BCCI elections November 29, 2005

Pawar - the man

SK Sham

With his responsibilities as the Union Minister for agriculture, will he have sufficient time to run the affairs of the BCCI? © AFP
The man who had won, by a landslide, his Parliamentary seat without visiting his constituency even once, had to make three attempts to finally triumph in an electorate of just 30. But more than a jinx, Sharad Pawar, who fought a tenacious battle to capture the plum post of the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, had to fight the machinations of Jagmohan Dalmiya, who held sway over India's richest sports body for over decades.

Eventually it took a court-appointed neutral umpire, in the form of a former Chief Election Commissioner, to facilitate his victory; but equally, Pawar managed to beat Dalmiya at his own game with some clever politicking.

A majority in the cricket world may rejoice over Dalmiya's ousting, but it is understandable that there would be some who would nurse doubts over the competence of Pawar to run the BCCI. For all his faults and the controversies Dalmiya found himself embroiled in, his contribution in making the BCCI one of the richest cricket bodies in the world cannot be questioned. What are the credentials of Pawar when it comes to heading the BCCI, a body which is constantly in the public eye yet, of late, so lacking in transparency?

A colossus in Maharashtra politics, Pawar is now a veritable political heavyweight on the national scene. When he became the revenue minister in the Maharashtra state government in 1966, his only connection with sports and cricket in particular, was through his father-in-law, Sadu Shinde, a Test legspinner who toured England in 1946.

Pawar's first fling in sports administration was lending patronage to wrestlers from Maharashtra. And it was through his good offices that Kabbadi, that simple common man's game, earned worldwide recognition. He himself took national teams abroad and conducted demonstration games in USA, Japan and China. His efforts bore fruit when Kabbadi was eventually included as one of the disciplines in the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing. For many years, he was the president of the Maharashtra Olympic Association, which is now a defunct body.

As his political ambitions grew beyond the state boundary, he was forced to distance himself from any sporting responsibilities. It was in 2001 that a splinter group in the Mumbai Cricket Association, in order to invited Pawar to take on Ajit Wadekar, the former India captain, in the presidential election. In the showdown between the politician and the Test player, sympathies were with the player but the votes went to the politician.

But the politician, who was busy nurturing his newly-formed party, astonished everyone by taking up all outstanding problems, which were and solved them to the satisfaction all the warring parties. He also drew up new, ambitious plans for the expansion of Mumbai cricket far beyond the boundaries of the Wankhede Stadium. The acquisition of land in the high-value Bandra-Kurla complex followed the launch of a sophisticated indoor cricket complex and clubhouse, with another huge stadium in the offing to cater to the needs of the growing number of cricket-lovers in the suburbs. The ambitious project, costing Rs750 million (around $16.4 million), is expected to be completed by the middle of 2007.

A man of few words, he is known for his organisational skills and the ability to take quick decisions. But while his resourcefulness and ability is not in doubt, the question is that with his responsibilities as the union minister for agriculture, will he have sufficient time to run the affairs of the BCCI?

He is not the first politician to head the BCCI, but given its current standing in world cricket and the challenges of modernization, Pawar's success will depend a great deal on the kind of men he selects to support him. As a politician, Pawar is known to detest being surrounded by hangers-on. That rare virtue will stand him in good stead as he attempts to steer the fortunes of the Indian cricket board.

SK Sham is a veteran cricket writer based in Mumbai.