Pawar play

The victors... Dilip Vengsarkar (left), Sharad Pawar (centre) and Ashish Shelar celebrate following their success in the Mumbai Cricket Association elections.-PTI The victors... Dilip Vengsarkar (left), Sharad Pawar (centre) and Ashish Shelar celebrate following their success in the Mumbai Cricket Association elections.

It isn’t easy to keep politics out of sport, especially when it comes to the Mumbai Cricket Association elections. By G. Viswanath.

Sharad Pawar, president of the Nationalist Congress Party, flashed the victory sign as he got into the front seat of his Station Wagon at dusk, some 15 minutes before the election officer brought to an end the Mumbai Cricket Association’s biennial elections at the hospitality facility, The Lounge, at the Wankhede Stadium on June 17. Three hours later, the powerful politician, now having assumed the position of a patriarch of the ruling faction (Bal Mahaddalkar), returned to the MCA headquarters accompanied by his party MLA, Jitendra Awhad, and announced the thumping victory of his group. Pawar also struck a sad and emotional note, saying he was surprised by the defeat of the incumbent Vice-President, Ravi Savant, and the managing committee member, Deepak Murkar.

Hence, the celebration in the winning camp was somewhat muted, for Savant was the man behind the idea of the original ‘Bal Mahaddalkar’ group. Mahaddalkar was a popular ‘maidan man’ who rose to the position of Joint Honorary Secretary and Vice-President of the association, and Savant carried on his legacy.

A seasoned politician regarded as a superman by some of his group members, Pawar is the king — and kingmaker, too. His name is associated with the group that has been dominant, and won the MCA elections for 14 years. He also wields great influence on the MCA’s 329 registered member clubs and the voters.

Politicians like being adored, and Pawar, always giving the impression of one who is invincible, has managed to take control of the 40-time Ranji Trophy-winning association once again.

In the face of a high-pitched campaign by the rival group, steered by family-friend Vijay Patil, Pawar reminded the voters of the risk of losing the primacy of the Wankhede Stadium, which was assiduously built by Sesharao Wankhede for the main stakeholders who functioned from the clubs located in Azad and Cross maidans in South Mumbai, Shivaji Park, Matunga, and the family-owned pocket boroughs.

After addressing the MCA members in two main meetings — in the distant suburb of Kandivali and at The Lounge — Pawar made his presence felt by meeting the voters before they went to the polling booth. Pawar did not leave until he was convinced he would get the majority of votes.

The results, in the end, put Pawar ahead of Patil at 176 to 142. Much of the difference was probably made by the panel voting by 37 members representing schools/colleges. Besides there was a focused effort by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to get its city unit president Ashish Shelar elected as Vice-President. This was evident from the audience given to the ruling group by the State Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis, and Vinod Tawde, the State’s Education Minister.

The obvious question — though hackneyed because politicians have held the post of the President of the MCA for nearly 46 of the last 50 years, starting with the 24-year stint of Sesharao Wankhede — is: why have the politicians looked to run sports associations, in particular the cricket associations that are full members of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)?

There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it gives dignity and enhances the integrity quotient of the politicians because cricket is deemed to be a religion in India; secondly, it helps the politicians to remain in the public domain on a daily basis through the print and electronic media, and express opinion on every matter related to the game; thirdly, it helps them to impress their political constituency by being in the news all the time; and more importantly, it helps them exercise control over the crores of subvention money that the full members receive annually from the BCCI.

The Pawar-Mahaddalkar Group maintained that it would strive to keep the Wankhede Stadium as the main venue for international matches, while the candidate for the post of Vice-President from Patil’s ‘Cricket First’ group, Pratap Sarnaik, a Shiv Sena MLA, observed in an interview to the Marathi newspaper, Loksatta, that the D. Y. Patil Stadium, built by a Marathi, has not been given due importance for 13 years.

Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief, while addressing Patil’s group, made a caustic remark that Pawar is all padded up again and he is still on zero (after being the MCA President for 12 years).

With ‘Cricket First’ backed by Shiv Sena, Shelar launched a scathing attack on the group, saying it was the people belonging to Shiv Sena that had vandalised the Wankhede Stadium pitch many years ago. He also raised doubts if next year’s ICC Twenty20 World Cup matches allotted to the MCA will be held at the Wankhede Stadium.

Meanwhile Pawar countered Thackeray’s brusque comment saying, “I got along well with Bal Thackeray, but I don’t take the next generation seriously. My score is there for all to see; the Cricket Centre at the Wankhede Stadium, the recreation centre at BKC, Sachin Tendulkar Gymkhana at Kandivali and the new Wankhede Stadium. It’s like having scored a triple century and still batting.”

Though Patil lost to Pawar this year, Dr. Unmesh Khanvilkar from his group won the contest for the post of Joint Secretary. So did former Test cricketer and Mumbai coach Praveen Amre (Managing Committee member).

The election also saw Dilip Vengsarkar (Pawar-Bal Mahaddalkar group) re-elected as Vice-President.

The newly elected MCA body: President: Sharad Pawar.

Vice-Presidents: Dilip Vengsarkar and Ashish Shelar.

Joint Honorary Secretaries: Dr. P. V. Shetty and Dr. Unmesh Khanvilkar.

Treasurer: Nitin Dalal.

Managing Committee: Arman Mallick, Vinod Deshpande, Navin Shetty, Arvind Kadam, Pankaj Thakur, Deepak Patil, Praveen Amre, Shrikant Tigdi, Shah Alam, Ramesh Vajge, Dilip Vajge and Ganesh Iyer.

IN THE NAME OF SECURITY...

The residents of `D' Road in Mumbai, with the Churchgate station and the Arabian Sea on either side, were puzzled by the presence of a sizeable police force on June 17. Those frequenting the residential area for doing routine business - vegetable and grocery vendors - and visiting relatives were equally surprised by the scale of security arrangements made for a provincial cricket association's elections, where only 325 out of 329 members were declared as eligible voters.

The car park adjacent to the sidewalk on either side of the road was virtually empty but for a handful of police vans. It was baffling as to why such elaborate security arrangements were made. After all, it was only a small matter of electing one President, two Vice-Presidents, two Joint Honorary Secretaries, a Treasurer and 12 Managing Committee members to run the affairs of the faction-ridden Mumbai Cricket Association for a two-year term.

While no explanation can convince a layman, the reason (to prevent outsiders other than the voters from entering the Wankhede Stadium premises for the smooth conduct of the elections) cited for putting in place such elaborate security measures did not go down well with the `D' Road residents, the public and the campaign managers of the candidates in the ruling and opposition groups.

It was a shame that the city police - which makes an intimidating presence during international and IPL matches - had to be summoned in the name of maintaining law and order.

G. Viswanath