On 10th August, Wednesday, the club's newly renovated gallery, tent and gym were inaugurated by the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Fearing a protest by Mohun Bagan fans on the 'Remove ATK' issue, huge barricades were put up by the police and the regular fans were not allowed to enter the club.
The event was strategically held on a Wednesday afternoon to minimise fan turnout. Still, when protesting fans showed up, the police stopped them far away from the club's gates. The event was held in the presence of media, but they were not allowed to ask any questions afterwards, since that would inevitably lead to the matter of 'Remove ATK' being brought up.
The reason behind such tight security is that rumours spread like wildfire that the Chief Minister would announce that the fans' long standing demand of 'Remove ATK' was finally being fulfilled. The rumours turned out to be false. Similar rumours also surfaced around the Mohun Bagan Day celebrations on 29th July; where fans were allowed to enter the club and held multiple protests throughout the day.
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But the way the Mohun Bagan officials responded to these rumours betrayed the internal division within the club admistration on the issue.
The club's President, Tutu Bose, has openly derided the fans who were participating in the 'Remove ATK' movement and even accused them of acting on behalf of Mohun Bagan's arch rival club East Bengal. But the club's General Secretary Debashish Dutta had a subtle but different take on the issue. Speaking to the media before the event, he said, "These false rumours are being spread to sow discord on the 'Remove ATK' issue. They say it will happen on this day, but when it doesn't, they use it to further anger the fans."
The difference between those two responses lies in the fact that while Tutu Bose opposes the 'Remove ATK' cause, Debashish Dutta does not outright oppose the fans' position. In fact, after Dutta became the General Secretary, the Mohun Bagan Executive Committee supported the 'Remove ATK' movement for the very first time.
The current political scenario inside Mohun Bagan is demarkated by a split between the Bose faction and the Dutta faction, two long time allies who went their separate ways before the last club election; one that was fought over the 'Remove ATK' issue.
The Bose family, led by Tutu Bose and his son, former General Secretary Srinjoy Bose, were the main architects behind the deal between Mohun Bagan Football Club Private Limited (MBFCPL) and Kolkata Games & Sports Private Limited (KGSPL). The deal saw KGSPL shut down their previous franchise ATK FC and invest in Mohun Bagan's football division instead. The deal, however, was falsely branded as a "merger of two clubs" which forced the Mohun Bagan fanbase to turn against this arrangement.
But the Bose faction has stood by this deal, and as long as they were in power, the fans' 'Remove ATK' movement never got any support or a fair hearing from the club officials.
That changed after Debashish Dutta broke away from the Bose faction and formed a new panel with Swapan Banerjee, who happens to be Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's younger brother. Other major leaders from West Bengal's ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC), who themselves held Mohun Bagan memberships, also came out in this new group's support. As a result, Srinjoy Bose had to resign from his post as General Secretary and the Dutta faction won unopposed.
The new club administration appointed Tutu Bose as the President, but that's more of an honourary position with no direct power over the club's operations or policies, which rest with the General Secretary. Nevertheless, the gesture towards the Basu faction, for some time, brought a shaky unity back in the Mohun Bagan members' society.
But the 'Remove ATK' issue has remained a point of disagreement between the two groups, for a very specific reason.
The reality is, as long as the 'ATK' prefix exists in the name of the Mohun Bagan football team, the fanbase will not see KGSPL, the football team's investors, as their own. They will keep protesting, and the club officials will get to play the middlemen between them. This is why, although KGSPL hold 80% shares of the team, Mohun Bagan's elected officials still get to exert an outsized influence on the public discourse over the team.
Now, while Debashish Dutta has the chance to further cement his influence over Mohun Bagan by delivering 'Remove ATK' to the fans, for the opposing Bose faction, 'Remove ATK' means a complete failure of their own position regarding the matter. It will become nearly impossible for them to regain their influence over the club members before the next election happens.
But if 'Remove ATK' does not happen, the Bose faction's position is not only vindicated, they can also portray the Dutta faction as incompetent administrators who failed to deliver on the biggest issue of the election. It will give them a chance, however slim, to recapture their past influence.
This is why the Bose faction has repeatedly issued incendiary statements that not only criticise the 'Remove ATK' movement but also try to drive a wedge between the club officials and the fans.
Given Mohun Bagan officials' long history of mismanagement and poor performance at the job, fans are already primed to be distrustful of the administration; so conflict is easy to sow. Which is why, some are suspecting that the rumours around 29th July and 10th August may have come from people who wanted to put Debashish Dutta in a spot.
So now, we have a situation where Mohun Bagan fans, the officials, and their investors KGSPL, are all at odds over the issue of 'Remove ATK.'
Ironically, if KGSPL do remove the ATK prefix from the Mohun Bagan team, they will be the biggest beneficiary since the fans will then rally behind them instead of club officials. The football team will finally become free from the influence of the club's internal politics. The warring factions will have to fight it out over the Mohun Bagan cricket, athletics or hockey teams; where the scope of the battle will be much smaller. The average Mohun Bagan fan will be able to just support their favourite team without getting pulled into the politics of the club.
But as of today, KGSPL seem to be following a policy where they exploit the Mohun Bagan fanbase to further the 'ATK' brand. They acknowledge that the team is Mohun Bagan when it suits them (e.g. when the Prime Minister congratulated Mohun Bagan for winning the I-League, or when they need to market the Kolkata Derby, or sell merchandise) but at other times they go back to their "merger" narrative, effectively betraying the same Mohun Bagan fans who are the source of their revenue and ensuring that the 'Remove ATK' movement, and the rift between KGSPL and the fans, will carry on.
“On behalf of the one million strong ATK Mohun Bagan family I express my deep gratitude to our honourable Prime Minister for his kind words of encouragement on the club winning the I league.”
A recent example of this behaviour from KGSPL staff came to light when Florentin Pogba referred to the team as just 'ATK' in a press conference; a misunderstanding allegedly caused by certain KGSPL employees routinely omitting 'Mohun Bagan' from the team's name when talking to players, agents and officials of other clubs.
So far, neither KGSPL nor the Mohun Bagan elected officials have been willing to fully appreciate the Mohun Bagan fanbase's love for the club, which is the unique selling point of their business.
With the team's first Durand Cup 2022 match just over a week away and the 'ATK' prefix along with these sneaky internal schemes to undermine Mohun Bagan still very much present, the possibility of a prolonged tussle between the fans and KGSPL still looms; with the internal factions of Mohun Bagan ready at the sidelines to use it to further their own political goals.
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