March 15: Business big guns will join the ranks of the swelling-by–the-day Bharat Army if Sourav & Co bid for the World Cup on March 23.
The Confederation of Indian Industry — the country’s top business group — is flying out a 12-member team to Johannesburg for the final.
Leading the cheerleaders will be Sekhar Datta, past president of the CII and “ardent lover of cricket”. Sanjeev Goenka, another past president, is likely to join in. So are Dipankar Chatterjee and Sanjay Budhia, the eastern region chairman and deputy chairman.
“Two more games to win to rule over the world for the next four years…We should be at least with them when they write history,” a senior CII executive said, confirming the trip.
Probed about the strong eastern bias of the CII XII, the executive attributed it to the “irresistible attraction to the leadership of Sourav Ganguly, who is also from Bengal”.
When the CII team reaches South Africa, the scions of the Bajaj and Munjal families — Rajiv Bajaj and Pawan Kant Munjal — will already be there. For once, the motorcycle rivals will be in the same camp, egging India on in Durban as it plays Kenya for a place in the finals.
Hero Honda is one of the official sponsors of the Cup. Bajaj Auto, on the other hand, has used the Cup fever to launch its Hoodibaba Calibre to take on Hero Honda’s Passion and Splendour.
A long line-up of business moguls and Bollywood stars is headed for Durban to watch the men in blue take the field on March 20. Vijay Mallya, the head of UB group, is taking with him politicians, stars and socialites.
Making his own arrangements is leading investment banker Hemendra Kothari, who leaves with his family tonight.
Rajan Bharti Mittal of Bharti Enterprises, Ajay Bijlee of PVR Cinemas, Shailendra Singh of Percept IMC, Samir Arora of Alliance Mutual Fund, model Dino Morea, designer Ashish Soni and actor Sunil Shetty will be among the star spectators.
Atul Goyal, CEO of E-city multiplexes and nephew of Subhash Chandra of Zee Telefilms, is already in South Africa.
Singh — whose firm manages sponsorships of leading cricketers, including Sourav — said: “I’ll be taking my impressive ratio of Indian victories …. On most occasions when I cheered the team from the stands, India has won.”
Several members of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and the Bengal chamber are also planning a trip. Unconfirmed reports say K.K. Bangur of Graphite India and Gaurav Swaroop of Paharpur Cooling Towers will be in the spectators’ gallery.
A senior travel executive said the traffic to South Africa has gone up by at least 500 per cent over the past couple of weeks. “The only reason, one can easily guess, is India’s resurgence in World Cup,” he said.
But no flights are scheduled on March 19 and March 24, which means the big guns will have to sacrifice several days to catch the big matches. To be in time for the semis, the entourage will have to leave on the 18th and stay on for almost a week if India makes it to the final, as it is expected to.
The CII is, however, making the most of its time and mixing work with play. It has scheduled a meeting with its counterpart in South Africa, SASCOB, on March 24 to discuss bilateral trade. The team will also call on Alec Erwin, South Africa’s trade minister who is also a senior member of WTO.
Not everyone will be on the flight to South Africa, though. The Reliance group and the Tatas will instead be looking forward to the fiscal year closing on March 31. “It is not that we are not cricket crazy. Muthuraman, managing director of Tata Steel, is a keen fan of Indian cricket who has played cricket in the university. J.J. Irani, the chairman of Tata Tele-Services, has played cricket at the county level in England. But we have work to do with several meetings scheduled during the week,” said Milind Rege, head of corporate communications, Tata Steel.
Most of the stockbroking community in Mumbai will also remain in the city. “The brokers are broke,” said Ramesh Damani, a prominent BSE broker.
However, brokers estimate 15-20 of their community is already in South Africa.