A SIGNIFICANT COURSE CORRECTION is underway in Kolkata football right now and it has everything to do with the ISL, although it does not involve ATK, the ISL franchise from the city.
Yesterday, two senior officials of Mohun Bagan Athletics Club - namely Assisant Secretary Srinjoy Basu and Financial Secretary Debashish Dutta - announced their resignation from the club in a press conference held at the Journalists' Club of Calcutta.
The surprise move came seemingly out of the blue, but the passive-aggressive chess game has been building up towards it for a long time now.
Last year, both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal were in contention for an entry into the Indian Super League, which would effectively push through the plan of "restructuring" the Indian football league system touted by AIFF and IMG-Reliance. But the negotiations fell through when a faction of officials in both clubs came out against that move, in a "joint movement" that resulted in neither club submitting their bid documents for inclusion in ISL.
But most of the fans and even the officials in both clubs were actually against that move; especially the Basu family and their allies at Mohun Bagan.
Tutu Basu, the main financial engine in the club since the split with McDowell's a couple of years ago, was vocal about the need to adopt a new professional structure in club administration and get into the ISL. He even tendered resignation from his post at the club saying it was not possible for him to single-handedly drive the club. His son, Srinjoy Basu, as well as Debashish Dutta echoed that sentiment. The need of the hour was obvious - they needed a big corporate sponsorship that would provide a large stimulus to push through with the infrastructure upgrades and administration reforms nedessary to become a 21st century professional football club.
Both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan were approached by multiple big corporations with a similar offer, and while some talks showed promise, ultimately the whole process fell through when a certain group of high ranking administrations within the clubs formed an alliance against that move and even got the state government involved in a de-facto blockade.
Although very few people will admit this up-front, the major intention behind this wedge was for the dissident officials to secure their own positions of power within the clubs, which would be threatened if corporate sponsors came in with more money and privilege.
So, to put it bluntly, both clubs have certain administrators holding onto power who would rather hurt the long term prospects of the clubs rather than letting go of their seats. In the case of Mohun Bagan, the fingers of accusation are pointed towards club secretary Anjan Mitra.
Although Mr Mitra holds a very powerful position within the club, the operational arm has been spearheaded by the Basu family and Mr Dutta for a while now; with Mr Mitra taking long absences from the club for health issues.
Interstingly, inactivity due to poor health was a criticism levied against Mr Tutu Basu as well. It's something he alluded to while tendering his resignation, calling for the reigns of the club to be turned to "younger people." The intention was, once again, to put Mr Mitra on the spot.
So, the new resignations can be seen as upping that same ante and put even more pressure on Mr Mitra to step down.
But few things in the Maidan politics are straightforward; and the resignations from the Basu alliance is a move in a three-dimensional chess game as well.
Mohun Bagan have just finished their I-League campaign in the third place on the points table, their worst performance in 4 seasons. Although they were in contention to win the title till the last day, they did not, and anything short of being champions is seen as a failure in a club like that.
Usually, a time like this sees the officials fall to a familiar blame game, shifting the responsibility of failure to the coach and the players, and sitting out the ire of the fans till the next season gets underway. But this time, the scenario has changed. In East Bengal, fan groups are holding targeted protests where they are directly holding the officials responsible for the club's failure to win the league for a decade and a half. Similar sentiments are audible from the Mohun Bagan fan community as well, who are fed up with the same old games.
At this point, the Basu alliance has made a smart move by aligning themselves with the resentful fans and stepping down, blaming the failures of the club on Mitra & Co in a roundabout way.
Although some Mohun Bagan club officials have gained a notorious reputation for submitting resignation to manipulate the emotions of fans and members, then suddenly coming back in when times are better, this move is different in nature, with a new set of objectives. By stepping out, the Basu alliance wants to prove to fans and members alike that the Mitra alliance is incapable of running the club by themselves.
Mohun Bagan are supposed to play in the Super Cup, and with several players' contracts ending in March they will likely end up sending a weak side to the tournament, especially when they're without the hands-on management of Debashish Dutta and Srinjoy Basu. This will further amplify fan anger against the Mitra alliance, the side originally blamed for derailing the negotiations between IMG-Reliance and the Kolkata clubs (East Bengal & Mohun Bagan) last summer.
The last couple of decades have seen the Basu-Mitra alliance gain a permanent hold of the power in Mohun Bagan, and despite multiple groups challenging them in club elections, none have come close to throwing a real challenge against them. This time, though, with the Basus and the Mitras going separate, opposite ways, there's a real contest in the works. And with the resignations, the Basu alliance has played a master-stroke to reverse their image and frame itself as the opposition force heralding positive change.
The majority of fans, members and officials in both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal wish for the clubs to become more professional, and invest higher resources to develop the sport. The blockade against that change, orchestrated by a minority of the clubs' officials, has become weaker over the last year. The fan-led protests in East Bengal and the Basu-Mitra split in Mohun Bagan are two expressions of the same force of change that has the potentional to lead the clubs to a better future; but only if the people in charge can check their old instincts of avoiding blame, resisting change and holding onto power for personal gain while the club suffers due to their incompetency.
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