By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, May 22:
In his home pitch, the ruling Congress in Himachal Pradesh tried to put stumbling blocks in Anurag Thakur’s political marathon. They fired corruption charges at him and his family. But beating all odds, the BJP’s member of parliament on Sunday got elected as the Indian cricket board’s youngest president.
Thakur’s name was unanimously cleared in the special general meeting of the Board of Cricket for Control in India (BCCI) in Mumbai on Sunday morning.
The 41-year-old three-time Lok Sabha member from Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh, succeeds Shashank Manohar, who quit the position to take up the International Cricket Council (ICC) chief’s job.
Political observers said since his maiden victory in the parliamentary by-election in May 2008, Thakur has been targeted by the Congress for being high-profile and jet-setting, and for rubbing shoulders with high and mighty, including film stars.
Being dedicated and focused on creating modern infrastructure in the small hill state, Thakur-administered Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) has developed five stadiums, including the world-class showpiece stadium in Dharamsala, and one cricket academy in the state capital.
The tussle between the Congress-led state government and the HPCA has robbed hill station Dharamsala, known worldwide for hosting the Dalai Lama for close to six decades, of the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches in the last three seasons, HPCA press secretary Mohit Sood told IANS.
Even the ICC World T20 2016 match between India and Pakistan was shifted out of Dharamsala on March 19, owing to a tussle between the government and the state cricket body.
“It’s only Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh who has created an atmosphere of doubt over the India-Pakistan match,” said Thakur, the force behind the Rs.100 crore ($16 million) stadium and ultra-luxurious residential complex in Dharamsala.
The stadium first figured on the international cricket map in 2005 when it hosted a warm-up tie between the touring Pakistan team and the Indian Board President’s XI.
The HPCA venue, located at an altitude of 4,000 ft above the sea level, is the first in India to use winter rye grass scattered around the outfield, which prevents the grass from dying when temperatures fall below 10 degrees Celsius.
After the Congress formed the government in the state in December 2012, the vigilance and anti-corruption bureau had filed a case of cheating and misappropriation case against the HPCA. IT also alleged wrongdoing in the allotment of land to the HPCA for constructing a residential complex for players near the Dharamsala stadium.
The state later got the sanction to initiate proceedings against two-time chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Prem Kumar Dhumal for allotting the land during his regime to the HPCA, led by his son Thakur.
The vigilance department also booked Thakur, who has been at the HPCA helm since 2000, and his youngest brother Arun Dhumal for allegedly grabbing land near Dharamsala by forging revenue records.
The cases are still pending in various courts.
To bring the HPCA under its ambit, the state assembly in April last year passed a bill by voice vote — that brought total of 42 sports bodies, including the HPCA, under the state government control.
Speaking in the house, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh had said that the land was allotted to the HPCA by the previous BJP government for constructing stadiums not even at throwaway price but at a lease of just Re.1 a year.
“He has to abdicate his HPCA office as under the new recommendations by the Lodha Committee, a person cannot simultaneously be an office-bearer of the BCCI and the state association. He can’t contest for the post of president’s post in the next elections due in 2019,” a senior Congress minister said.
An elated HPCA press secretary Sood after Thakur’s elevation as the BCCI chief said the association has developed the Luhnu ground, which is ringed by backwaters of the Bhakra Dam in Bilaspur, besides developing the Amtar, Gumma and Una grounds.
Sood said the HPCA has produced women international wicketkeeper Sushma Verma and Rishi Dhawan in the men’s Indian team, besides grooming Ankit Kalsi and Ankush Bains in the India’s U-19 team.
Thakur’s cricketing journey began at the age of 14 as a player. He led the Punjab U-16 team that won the All India Vijay Merchant Trophy. Later, he captained the Punjab U-19 and North Zone U-19 team that won the All India Championship.
At the age of 25, Thakur was elected the HPCA president, the youngest to head a state cricket association affiliated with the BCCI. (IANS)