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How BJP’s Shelar, likely next BCCI treasurer, rose in cricket politics with Pawar’s blessings

Shelar, a BJP MLA from Bandra West, has been in the world of cricket politics for almost a decade and is credited to have started the T20 Mumbai league during his tenure as MCA president.

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Mumbai: From the vice-president of the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) to its president, and now potentially the treasurer of The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Ashish Shelar has speedily joined the ranks of ambitious Maharashtra politicians such as Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar and Congress’ Vilasrao Deshmukh desirous of controlling Indian cricket.

Shelar filed his nomination for the BCCI treasurer’s post Tuesday along with former cricketer Roger Binny for president, Rajya Sabha Congress MP Rajeev Shukla for vice-president, and cricket administrator Jay Shah, also Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s son, for the secretary’s post. Shukla told reporters that all of them are likely to be elected unopposed in the 18 October election.

Shelar, a BJP MLA from Bandra West, has been in the world of cricket politics for almost a decade. And despite being rivals in politics, he has always had the blessings of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar, former president of the BCCI, International Cricket Council (ICC), and the MCA.

A day before being nominated for the BCCI treasurer’s post, Shelar had also formed an alliance with Pawar for the MCA election scheduled for 20 October. Shelar had submitted his nomination for the MCA president’s post, which he will likely have to forgo after his election as BCCI treasurer.

ThePrint reached Shelar via phone and text messages, but had not received a response at the time of publishing this report. The report will be updated when a comment is received.  

Meanwhile, political sources said that other than Pawar’s blessings, Shelar, also the Mumbai BJP president, has Amit Shah’s firm backing.

“Political boundaries have always blurred in the world of cricket politics,” political analyst Hemant Desai told ThePrint. 

“It is an attempt to gain influence in the higher echelons of power. It has huge stakes, involving liaising with channels for broadcast rights, taking favours, granting favours. The idea behind going beyond traditional political alliances is to secure your own place in this powerful world, by helping others like you and in return, taking their support,” he said.

Also Read: How Sharad Pawar, Modi’s friend and foe, has emerged as MVA’s chief contact with Centre

Maharashtra politicians in cricket & Shelar’s growth in the ranks

It was in 2013 when Shelar first got involved in the politics of cricket after he unsuccessfully contested the MCA election for the vice-president’s post.

The BJP leader had, however, stirred controversy by proposing party stalwart Gopinath Munde’s name for the MCA president’s post despite being from a panel that had already declared its support to NCP President Sharad Pawar for the top job. 

Munde went on record to say that he wanted to break Pawar’s monopoly — who had been the organisation’s president from 2001 to 2011 — in the MCA, after which Congress’ Vilasrao Deshmukh took over.

Munde’s bid to have a stake in the tantalising world of cricket politics was, however, unsuccessful. His nomination was rejected on the grounds that his permanent address was not in Mumbai. 

While a city civil court gave him interim relief by restraining Pawar from discharging his functions as MCA president, the Bombay High Court quashed this judgment. 

The then Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, whose mother, Premila Chavan, had been the founder and president of the Women’s Cricket Association of India, had also considered putting his hat in the ring for the MCA president’s post in 2013. However, he did not end up filing his nomination.

If the 2013 MCA poll seemed more of a political slugfest than a poll to form a cricketing administrative body, the next election in 2015 felt even more so. The MCA elections are held biennially. However, the last MCA election was held in 2019 and the term was from 2019 to 2022, according to the MCA’s website.

The 2015 MCA poll was a straight political fight. On one side was the BJP and NCP, with Pawar nominated for the president’s post and Shelar for the vice-president’s position in the ‘Bal Mahaddalkar group’. On the other side were members of the ‘Cricket First group’, with Vijay Patil, senior Congress leader D.Y. Patil’s son, as the presidential nominee and the Thackerays pulling all their weight behind him.

The Thackeray-backed panel also had Shiv Sena MLAs Rahul Shewale and Pratap Sarnaik (both now a part of Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde’s rebel group) as its candidates for the two vice-president positions.

Pawar and Shelar both won the election. After their victory, Shelar told a television channel, “I have always said that we don’t mix politics in cricket. Unfortunately, the opposing panel got a political party’s mandate and I am happy that cricket won and those indulging in politics lost.”

Shelar became MCA president in 2017 after Pawar stepped down from the post following the recommendations of the Lodha panel that office bearers should not be over 70 years. He is credited to have started the T20 Mumbai league in 2018 during his tenure as MCA president.

Also Read: OBC face as Maharashtra chief, Sena challenger in Mumbai — behind BJP state leadership reshuffle

Politics without borders

In the upcoming MCA election, Pawar had originally backed former cricketer Sandeep Patil in his bid to be the MCA chairman, while Shelar had floated his own panel of contestants with the BJP leader vying for another shot at the president’s post.

However, after a closed-door meeting between the two, they decided to come together to form a Pawar-Shelar panel with the latter filing his nomination for the president’s post.

The panel includes a host of political figures of all hues and colours despite their bitter rivalry in actual politicking, such as NCP’s Jitendra Awhad, Uddhav Thackeray’s personal assistant Milind Narvekar, and Shinde camp MLA Pratap Sarnaik’s son Vihang Sarnaik.

“This is not happening for the first time. It has happened before also. Sharad Pawar as a human being also doesn’t mix things. He keeps everything compartmentalised,” NCP MLA Awhad told ThePrint. He, however, did not comment on Pawar’s change of heart and decision to tie up with Shelar instead of backing Patil.

“He has no interest left in any position. He has already decided to take a step back. But he wants youngsters to come ahead, take over the baton. The world which he has created, he can’t see it falling down. While he is alive, he can tell you the road, obstacles, problems,” Awhad added.

A senior Maharashtra Congress leader who did not wish to be named said the motives in the politics of cricket are very different and every party directly or indirectly wants to have a share of that pie. 

“Other than the business of broadcasting rights, which is huge, being on these cricketing bodies also means a lot of international travel, which is typically difficult for politicians. For international travel of politicians, people raise eyebrows about the purpose of the visit, the resources that funded it,” the Congress leader said.

“International visits also allow scope for political and business negotiations, and there are no questions if you are putting on a suit, carrying a briefcase and heading for a legitimate cricket meeting. Political boundaries blur in all social organisations, and internally, those involved form their own clique,” the leader added.

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

Also Read: Audit to determine if Mumbai Cricket Association misused prime Bandra-Kurla Complex plot


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