Anand Vasu

Living to die another day

It's a sign of the times when Jagmohan Dalmiya scrapes through, just 61 votes to 57, in his own backyard, the Cricket Association of Bengal

Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu

Jagmohan Dalmiya: The archetypal survivor refuses to fade away © Getty Images
It's a sign of the times when Jagmohan Dalmiya scrapes through by a margin of five votes in his own backyard, the Cricket Association of Bengal. Never since the Marwari construction businessman first occupied the top post in Bengal cricket in 1992-93 has he had to fight so hard to stay in power. But everything has been a struggle in recent times, and this was, in some sense, Dalmiya's own final frontier: if he had lost Bengal, it could have very well been the end of the road. For the moment, though, he has lived to die another day.
Dalmiya's serious troubles began two BCCI elections ago, when Ranbir Singh Mahendra, the candidate he had backed, won an acrimonious election against Sharad Pawar, with Dalmiya, the outgoing president, casting as many as four votes in different capacities. Pawar, one of the big guns in mainstream national politics, rather than just cricket politics, was so stung by his first ever election defeat that he brought together every Dalmiya baiter in the country under one umbrella.
All of a sudden, the Raj Singh Dungarpurs, the IS Bindras, the N Srinivasans and the Lalit Modis were all together, with one aim, wresting the BCCI back from the clutches of Dalmiya. And they did that, with an election campaign planned down to the last detail, removing not merely Dalmiya, but every one of his loyalists. The BCCI has had its share of acrimonious elections, but in many ways it used to be an old boys' club. You fought an election bitterly, but at the end of it shook hands and got on with life. There was no vendetta or persecution; everyone knew that boot could be on the other foot next year.
With Pawar's entry into the BCCI, however, a lot changed. It was no old boys' club anymore. The men whom Dalmiya had kept out of power so well, for so long, simply felt the hurt too much. And they went after Dalmiya hammer and tongs. First Dalmiya was banned from attending any meetings of the board. Next an FIR was filed against him, and others of his team, alleging financial irregularities. Finally the pressure was applied so strongly through the political system, that Bengal began to turn against its own.

'It's widely believed that Dalmiya bit off more than he could chew when he took on Sharad Pawar, but equally, no-one thinks .... Dalmiya would face such a swift end' © Getty Images
There has been a growing belief within the Cricket Association of Bengal, and other stakeholders of cricket in the state, that Dalmiya's mere presence as its head would attract unwanted and unbearable attention from the BCCI. "What if the Board does not give international matches to Eden Gardens? Or only gives it a game against one of the small opposition?" asked one BCCI insider. "You know how it works here. Suddenly the water supply to the place may get erratic, the permits and no objection certificates delayed . There are ways the BCCI can hurt Kolkata, if it wants."
From the outside, it might look like cutting the nose to spite a mosquito that's settled on it, but everyone, even those who have made a career out of hating Dalmiya, knows he will not go quietly. Like the saying goes, when it comes to a street scrap, it's not so much about the dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog. And Dalmiya, pushed into a corner - fallen, from being the most important man in not just Indian cricket but international cricket, to a virtual non entity - has plenty of fight left in him.
But all this would have been immaterial had he not retained the presidency of the CAB, for he would not have had a platform from which to take on the current BCCI regime. In that sense, you cannot help but admire the man, for few people, if any at all, have ever been so emphatically up against it. It's widely believed that Dalmiya bit off more than he could chew when he took on Pawar, but equally, no-one thinks that the man who slowly but purposely went from an entrant into the BCCI back in 1979, to treasurer of the state association, then secretary of the BCCI and finally president of both the BCCI and the ICC, and then patron of the BCCI, would face a swift end.
Often, people outside India did not quite understand Dalmiya. They could only see him as a manipulative, greedy, unidimensional administrator who cared only for the bottom line. He may have been all of that, but he was also the man who showed India and the world how to make serious money out of cricket. In India, Dalmiya has been better understood, and in Kolkata, it seemed just another of the inglorious certainties of cricket that Dalmiya would be in charge of affairs. That almost changed, but only almost.
There's an apocryphal story in Indian cricket where Dalmiya replies to an interviewer's question with his own query, "What will I do if I don't control the board?" Dalmiya came within a whisker of having to seriously answer that question, but in typical fashion, somehow put it off. And in the end that might be all this is - a postponement of the inevitable.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo