One state, one vote: a development mandate?

What Kerala, and Bihar and Andhra and Uttar Pradesh were once, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh are now. The one-state-one-vote recommendation of the Lodha Committee has brought focus to bear upon the North-East, the region most ignored politically, economically and culturally. It is an important step, and one long overdue.

When the BCCI started showing some interest in the lesser teams at the turn of this century, states like Kerala started developing. Tinu Yohannan (above) and then Shanthakumaran Sreesanth donned the Nation’s colours and cricket picked up in the region. The same could happen to the Northeastern States if the one-state-one-vote policy is implemented.   -  AP

As a schoolboy when I visited Kerala with my parents on holidays, I always found it difficult to round up cousins for a game of cricket. “Cricket is for madmen and Maharajahs,” my grandfather would pronounce (perhaps suggesting they were the same), and that was that. Cricket was not popular, although Kerala did play the Ranji Trophy, going through the motions till they (usually) finished at the bottom of the table in South Zone.

READ: New hope for North-East cricket

Then came television, huge amounts on ‘development’ from the Board of Control for Cricket in India, two fast bowlers a generation apart — Tinu Yohannan and Shanthakumaran Sreeshanth who played for the country — and a whole population was hooked. Today there are nearly half a dozen players from the state on the verge of national selection. It took time, but the process of growing roots always does.

What Kerala, and Bihar and Andhra and Uttar Pradesh were Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh are. The one-state-one-vote recommendation of the Lodha Committee has brought focus to bear upon the North-East, the region most ignored politically, economically and culturally. It is an important step, and one long overdue. “There is no interest in cricket there,” is only one of the many excuses for the lack of development of the game in the region. But that’s only partly true.

Interest can be created. Hokaito Zhimoni, the left-arm medium pacer and the first Ranji player from Nagaland (he played for Assam) told the Wisden India website “If the BCCI continue to send coaches and provide infrastructure for training, then things will get better.

“I ended up playing just four first-class matches. I did what I could, but have now moved to my family business and I am trying to get into the police service.”

The new system will worry only administrators who see the sport in terms of power bases and as a means to influence-peddling. Before the Supreme Court order, Maharashtra (including the Cricket Club of India) had four votes (Mumbai, Vidarbha being the others), Gujarat three (with Saurashtra and Baroda).

Mahendra Singh Dhoni was a small-town boy, hailing from Ranchi, who made it really big in Indian cricket.   -  K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

There were understandable reasons for this. These political regions overlapped with areas rich in cricket history and patronage in the early days of the first class game in the country. As the political map was redrawn, Bombay, being divided into Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960, and Nawanagar becoming Saurashtra and so on, greater attention was paid to traditional regions rather than strict political entities like the new states.

Nawanagar, for example, won the Ranji Trophy in their debut year, 1936-37 led by A F Wensley, the Englishman credited with discovering and coaching the great Vinoo Mankad. The kingdoms of old, Nawanagar, Holkar, Gwalior, Patiala, Baroda, Cooch Behar, Vizianagaram patronized the game, encouraged talent and ensured that those who performed well did not have to worry about making a living outside of the game, although many had jobs. Vijay Hazare, for example, was an aide-de-camp at Baroda.

“Cricket was attractive because it was a game which was susceptible to the distinctions of social class and which upheld the traditional notions of hierarchy,” says Richard Cashman in his history of Indian cricket. The ruling classes saw in the game a way to keep their places atop the social totem pole. It was also a happy route to self-aggrandisement and fulfilling political ambitions.

But times have changed. What was logical, even necessary in the early days of the Ranji Trophy is neither logical nor necessary today.

The crucial question is not whether 41-times national champions Mumbai should sup at the same table as Mizoram who might struggle to form a first class team. It is rather, why should Mizoram not be given the chance to develop the sport enough to be able to field a competitive team? If part of the BCCI’s remit is to popularise the game across the country, then it has done a poor job of it if a large geographical region has not been allowed to grow.

Sunil Gavaskar is articulating the thoughts of many when he says that bringing the North-East in would dilute the Ranji Trophy, but there are ways around that. For a start, the national championship could invite a combined team from the region. Or, as has been the case in other places and in other spheres, indulge in positive discrimination, allowing the teams special dispensation. Teams could be allowed to play professionals from other parts of the country who will be paid to play as well as coach.

Perhaps there could be a cut-off date — two or three years from now — by which time, either a combined team or individual ones should be ready for the competition. There are many possibilities, once it is agreed that the BCCI has been lax all these years, and things need to change now.

The fact that the teams from the North-East will have the all-powerful vote to make things happen in their region, will hasten the transition to competitiveness.

Since the start of this century, India have been producing internationals from the non-traditional centres of the game in the country: Ranchi ( M. S. Dhoni), Bharuch (Munaf Patel), Aligarh (Piyush Chawla), Jalandhar (Harbhajan Singh), Kochi (Sreeshanth), Quilon (Tinu Yohannan), Rae Bareli (R. P. Singh), Khorda (Pragyan Ojha), Coorg (Robin Uthappa).

Like Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh too hailed from a small town, Jalandhar, but that didn’t stop the off-spinner from becoming a successful bowler for India.   -  AP

To believe that the North-East will remain immune to the most popular sport in the country is naive. It will not be a joy ride. The BCCI has begun to show an interest. Last year camps were held in Nagaland and Meghalaya, and the deposed secretary Anurag Thakur was quoted as saying, “The BCCI is committed to handhold the Northeastern states and bring them into the mainstream.”

Undeniably, there will be the problem of officialdom which will see in this another way to garner money and power. The “one-state-one-association” policy will see the excluded and disenfranchised states have a say in the running of the BCCI. This cannot be bad. Excluded and disenfranchised office-bearers might make a bee-line to get elected from these states which do not have a cricketing tradition. And that could be bad.

At the best of times, the BCCI did not focus on the North-East. Now, with the current uncertainty in the governing body, it is unlikely that the region is a priority. Yet, in one aspect, the focus stays: in requesting the Supreme Court to do away with the one-state-one-vote policy.

Mumbai and Saurashtra and Baroda will survive without an annual vote. The North-East deserves better. Getting the vote is not the end of their problems, but a possible start to their solutions.