The tragedy of Jammu & Kashmir cricket: Abdullah and Ansari are two sides of same coin

The Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA), in early 2012, appointed one of the region's best known fast bowlers, Qayoom Bagoo from south Kashmir’s Bijbehra town, as a coach for its Ranji team.

But that wasn't the end of it nor was it the beginning. Bagoo, who had represented J&K for 29 years, was forced into retirement one fine day to take rest to make way for new players, and then just as randomly given the responsibility of coaching the team without any official announcement after a short while on the outside. They weren't done with him -- six months down the line he was sacked.

“They threw me out, without giving me any reason after six months. The team was doing better. During my tenure we reached quarter finals of Ranji Trophy in 2012-13 for the first time,” Bagoo told FirstPost, in the southern town of Beijbehra, his hometown.

The ouster of Bagoo, one of the fiercest fast bowlers Jammu and Kashmir has ever produced, from cricketing affairs is not the lone example of the chaos that plagues the JKCA.

 The tragedy of Jammu & Kashmir cricket: Abdullah and Ansari are two sides of same coin

File photo of Farooq Abdullah. AFP Photos.

The politics in the cricket association have reached such a level that cricket in the state has virtually come to a halt.

“The Association organises only two or three tournaments whole year now. This amount of activity can do no good to hundreds of players in the state. This is the height of non-seriousness towards the development of the game,” Imtiyaz Ahmed, who heads a cricket club, said.

“The Association has organised two tournaments this year. They even called off the ongoing Parvez Qureshi Memorial Tournament midway in which over 120 teams had participated,” a player, who was a part of the tournament, said.

Srinagar Gymkhana, one of the oldest non-affiliated teams, has been battling for over four decades for a simple affiliation with JKCA.

“For around forty years, the association has denied affiliation to our club. Many of our boys lost interest in the cricket due to the politics played with our team,” a member of Srinagar Gymkhana told FirstPost.

He said every time the elections are held we were promised affiliation with Association. “But it never happens.”

Other than the Srinagar Gymkhana, the other three clubs struggling to get acceptance from JKCA include FCC Hawal, Greenland, PCC Batamaloo.

“The internal bickering and favoritism in JKCA has always acted as a roadblock for the inclusion of new teams in the Association,” a member of FCC Hawal said.

A stark example of the state of the game in J&K is the condition of the Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in Srinagar, Sonwar. Located just meters away from the lavish home of Dr Farooq Abdullah, who was ousted as the President of JKCA on Monday, the stadium has a ghostly look about it. Construction of the stadium was halted midway many years back and it has remained that way, this despite the Association's claims of having spent crores on its construction.

The crores of rupees pumped into the JKCA by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) were utilized in the construction of proper stands, pavilions or for that matter a well-equipped fitness centre at Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium, which has been named after Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the father of Dr Abdullah - under whose presidency the Association was hit by a multi-crore scam.

These tales tell us a lot about the initiatives taken for the “development” of sports and the players in the state. But it doesn’t stop here.

A new regime

On Monday when the Peoples Democratic Party’s state Sports Minister, Imran Reza Ansari, led a ‘coup’ against the sitting President Dr Farooq Abdullah, it was calculated to oust Dr Abdullah from the last seat of power he occupied.

Ansari was declared winner of the board, when 44 Association members, out of 64, voted for him in the election held in Srinagar, although the Dr Abdullah lobby comprising of twenty members chose to boycott the polls.

Dr Abdullah on Tuesday described the elections of JKCA as “Mufti government’s gundaraaj”, insisting he would fight it out in the court of law. An excise magistrate in a Jammu Magistrate Amarjit Singh Langeh stayed the proceedings of the JKCA Executive till July 31. The court said that till further orders, Dr Abdullah will continue to be the President.

“I am the President of JKCA and will continue to be so,” Dr Abdullah, challenging the legality of the elections. said in press conference inside JKCA Stadium in Srinagar.

But the newly elected President, Ansari, an influential Shia cleric and Sports Minister in BJP-PDP coalition government, said according to the JKCA Constitution, in absence of Association President, “Chairman/Vice Chairman can hold a meeting regarding any decision and the majority vote of the association members shall take the final decision.”

“They barged in to the office and we have filed a complaint with police,” Dr Abdullah added.

“We are sure the new body will increase the sports activity in the state and use money in more appropriate manner,” a former Ranji Team player said.

Politics apart, will the new body change anything for infrastructure development or for the players who have been suffering for years owing to the massive corruption and favoritism in the board?

“Nothing!” says Kashmiri journalist and cricket enthusiast, Gowhar Geelani. “It is one political party replacing another.”

Since 2012 JKCA has been marred by charges of corruption linked to its top functionaries. The Kashmir police registered an FIR 27/2012 under Sections 406, 168 and 120-B of the RPC for making the JKCA a lending agency and for operating bogus accounts to swindle money. The FIR booked former treasurer, Ehsan Mirza and former General Secretary, Saleem Khan, for allegedly diverting Rs 50 crore, received from BCCI as subsidy, to their three different personal accounts opened in the name of the JKCA. A total of ten people including Dr Abdullah have been booked by the police for siphoning money.

The total misappropriation of Rs 113.66 crore received from BCCI between April 2002 and December 2011 was also investigated. The funds meant for the infrastructure development were swindled by the top officials. Later, the BCCI stopped funding which proved costly for the game.

“During troubled times in Kashmir Ahsan Mirza, one of accused in the case, would lend money to JKCA. Later, he developed close connection with Dr Abdullah. Mirza along with another associate opened three bogus accounts and the money diverted into their own accounts. Then JKCA become a lending agency for corrupt deals and interest free loans,” a board member said.

Mirza, who runs Amateur Cricket Club, had such a hold on selection that at least five players would be selected from his team for the matches, leaving real talent and experienced players dejected and angry.

“In all this ultimately the sports and the sports men were effected. Without any doubt, the carrier of two great players was destroyed. Money flows and it goes into peoples private accounts. The cricketers never get paid their dues and the sports infrastructure is in an abysmal state,” Geelani, the journalist said.

The infrastructure development has been on the least priority for JKCA, for example, Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) was given affiliation 22 years after Kashmir was recognized. Today HPCA has more than ten grounds while Kashmir has one.

“The State from 1980 has only one ground that too was recently transferred to the Association by a former bureaucrat who himself was player. This is the contribution of Dr Abdullah for being president for thirty five years,” Bagoo said.

Experts say it is the cricket players and sports that had taken a beating due to the lobby politics of the association.

“Thirty players played in Ranji team recently when normally 15 are there, unnecessary players where brought in to please board members and to get more votes,” sources in the board said.

“They have destroyed peoples careers, including that of Abid Nabi (a famous Kashmiri cricketer). They hired Sunil Joshi and paid him 35 lakh and could not win a single match while ignoring many talented coaches. While regional coaches only get 2-3 lakhs,” Geelani said. “It is a tragedy.”

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Updated Date: Jul 23, 2015 16:06:59 IST