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Monday, May 30, 2011

On cricket turf Vilasrao Deshmukh challenges Sharad Pawar

Embattled former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh of the Congress will take on his arch political rival, NCP president and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, on the cricket turf.

Deshmukh, now Union minister for rural development, is all set to run for president of the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) against Pawar, who has been holding the post for over a decade. "I don't know if Pawar is contesting, but I do plan to throw my hat into the ring," Deshmukh told TOI.

Pawar was first elected MCA president in 2001. The MCA constitution bars its office-bearers from holding a post for eight consecutive years. However, the MCA amended its constitution solely for the benefit of Pawar. As a result, his tenure remains unaffected. "Since Pawar was in the process of being elected ICC president and Mumbai was hosting the World Cup final, the MCA amended the constitution to ensure that he continues to rule the governing body of cricket in Mumbai. The controversial resolution was strongly opposed by only one member," a senior MCA member said.

Although Pawar is yet to take a final call on his candidature, a week ago his supporters had a prolonged meeting to draft a strategy for the MCA polls.

"All the members at the meeting declared their support for Pawar's candidature. We feel that under Pawar's leadership, the MCA, which was in a deep financial crisis, has come out of the red," the MCA member said.

He added that Pawar himself had convened a meeting of all club members to assess their views on his candidature. "Pawar has invited all the members for the special meeting, where he is expected to spell out his plan. In the event of Deshmukh remaining firm on his candidature, Pawar may withdraw from the fray, since he (Pawar) is keen on an unanimous election," he said.

Along with Pawar and Deshmukh, former Test cricketer Dilip Vengsarkar too is likely to enter the fray. In fact, a section of MCA members feel that in view of his contribution to cricket, MCA should be create a special post of executive president for him.

Besides Sharad Pawar and Deshmukh, former chief ministers Manohar Joshi, Narayan Rane, public works minister Chhagan Bhujbal, NCP leader Jeetendra Awhad and BJP leader Ashish Shelar comprise the 330-odd club nominees. As per MCA rules, the nominees of the 330 clubs registered with it are eligible to participate in the voting.

In the event that Deshmukh finally decides to contest the polls, it will he his first attempt to settle scores with Pawar. "Deshmukh believes that the NCP, particularly Pawar, was responsible for his unceremonious removal from the CM's post in the wake of the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai. As the NCP had sacked home minister R R Patil , the Congress had no option but to ask Deshmukh to quit," a senior Congress minister said.

The Pawar camp is making all-out efforts to stall the entry of Deshmukh, since they feel that if he is elected, he will not hesitate to order a high-level probe into MCA's major decisions, particularly the repair of the Wankhede statidum and construction of the MCA cricket academy in the Bandra-Kurla Complex. "Doubts have already been raised over the huge amount spent on repairs of Wankhede stadium and construction of the cricket academy on a build-operate-transfer basis. If Deshmukh takes over the reins of MCA, he is sure to order a probe," he said.

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