The Most Exciting Cricket Election In India

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.

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2 thoughts on “The Most Exciting Cricket Election In India

  1. Poorvi says:

    You find this exciting? Why?

    When I first heard about it, I immediately knew that Vengsarkar would lose. That’s just how it is in India. When a politician enters the sports administration/governing arena, he always wins. And needless to say, the sport always loses.

    And as I had thought, Deshmukh won with a substantial margin. Sad day for cricket. I really wish the ICC formulates some laws stating that politicians should not be a part of the state/country cricket setup (in a governing/admin capacity). But of course, with Pawar at the helm, that’s not going to happen any time soon.

    And FYI, Deshmukh resigned as Chief Minister of Maharashtra following the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, and not due to the housing scam. He claimed ‘moral responsibility’ for not being able to protect the city, but not before taking his sons (one of whom is an actor) and a film director (Ram Gopal Verma) to the Taj & showing them around as if it was a tourist attraction. The public outrage following this incident definitely led to his exit from the CM post.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Huh. Thanks for the details on Deshmukh. For some reason, I thought the Adarsh scam was the one that precipitated his resignation. So who was in charge when the housing scam broke? Chavan?

      I suppose I felt that, with the Kumble elections, perhaps the politicians would lose this one. I also hoped that with Pawar out of the picture, Vengsarkar would have an easier time breaking the Congress stronghold. I guess I was wrong.

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