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Cricket contenders land, claims fly
- Pawar camp sees victory by five votes, but Dalmiya group not convinced

Calcutta, Sept. 27: Much as we want sport and politics to be as far apart as one-day cricket is from Tests, the lead-up to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) elections in its platinum jubilee year has seen an extraordinary marriage between the two.

From heads of national parties to chief ministers to influential politicians (some even out of 'active' affairs), everybody has been approached either by Union minister Sharad Pawar, who is challenging Jagmohan Dalmiya's hold, or the acclaimed administrator himself.

It's the season of numbers.

Dalmiya, the outgoing president, is backing Haryana's Ranbir Singh Mahendra (currently vice-president from north) to succeed him. It's north's turn to provide the president and, predictably, Pawar is Punjab's nominee.

Strangely, though, the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) chief will even represent Punjab at the AGM here on Wednesday-Thursday.

Mahendra, who flew in late in the evening, told The Telegraph that victory was assured. 'I'm one hundred per cent sure,' he said soon after landing, unimpressed by the Pawar-development which isn't many days old.

The action, by the way, has shifted to a city hotel. Team Pawar arrived early today and it's to be seen how soon Dalmiya and Pawar have a one-to-one. So far, the latter has interacted via a suave colleague in the government.

Significantly, Dalmiya is understood to have posed a blunt question during his interaction with that Pawar emissary: Why has the seasoned politician set his sights on the presidency out of turn' West's chance, after all, is going to come after two ' or, at most ' three years.

The Pawar camp remains optimistic, believing that the many states where the Congress is in power will vote for an important ally at the Centre.

'I'm confident Mr Pawar is going to win by at least five votes.... That's not in doubt,' insisted former BCCI president Raj Singh Dungarpur, when contacted in Mumbai.

He is coming tomorrow morning.

That, by any yardstick, is a comfortable margin. But, then, the Dalmiya group is convinced Pawar can manage a maximum of 12, well short of the 16 required ' assuming all 30 affiliated units vote in the secret ballot. The president, in fact, has two votes: The standard one, like the units, and the casting vote.

Apparently, the Pawar camp is also counting on the three institutional votes (Railways, Services and Universities). However, sources in New Delhi maintain only one will actually go his way. The top reason being two ministries are headed by gentlemen who aren't on back-slapping terms with Pawar.

If the election does become close, every vote is going to be worth a billion rupees. That explains why Pawar's backers requested Samajwadi Party leader and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav to try and ensure a high-profile MP from his party represented the state at the AGM and not Dalmiya confidant Jyoti Bajpai.

In an internal decision, though, Bajpai has been authorised to occupy UP's chair. Incidentally, he is the BCCI treasurer and was the Team India manager in the last World Cup.

One learns Gujarat was at the centre of much drama throughout the day. It began with one of the combatants losing support but, later, the state's backing was regained. The head is Congress' Narhari Amin, a one-time deputy chief minister.

Tomorrow, of course, the drama may well be played out elsewhere.

With Pawar busy with strategy till late in the day (after a hurried trip to Raichak), it seems he will fight irrespective of the Dalmiya group's calculated assertion. However, given that the election process doesn't entail formally filing nominations and a cut-off for withdrawals, nothing stops Pawar from eventually deciding to hold back till 2006/2007.

In fact, there's a precedent to an 11th-hour pull out and truce between the big guns: As recently as 1999, the then MCA president, Manohar Joshi, opted out on the morning of the AGM (in Jaipur) after realising his so-called supporters had got the calculations all wrong. That facilitated A.C.Muthiah's unanimous election.

Then, too, Joshi was to come through another zone ' south, possibly as Andhra or Hyderabad's nominee. As a lesson it would have been bitter, but Joshi learn't it in the proverbial nick of time.

If elections are unavoidable on Wednesday, the Dalmiya group is going to be compelled to drop the efficient joint-secretary, Mumbai's Prof. Ratnakar Shetty. As of now, his successor will be former India cricketer and chief selector Brijesh Patel, who has transformed the Karnataka unit.

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