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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Mamata's big announcement at state summit: Sourav Ganguly to be Bengal's new brand ambassador

First, the former India captain and ex-president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was appointed the brand ambassador for another Bengali-majority state — the BJP-ruled Tripura — earlier this year, prior to his purported worsening of ties with the saffron regime

Devadeep Purohit Calcutta Published 22.11.23, 05:29 AM
Mamata Banerjee and Sourav Ganguly at the BGBS on Tuesday.

Mamata Banerjee and Sourav Ganguly at the BGBS on Tuesday. Sanat Kr Sinha

Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday, the inaugural day of the two-day seventh edition of the Bengal Global Business Summit (BGBS), announced during her address from the dais that former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly would be the state’s brand ambassador, an offer he did not refuse.

The Bengal chief minister, who handed over a handwritten letter to Ganguly with the offer, said: “He is a very popular figure who can work for the younger generations in a very good manner.”

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“I am very happy to announce that he will be our brand ambassador…. Please don’t say no,” she told Ganguly, as he walked up to her, smiling, amid applause from the audience.

Not long before this, Ganguly lavished praise on Mamata and the improvements in the investment climate of the state under her.

The announcement is significant on two main counts.

First, the former India captain and ex-president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was appointed the brand ambassador for another Bengali-majority state — the BJP-ruled Tripura — earlier this year, prior to his purported worsening of ties with the saffron regime.

Second, Bengal had a brand ambassador in the form of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan — Ganguly’s former KKR boss — appointed by Mamata in 2012.

It is unclear if Khan will continue to be Bengal’s brand ambassador after Tuesday evening’s development.

“Sourav (Ganguly) has been helping us a lot. He is a local boy with the best intentions,” the Trinamul Congress chief was quoted as having said by a close aide, after the announcement.

“He went to Spain too, and has been helping us in our efforts to attract investments,” she added, according to the aide, who said the chief minister remarked that Shah Rukh has been “very busy”, and the state really needs someone from here, who is readily available, to represent it as brand ambassador.

Ganguly’s presence at the BGBS on Tuesday, his new appointment, barely two months from his visit to Spain with the chief minister, suggests his apparent political journey with the BJP has ended, at least for now.

Once billed as a potential chief ministerial candidate for the BJP in Bengal, Ganguly was seen hosting Union home minister Amit Shah even till the summer of 2022.

Till he was hospitalised with cardiac issues, months ahead of the 2021 Assembly election in Bengal, the corridors of power in the state
were abuzz with rumours of Ganguly joining the BJP in a leadership role to take on Mamata.

However, he was unceremoniously removed from the post of the BCCI president and was disallowed to contest the election for the post of the ICC chairman.

Mamata has repeatedly claimed that Ganguly’s exclusion is an example of “political vendetta” of the saffron regime, accusing the BJP of trying to humiliate him after failing to induct him into the party as its face in Bengal.

After Ganguly came under fire from the saffron camp over his trip to Spain in September this year and an investment announcement that he made there, he had stepped out of the proverbial crease to hit critics out of the park with a statement of defiance.

“I will go wherever I’m invited, and I feel I should go. Various people go, everybody goes… what’s the big deal? Only here do I see such a fuss, so much discussion taking place,” Ganguly had said on September 28.

The BJP’s displeasure with Ganguly poured out in the open after he praised Bengal’s investment climate and announced investment plans for a steel plant in Salboni of West Midnapore, in Madrid on September 15.

From BJP state unit chief Sukanta Majumdar to its leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari, there were bellicose allusions made against the 51-year-old — with 18,575 runs, 38 centuries, and 132 wickets in 424 international matches — suggesting that Mamata had co-opted the retired cricketer to “fool the people” of Bengal.

Ganguly had taken an active part in a BGBS campaign event in Madrid, along with investors from both countries, where he announced the investment Salboni, which is expected to create employment opportunities for 6,000 people at the outset. Captain Steel India Ltd, which manufactures TMT bars, will be the major driver behind the Salboni project that Ganguly announced.

“Alongside his glorious cricketing career, he has always been a boy of a business family, and has business interests here. It is a good opportunity for him to be close to the state’s ruling dispensation and look after his business interests,” said a source.

“This is good news for Dada (as Ganguly is fondly called in Bengal), who had an infamous run-in with Shah Rukh Khan — albeit that was largely engineered by (then KKR’s Australian coach) John Buchanan — during their time together in KKR…. This is a bit of a payback,” he added.

The BJP, predictably, wasn’t thrilled.

“We were used to Sourav stepping out and hitting whatever was thrown at him out of the park. Since Spain, however, he has been outside the park, hitting anything he can, inward…. It remains unclear whether he is a cricketer or an industrialist now,” said BJP state chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya.

He was specifically asked whether the BJP now has problems with Ganguly’s appointment as well. Earlier, the saffron camp used to keep demanding answers from Mamata — with communal implications — who chose a “Khan” as Bengal’s brand ambassador, despite the availability of a “Ganguly”.

“The people of Bengal have no interest in these inconsequential announcements,” said Bhattacharya.

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