The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Backroom play gets off ground for cricket crown
- Pawar meets political allies to mobilise support and read weather before taking formal plunge

New Delhi, Sept. 22: Sharad Pawar has begun gauging as well as marshalling support for his shot at the cricket establishment's crown, sounding political allies and keeping an emissary on stand-by to fly to Calcutta.

Three days after the Nationalist Congress Party leader hinted that he is not averse to occupying the BCCI president's chair, he met central coalition partner Laloo Prasad Yadav in the capital.

'Laloo Prasad has assured support to Pawar,' a source said. Laloo Prasad heads the Bihar cricket association, one of the 30 cricket bodies that will elect the BCCI president. As Laloo Prasad is also railway minister, he is in a position to decide which way the utility ' which has a vote ' will tilt.

The current BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya's term expires on September 29, when an election ' unless Pawar emerges the consensus candidate ' will take place in Calcutta.

Pawar is also learnt to have met defence minister Pranab Mukherjee earlier in the day. Like Laloo Prasad, Pranab can have a say in the vote of the services in the BCCI election.

The NCP leader's trusted lieutenant, civil aviation minister Praful Patel, will fly to Calcutta on Friday. Patel is expected to meet Dalmiya, who has not yet revealed his cards on his choice for the chair he has been occupying. In 2001, Pawar had backed Dalmiya's challenger A.C. Muthiah, who lost by four votes.

Asked whether the backing of Dalmiya would be sought, NCP spokesperson D.P. Tripathi said: 'Once you are fighting the election, naturally you will take the support.'

Pawar also had a recent meeting with a Congress member in the Rajya Sabha, who has a decisive say in the affairs of the UP cricket association.

Pawar's silent, but sudden, mobilisation has fuelled speculation whether the Congress, which holds sway over a considerable number of votes, has endorsed his candidature.

His party insists he enjoys the full backing of the Congress, which has declined to comment on the issue.

'Knowing him, Pawar would never have decided to contest this election without testing the ground,' asserted Tripathi, who did not want to comment but reluctantly did so, faced with a volley of questions from reporters.

Asked if Pawar enjoys Congress president Sonia Gandhi's support, he said: 'What is wrong about it' If she supports, then we will welcome that.'

Pawar's party colleagues tried to underscore that the NCP chief had met Sonia on Saturday night and he went public with his intention to take a shy at the BCCI president's post soon after that.

Neither the Congress nor its president is expected to publicly declare their views on what is essentially a 'matter of sports', though the backroom manoeuvres often rival that of power politics.

Though voting in the cricket body does not always go along the country's political divide, the Congress can influence the votes of six to eight state cricket associations, in addition to the three government-controlled cricket bodies ' the railway, the services and combined universities (HRD).

The Pawar camp is also certain to get the full backing of 'family friend' Farooq Abdullah, who controls the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association. Since it is the turn of the North Zone to provide the BCCI president this time, the former J&K chief minister could propose Pawar's name as his association's candidate.

'If Pawar can convince his potential rivals of his likely majority, there may not be even a contest on September 29. He will make it to the top post as a consensus candidate,' an NCP source said.

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