Agartala: Is cricket a big sport in Tripura? That depends on who you ask. Sure, the state’s residents tune into their TV sets or mobile phones in droves to catch all the IPL action, but the state, in cricketing terms, is a minnow. Up to the end of the 2022–23 season, Tripura had played 193 first-class matches, but won only nine and lost 120, drawing 64 matches. In List A cricket, they played 138 matches resulting in 26 wins, 111 losses and one no-result.
Search for Tripura cricket and the two biggest search items that feature are former Indian wicketkeeper Wriddihiman Saha joining the team and South African legend Lance Klusener agreeing to become their coach a few days ago.
There can be many reasons that Tripura has not developed into a cricketing force, but it is also clear that the Tripura Cricket Association, the state’s apex body for the sport, prefers to hit the headlines for exclusively wrong reasons. Politics and politicians have always been an inseparable part of Indian cricket, but what is currently happening in the BCCI-affiliated body is sending shockwaves in the state’s power corridors and dragging several senior leaders’ names into the mess too.
The latest controversy started after a majority of clubs with teams in the local tournaments raised allegations of misconduct and irregularities against the incumbent governing body. The governing body is elected through a proper elections process for a term of three years. Even Chief Minister Dr Manik Saha had served as the president of Tripura Cricket Association while he was the state BJP president.
After Dr Saha became the CM, however, Tapan Lodha, a highly respected retired engineer, took over the reins of the TCA.
All the clubs nominate their members and the nominated members cast their votes to elect the governing body. And the process is supervised by a third-party election conducting authority.
According to sources, there are 15 major clubs in Agartala city and most of them have problems with the present governing body of the TCA that was elected in a high-octane election last year. The root cause of the growing discontent among the dissenters is learnt to be the widespread allegations of financial irregularities, corruption in the procurement and tendering process and official misconduct in gross violations of the TCA regulations.
Speaking on the issue, Subrata Dey, the nominated member of Agartala’s Blood Mouth Sporting Club, said, “We have submitted a written complaint with the President of Tripura Cricket Association seeking an impartial inquiry against some of the official misconducts, financial irregularities and corrupt practices about the tendering process and selection of players. TCA is a respected body and if the majority of the clubs have problems with the working style of the present governing body, it should come out clean and order a probe.”
Dey also urged the Tripura government to commission an inquiry through one of the investigating agencies. “We have said that the TCA has irregularities centring installation flood lights in the cricket grounds under its control. An executive engineer has floated a tender of Rs 16 crore. Neither the state PWD nor the CPWD allows an executive engineer-level officer to float such a big tender. At the MBB stadium, floodlights were installed for Rs 6 crore per unit while at the international cricket ground, the same quality of floodlights is being installed but here the total tender is worth Rs 16 crore. This is not the end. The list (of such practices) is very long,” said Dey.
According to Dey, the TCA governing body is also involved in partiality in the selection process and cricketers who are in touch with them are being given preference.
A former selector of TCA, Rajesh Banik, who had served under the present dispensation, also threw his weight behind the allegations raised by Dey. “Players are not getting selected based on their performance in the field. It depends on the decision of Secretary of TCA Tapash Ghosh and Vice President Timir Chanda (also a former cricketer),” he added.
“On several occasions, I came under pressure to select players based on their whims. Lives of many deserving players are being spoiled by these people,” claimed Banik.
Some clubs have also approached the President of Tripura Cricket Association Tapan Lodh seeking his intervention to change the members they have nominated. Sfulinga Club, Pole Star Club and BCC Club have replaced their members because of long-accumulated grievances against the TCA authorities.
Tapas Ghosh, the incumbent General Secretary was, initially nominated by the Pole Star Club but now the club has withdrawn its support. However, he is still holding his position because he had gained the post through election and now the situation is that the present General Secretary of TCA has no one to nominate him from their club.
Sources said this has caused legal complications in the TCA and now the body must come into play to resolve this impasse. However, the incumbent committee has rubbished the allegations and said those who had been raising voices against them are trying to defame the body.
Ghosh said, “Those who are asking for an inquiry should furnish solid proofs that can substantiate their claims. Making allegations sans having any concrete evidence is a sign of weakness. This is nothing but a conspiracy to defame the coveted Cricket Association that has only scaled new heights after the formation of the new committee.”
Ghosh further said: “Tripura Cricket has scripted a new history after this governing council took over the charge of office post-elections. Our critics say we won because the elections were unfair. Money and Muscle power took the front gear to influence the voters while democratic practice took the back seat. If that is the case, why have they been silent for such a long time to question the integrity and honesty of the new body now?”
The General Secretary issued a 48 hours ultimatum to prove the allegations levelled against him, failing which he would file a legal suit against those making defamatory comments detrimental to his image.
Jay Lal Das, treasurer, TCA, in his scathing attack on the dissenters, claimed the governing committee is an elected body and the constitution permits the elected body to complete its three-year term.
Amidst this slugfest, one voice in the TCA that remained silent is President Tapan Lodh. So far he had made no statements regarding the boiling situation but expressed his sharp disappointment over the governing body’s unilateral functioning.
Although EastMojo could not reach him for a comment despite repeated attempts, sources close to him said Lodh is upset at the unprecedented developments taking place in the sports body and has distanced himself from both the groups involved in the contest.
Official sources said Lodh was already cornered by Tapas Ghosh and the other members of the TCA because he does not fit in their scheme of things.
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It may look like this is a rift between two influential groups for controlling the money-minting sports but there are some underlying politics as well. Sources said after Dr Saha left the TCA, he wanted to pass the baton to an honest person and thus Tapan Lodh was nominated from Shatadal Sangha, the club from where Dr Saha used to be a member of the TCA.
On the other hand, Tapas Ghosh is a close aide of Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Pratima Bhoumik. Both leaders belong to the same party but have visible differences which were proved in the last elections and now the political power tussle between the two power centres in the ruling party casting a shadow over Tripura Cricket.
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