FORMER INDIA CAPTAIN and BCCI President Sourav Ganguly, speaking in a press conference today, repeated some controversial talking points that attempt to undermine the identity of Mohun Bagan.
The opinion, one of the many self-contradictory branding policies employed at various times by Kolkata Games and Sports Private Limited (KGSPL), portray the football team as "not Mohun Bagan" in various ways.
Sourav Ganguly visited the Mohun Bagan Athletic Club today, days after his tenure as the BCCI President ended. He spoke to the media, along with the club's general secretary Debashish Dutta.
When a reporter mentioned his own past as a Mohun Bagan player, he responded,
"I am a part of ATK Mohun Bagan. When ISL started it was only ATK. I was with ISL since then. Now Mohun Bagan has become one with us."
His words seem to imply that the team playing with the brand name 'ATK Mohun Bagan' in the Indian Super League today used to play as 'ATK' in the past. This goes directly against other contradictory claims made by KGSPL as well as ISL at different times.
This is not Sourav Ganguly's first involvement in the ongoing identity crisis at Mohun Bagan. Back in 2020, he starred in a controversial ad that sparked strong backlash from Mohun Bagan fans for its mistreatment of the club's identity, and ISL had to take it down.
KGSPL, when they purchased 80% shares of the Mohun Bagan Athletic Club's football division in 2020, claimed that it was a "merger of two clubs", i.e. ATK and Mohun Bagan. However, they contradicted themselves immediately when they added a "defending ISL champion" branding to the team's jersey, implying it was a continuation of ATK. This was also removed after the Mohun Bagan fans protested.
Afterwards, the team was put on the pitch wearing a jersey that had the same design as a third kit previously worn by ATK FC, to further make it seem like this team was not really Mohun Bagan. This also created immense backlash from the fans and the kit was not used again.
However, when India's Prime Minister and West Bengal's Chief Minister congratulated Mohun Bagan for winning I-League 2019-20, KGSPL's majority owner Sanjiv Goenka sent out a tweet acknowledging that the team is a continuation of Mohun Bagan, not a "continuation of ATK" or a "merged club born in 2020."
ISL, too, have often used the history of Mohun Bagan and their century-old rivalry with East Bengal to promote the Kolkata Derby matches taking place under their banner and whenever else they need to elicit a positive response from the fans, which would imply this team is a continuation of Mohun Bagan, not a "merged club born in 2020" or a continuation of ATK FC. But at other times, they have repeated KGSPL's "merged club" claim and several ISL analysts and commentators have referred to the team as 'ATK' numerous times, backing the other narrative disseminated by the company.
Obviously, all of these three different claims coming from KGSPL and ISL can't be true at the same time. Leaked documents coming from IFA and KGSPL also make it seem that this team is indeed Mohun Bagan, with the 'ATK' brand prefix added in front of it. The investment deal - a corporate joint venture to run the Mohun Bagan football team - saw two companies (KGSPL and MBFCPL) come together to form a new holding company, and this is what has been portrayed as a "merger of two clubs" by KGSPL's PR machinery.
The artificially created confusion around Mohun Bagan's identity reflects what KGSPL's minority shareholder Utsav Parekh had revealed as the company's objective back in 2020,
"Within six to nine months we will not say you are a Mohun Bagan fan... you are an ATK Mohun Bagan fan."
Sourav Ganguly has been involved in the whole process as a minority shareholder of KGSPL, and a director of the company. He had previously left the venture to avoid conflict of interest when majority shareholder Sanjiv Goenka bought a franchise in the IPL. But now that Ganguly is no longer the BCCI President, he looks set to return in the company's Board of Directors.
Mohun Bagan fans have been protesting for the last two years seeking an end to these attempts to undermine their club's 133 years of identity and history. Almost every independent fan club associated with the Mariners has announced a boycott of this team and there have been protests at stadiums, at the Mohun Bagan club gate, and even an official's residence.
KGSPL have adopted several tactics to suppress the Mohun Bagan fans' protests, including banning flags and banners from the stadium, using police to take down protest banners. They have also previously created the impression that the controversial 'ATK' prefix would be removed from the team's name in order to protect Mohun Bagan's identity. This has not happened yet despite several rumours being mysteriously leaked to the media just before important matches which calmed fans down and kept the protests to a minimum.
With Sourav Ganguly reviving the old talking points that further undermine Mohun Bagan's identity, it seems KGSPL is poised to distance themselves further from the fans.
The question of 'Remove ATK' was raised in the press conference, and it drew a seemingly joking response from Ganguly,
"This will be solved only by Debashish Da... and Babun."
The people he was referring to were Mohun Bagan general secretary Debashish Dutta and football secretary Babun Banerjee, who also happens to be the brother of West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee.
Interestingly, Dutta has been hinting for months that talks were going on to remove the ATK prefix from the Mohun Bagan football team's name. But so far, he has been unable to produce a result. As a result, he too has been targeted with harsh criticism by Mohun Bagan fans in protests demonstrations.
When the assembled reporters laughed at Ganguly's words, Dutta tried to salvage the situation by saying,
"It proves how much trust he has on us. Some fans may not, but Sourav Ganguly has belief in us."
The fans in question immediately responded with anger and disappointment towards Sourav Ganguly and his comments, as well as towards the officials who they believe have failed to protect the club's identity.