Members of the Mumbai Cricket Association, “arguably India’s preeminent state association,” according to Cricinfo, will hold their presidential elections this week — and the battle is turning out to be quite a political thriller. On one end, we have Dilip Vengsarkar, a former India captain and a reform candidate. On the other, there’s Vilasrao Deshmukh, a local political bigwig and current central Minister (because such positions — Deshmukh is charge of the Science and Technology portfolio — are not demanding enough).
Here’s why this is interesting: initially, the election was going to be a three-way race between Sharad Pawar (currently known as Lord of All Cricket), Deshmukh and Vengsarkar. In a shrewd move, worthy of Chicago-machine politics, Vengsarkar’s supporters discovered that Pawar’s permanent address listed him as a resident of Baramati and not Mumbai, thus disqualifying him from the race. Some would accuse Vengsarkar of benefiting from a technicality — after all, Pawar does in fact own a home in Mumbai — but there’s a bigger lesson in this. Pawar changed his address in 2009 so he could contest federal elections from a particular constituency; in doing so, he unwittingly violated Clause 17 of MCA’s constitution, which requires a permanent residence in Mumbai. Ideally, there would be clear rules spelling out which politicians can serve on what associations, but I’ll take these loopholes for now. (Such postal evasions are routine in Indian politics; Manmohan Singh, the country’s prime minister, represents a constituency in the state of Assam — far away from his traditional home in Delhi.)
Still with me? Pawar’s camp, clearly frustrated, decided to throw its lot behind Deshmukh, a former chief minister of the state of Maharashtra (of which Mumbai is the capital). During his term, Deshmukh headed a coalition of parties that included Pawar’s, the Nationalist Congress Party. (Deshmukh had to resign after his name and office became entangled in a local housing scandal; it is alleged that Deshmukh gave away valuable public housing slots to cronies and supporters instead of the people they were intended for, namely Army veterans.) Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena — the main opposition in the state — has thrown its support behind Vengsarkar; its president (and all-round awful human being) Bal Thackeray reportedly explained, “The cricket pitch is now being dominated by politicians, and we do not want a repeat of the same. Have Pawar or Vilasrao Deshmukh ever held a bat?” It’s a valid criticism; in fact, it’s the basis of Vengsarkar’s campaign, whose ticket almost exclusively includes former cricket players. (Of course, Thackeray is being misleading, because his party did control the MCA before Pawar wrested control in 2001.)
So here we are. On the one hand, a possibly promising campaign from a beloved cricketer, though with dubious allies (the Shiv Sena has built its reputation on South-Indian, Muslim, Christian-baiting, to name a few well-targeted minorities). On the other, a possibly corrupt federal minister allied with another Cabinet minister. If I could vote — and I can’t; my permanent address is now in Brooklyn — I’d go with Vengsarkar and hope for the types of changes proposed by Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath at the Karnataka Cricket Association. The principle at stake: can we possibly get able administrators and cricketers to run cricket associations, as opposed to rent-seeking politicians? Get out the vote.