Friday, November 14, 2008

INDIA'S OBAMA: WHY NOT SAURAV CHANDIDAS GANGULY?

Why not indeed? Barack Obama's election as the US President has started the Great Indian Hunt for India's own Obama. Many names ranging from Mayawati to Modi and Priyanka Vadra to President Kalam have been thrown up in the media and the blogosphere. Since the focus has been to look for a suitable candidate within the political landscape, there is one deserving name that has yet not cropped up.

Saurav Chandidas Ganguly is someone who epitomizes the essence of a lot of what Obama is about. The only substantial difference between the two is that while Obama represents the rise of the underprivileged and racially discriminated blacks, Ganguly comes from a privileged, upper class and caste background.

Both believe in 'change'. Obama has come to power on the promise of ushering in 'change you can believe in'; Ganguly has already demonstrated emphatically his ability to effect the 'change you want to see'. Obama is taking over as President after the unintelligent leadership of Georg Bush has seen America hit a low, topped by an almost scandalous collapse of the financial system; Ganguly had taken over as captain after the uninspiring leadership of Sachin Tendulkar had seen the Indian team touch a low, topped by a scandalous match fixing racket.

The change that Ganguly brought to the Team India he inherited from Tendulkar is the stuff legends are made of. Change of this magnitude seldom comes without controversy, unless you are a Mahatma Gandhi. That is why his achievements have been and are being underplayed by his many critics who have finally succeeded in forcing him to quit the scene, even though he is in prime form as a player. But if you look beyond the smoke, you can see the transformational leader who changed Indian cricket forever, like no ever had before him, and perhaps no one ever will after him.

Single handedly, Ganguly turned a bunch of nice, diffident guys happy to just play for India into an aggressive lot of proud and confident individuals hungry for victory and not willing to give any quarters to the opposition. No one had ever seen Indians behave the way the did after Ganguly took over the captaincy.

Which other Indian captain would had had the nerve to beat the mighty Australians at their rough mind games like Ganguly did? Remember him making Steve Waugh wait for him at the toss during India's 2001 triumph? Most Indians would have forgiven Andrew Flintoff for taking off his shirt and running around the pitch at Wankhede after he bowled England to victory to level the One Day series in 2002. Not Ganguly. He returned the favour by taking off and brandishing his shirt at Lords a few months later when India beat England in the final match of the Nat West series. Which other Indian captain would have even thought of paying Flintoff back in the same coin, then? At Lords?

Even more significant was the manner in which Ganguly spotted, nurtured and protected talent without a trace of parochialism and petty selfishness. Most of the stars of the present team were brought in by him. To illustrate, the manner in which he persisted with Virendra Sehwag was remarkable. But for Ganguly, Sehwag may have never found a permanent slot in the team. Finding that Sehwag was exceptionally gifted but could not play for India as there was no place in the middle order, Ganguly got him to open in Test matches for India even though he was a middle order batsman who had never opened even in the Ranji Trophy. Similarly, Ganguly sacrificed his own position as an opener in the One Day version of the game for the sake of the team and pushed Sehwag into the opening slot.

It due to this terrific mix of leadership qualities that Ganguly was able to convert his 'boys' into the winners they had never been. No wonder he led India for a record 49 Test matches, and a record 21 Test wins - seven times more than Azharuddin who had the second most wins.

Perhaps the greatest strength of Ganguly was his phenomenal ability to deal with adversity without losing focus and ability. That strength of character and determination are the hallmarks of any great leader. No one else in his place would have been able to make such astounding comebacks in the face of the almost unbeatable opposition and play so well, after each comeback. While Sachin Tendulkar will always be remembered as the greatest and most loved Indian cricketer, Ganguly will stand tall above every one as the leader who commanded the respect and admiration of not only his team mates but of the opposition too.

Ganguly has captured the imagination and earned the admiration of not just Bengalis but almost all Indians across the country. It may not be incorrect to say that not since Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose inspirationally created and led the Indian National Army to fight and drive the British out of India, has someone from Bengal shown that machismo and the steely resolve to take on adversaries and adversity against all odds. In doing so, Ganguly has impressed and inspired many Indians like very few political leaders have.

In a recent poll carried out by CNN-IBN and The Telegraph, 59.15% of those who voted chose Saurav Ganguly as the Greatest Living Bengali, compared to only 0.61% who thought that it was Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. There is little doubt that Ganguly's proven leadership qualities and his indomitable spirit have more to do with his soaring popularity than the number of runs he has scored. Is there a taller Bengali today?

The popular platform is ready for Ganguly in his home state. But his appeal transcends parochial limitations, because he has demonstrated that he is above them. He is the one leader outside the Indian political arena who can inject much needed self-confidence and pride in all Indians and inspire them to get things done like they should be. He is the one leader who can keep the Chinese President waiting should that be required to drive home a point and help India reclaim its lost spine and dignity. He is the one leader who will look the US President in the eye, and earn his respect. He is the one leader that others will admire, no matter how much he frustrates them.

In short, Ganguly is clearly the one potential leader of the nation who can usher in the 'change' that this country badly requires, if it wants to truly become the global leader that its size demands it should.

Of course, the easy course of joining a regional outfit to become a local leader or an MP is available to Ganguly for the asking. But, his canvas is clearly much larger, in the Netaji mould. He can join the Congress and pray for a freak accident that might see him reach the top; he can join the BJP and face an almost equally difficult climb since he does not have an RSS background. A Bose-type, non-military option is also available, but that will require a herculean effort on his part before it becomes strong enough to put him in the top chair.

Had India had a Presidential form of government, it would have perhaps been easier for Saurav Ganguly to ride on the popular wave and rise to the top, like Obama has in the US. In our form of democracy, that is almost impossible. But Ganguly has always battled and battered the impossible, starting from 1992 when he was first dropped from the Indian cricket team. Like Obama, he too lives with the 'audacity of hope'.

Saurav Ganguly must take Obama plunge. It is difficult to visualize him wasting the rest of his life as a cricket commentator or selector or even the President of the BCCI. Let the likes of Sharad Pawar lust for such 'fruits'. A leader of Ganguly's ability is meant for bigger things. No canvas is too small for him. He just has to pick up the brush.
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1. India's Obama: Mayawati or Modi?
2. Creating thousands of Obamas in India!
3. From Obama to Laloo: a rude reality check
4. President Obama is Barack indeed
5. Obama and Jindal: Hanuman and the monkey