Does the man make the moment or the moment make the man? In Jagmohan Dalmiya’s case, it would have to be the latter, despite many august cricketing personalities having suggested otherwise in their obituaries on the former BCCI and ICC chief who passed away last Sunday.
Was it under his reign that India became the dominant, even the only, country that mattered when it came to wielding influence over cricket, its marketing and monies? Yes. Did he not take the kind of money accruing from the game from pennies to millions for BCCI? Yes. Did he not promote and vehemently back Sourav Ganguly as he built an aggressive Indian team that finally got the confidence to win overseas and become world champions? He did. Is he therefore not responsible for shaping Indian cricket as it stands today, a behemoth among poverty-ridden minnows? In some measure, yes. But would the course of all these events have been different if Dalmiya was never there at all? Not really.
The only inexplicable of Indian cricket is why the game has such a stranglehold here. Once you tide over that question, everything else that happened over the past two decades is just inevitable. Let’s accept that Dalmiya was shrewd, competent and had cricket in his veins. (Unlike many BCCI presidents who followed him, he had at least played cricket at a club level.) But also then ask that if he was the touted genius who took an impoverished sports body and turned it into something resembling an MNC in terms of profits, how come all that acumen didn’t help him in his own business? His family had a leading construction company in Kolkata and Dalmiya didn’t work any magic there after he took over.
It is, however, also indisputable that he saw the potential of what BCCI could be from a businessman’s eyes and translated that vision. How does one reconcile this? That a man was ineffectual in his own business but is labelled a miracle worker in a non-personal venture? There is one key difference—the BCCI is a monopoly. It has absolutely no competitors. The exponential growth of the BCCI under Dalmiya’s reign coincided with consumerism unleashed by liberalisation. While businesses had to compete to survive in that brave new world, all that BCCI had to do was mop up after-effects. Airwaves opened up, the number of television channels went into double and triple digits, advertising and marketing budgets soared. If Dalmiya had not been there, there would have been another Dalmiya doing exactly the same thing that he did.
Where he excelled was in keeping control of BCCI for as long as he did. The struggle for any middling businessman or politician is in getting to the top of the organisation. Once that is achieved—and it did take Dalmiya more than a decade after he first joined the body in 1979— then it is a matter of just going with the flow. Getting to the top takes exceptional ability, but it requires the talent of a politician, which is why when he was trounced it was by an exceptional politician in the form of Sharad Pawar. Dalmiya soon found himself outwitted, outflanked and hounded out by those as cunning and calculating as him. Police cases were filed against him to ensure that he remained cowed down, and he did. It was extraordinary that he returned to become the BCCI head as a compromise solution, but this was not the old Dalmiya. He was aged, later ailing and spent. There was not much wheeling dealing left or necessary. It was actually a good way to end his sporting career. He died still on the throne, if not de facto, at least as a ruler in name. The long line of mourners who came to see him off included only former allies and former enemies. He was, after all, a consensus man now.