Mumbai, Sept. 26: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first regional pre-election rally telecast live across the country.
The triumphant return of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and team, the most cherished event in the country in recent memory, was today transformed into a virtual election rally by Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
The 35,000 people who packed Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium and the millions who lined up before television sets were first treated to a nearly hour-long display of the faces of Maharashtra politicians and BCCI officials. Only Dhoni was offered a place in the front row on the dais.
As the spectators craned their necks to spot the heroes, Pawar’s party colleague and deputy chief minister R.R. Patil stood up to launch a long speech in Marathi.
Patil’s pitch was mostly devoted to worshipping his hero Pawar, saying the BCCI boss’s “able leadership has contributed to the World Cup victory”.
Before finally letting go of the microphone, Patil declared that “Indian cricket is now in safe hands” but forgot to mention whether he meant his leader or the young guns who brought a World Cup back home after 24 years.
The team that trounced the mighty Australians could only watch helplessly. Pawar’s speech was mercifully short.
When his turn came, Dhoni, who has been displaying a mastery at words that can match his batting prowess, did slip in a quick one in his inimitable jovial nature.
Fielding an English question from Harsha Bogle, who was emceeing the show, Dhoni said: “A lot has been said in English and Marathi. Now let me stick to Hindi.”
Dhoni also paid tribute to the “small-town” factor — the Bunty Aur Babli phenomenon celebrated on a world stage for the first time when the team lifted the Twenty20 cup.
“Small-town boys are tougher mentally, physically than the cricketers living in metros,” Dhoni said. At least 10 members of the T20 squad are from the hinterland.
Dhoni and team must have dipped deep into that toughness to survive the onslaught of the politicians. With chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who belongs to the Congress, meeting the team at the airport and leaving for a railway event in his constituency Latur, the Wankhede reception became an NCP affair.
In the evening, Patil declared the felicitation a state government event though a BCCI statement said it was organised “by the board”.
In the hurry perhaps, Patil forgot protocol norms. Government events usually are attended by the governor, the Opposition leader, the Speaker, the mayor and the chief secretary — none of whom was present today.