team will establish a comprehensive ecosystem beneficial to the youth."
Some argue that what the Congress has proposed is an idea that certain states have already begun experimenting with.
In August 2023, for the first time, the UP government, in collaboration with the state cricket association, supported numerous regional, district-level Twenty20 cricket matches where teams backed by industrial houses competed.
While local officials acknowledge that the idea has yet to gain widespread popularity, teams like the Gorakhpur Lions (supported by the Gaur Group with real estate interests) faced off against the Noida Super Kings (owned by Anand Kanodia of Samavist Energy Solutions) and various other teams, all with local corporate support: the Kashi Rudras, the Kanpur Superstars, and the Meerut Mavericks.
These teams, composed of local players, generated significant attention throughout UP, according to state officials.
In MP, Rajendra Singh, convener of the Congress manifesto committee and a candidate in the election, told Business Standard that if the Congress wins power, the party will take inspiration from Odisha's model by establishing a company that will nurture local talent with financial assistance from business enterprises.
"When the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) issues tenders for more teams, MP will make a determined bid to project a state team." He indicated that the financial details would be determined later.
A few years ago, the current MP CM, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, strongly criticised the IPL system in the context of match-fixing and called for a ban.
He also advised Sachin Tendulkar to 'choose' between playing in the IPL and receiving the Bharat Ratna.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com