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BJP’s quest for star power in Punjab leads to ex-cricketer Dinesh Mongia, once a ‘fixing-accused’

Mongia played for India in 2003 World Cup, but match-fixing allegations tainted his career. Two Congress MLAs Fateh Jung Bajwa and Balwinder Singh Laddi also join BJP.

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New Delhi: More than 13 years after he played his last match for India, former cricketer Dinesh Mongia, who was once under the scanner for his alleged involvement in a fixing scandal, is all set for a new innings in politics.

On Tuesday, Mongia joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and is likely to kick off his political career with the Punjab assembly elections, due early next year.

Mongia was inducted in the presence of Union minister and senior BJP leader Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and party general secretary Dushyant Gautam in New Delhi. 

Apart from Mongia, two Congress MLAs, Fateh Jung Bajwa from Qadian and Balwinder Singh Laddi from Shri Hargobindpur, Akali Dal leader and three-time MLA Gurtej Singh Ghuriana, and former MP Rajdev Singh Khalsa also joined BJP in Delhi Tuesday. 

Fateh Jung Bajwa’s induction is especially significant, given that he’s the younger brother of former Punjab Congress chief and current MLA Partap Singh Bajwa.

The development comes a day after the party announced an alliance with former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s Punjab Lok Congress and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa’s Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukt) for the 117-seat assembly polls.

“We need a good candidate in Punjab to give a good fight for at least 70 seats. BJP is a large party. There is scope for everyone,” BJP general secretary for Punjab Subhash Sharma told ThePrint.

Shekhawat, the party’s in-charge for Punjab, told the media Tuesday that the “BJP footprint in Punjab is growing”. 

“This is the reason sitting MLAs from the ruling party are joining the BJP. This is the result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s work for the country,” he added.


Also Read: Ready to contest all 117 seats in Punjab alone, Punjab BJP chief says at National Executive


Star power

Sources in the BJP said the Chandigarh-born Mongia might contest the upcoming elections. “The BJP is keen to play a bigger role in Punjab elections after the repeal of farm laws and announcing an alliance with Amarinder Singh,” a party source said, adding that BJP is eyeing leaders from other parties as well as celebrities and cricketers. 

BJP has often fielded prominent people like actors Vinod Khanna and Sunny Deol from Gurdaspur, Dharmendra from Bikaner, Hema Malini from Mathura, cricketer Gautam Gambhir from East Delhi and singer Hans Raj Hans from North West Delhi.

A few weeks ago, former Punjab director general of police (DGP) Sarbdeep Singh Virk too joined the BJP. He is the second IPS officer to do so after Iqbal Singh Lalpura, who joined in 2012. Businessman Harcharan Singh Ranauta also joined the party a few weeks ago. 

Punjab Congress chief and former international cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu was once a prominent face of the BJP in Punjab. But after he left, the party was in search of candidates with “star appeal”. 

A short career in cricket, and a scandal

Mongia, 44, had made his ODI debut in 2001. He played a total of 57 ODIs and one Test match. In ODIs, the left-handed batsman scored a total of 1,230 runs at an average of 27.95. His last match was against Bangladesh on 12 May 2007. Mongia was also part of the Indian team for the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. The team reached the final but lost to Australia.

Among his shining moments in cricket was a series against Zimbabwe in Guwahati in March 2002, when he clocked 159 runs. He played in 11 matches in the World Cup, but got an opportunity to bat in only six. Mongia represented Punjab in first class cricket, playing 121 matches which included 21 centuries.

He later participated in the now-defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL) in 2007, representing the team ‘Chandigarh Lions’. However, his career was tainted by a match-fixing scandal, when New Zealand opener Lou Vincent — who also played for Chandigarh Lions — accused him of fixing a match during a hearing at a London court. Mongia had denied Vincent’s claims. 

Though Mongia was reportedly let off due to “lack of evidence”, he was not banned or charged by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). However, the allegations severely affected his career, with BCCI reportedly not clearing him for domestic activities. Mongia maintained that “there was no evidence” against him.

The cricketer announced his retirement in 2020.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)


Also Read: 117 seats, no Sikh leader: BJP’s 2022 Mission Punjab begins with hunt for credible local faces


 

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