Kolkata: The elite sportspersons of India - especially the cricketers - have often been accused of being oblivious to the plight of common people, but former international star Manoj Tiwary promises to make a difference. At 35 years, he is one of the youngest ministers to have been inducted in West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s 3.0 cabinet on Monday - and feels he can deliver in his new innings.
It is not exactly a surprise that Tiwary has been given the portfolio of Minister of State for Sports and Youth Affairs, but the former Bengal captain feels that his priority now goes much beyond it. ‘‘Right now, my agenda is to do my bit to handle the menace of COVID-19 pandemic in my constituency of Shibpur in Howrah district, which has got a high population density. Sport can wait but I have got some ideas with which I will sit down with my senior minister (Arup Biswas) at a more opportune time,’’ said Tiwary, a prolific middle order batsman who has donned the India colours in white ball cricket between 2008 and 2015 and is considered to be arguably the finest batsman from the state in the post-Sourav Ganguly era.
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As a Minister of State, Tiwary had stepped into the role left vacant by Lakshmi Ratan Shukla - another celebrated figure in the state’s cricket - when the latter quit his ministerial berth towards the end of last year. The impression given by Shukla, though not in as many words, was that politics was not his ‘‘cup of tea’’ and only time will tell if Tiwary - a person known for often wearing his heart on the sleeves - can withstand the heat and dust of a political career.
Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive interview over phone, Tiwary, who became a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) by winning from Shibpur, said: ‘‘Yes, I have spoken out in the past about what I felt was wrong, but it was about my personal career when I felt I was being deprived of a call-up in the national team despite proving myself. The responsibility is much, much bigger this time.
‘‘I don’t know about others in my field, but I had always kept my eyes and ears open about what’s happening around us. The long idle phase during the lockdown last year was a big eye-opener when we saw the endless plight of the migrant labourers when they were trying to return to their respective villages. The farmers’ protest earlier this year for their rights was another example of the Central government’s insensitivity,’’ Tiwary said.
A firm believer in the politics of Mamata Banerjee, Tiwary hence had no hesitation to decide which camp to join when the call came. ‘‘To be honest, there were feelers for me to join politics before the 2019 Parliamentary elections. I had a good 2019-20 domestic season, during which I scored my first triple century in Ranji Trophy - which proved I was still fit and in good nick. However, at the beginning of this year, I had a ligament tear on my left knee and couldn’t perform as per expectations in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. I had then withdrawn myself from selection from the Vijay Hazare Trophy which followed,’’ Tiwary recalled.
An interesting sideshow in this year’s state assembly will be that Tiwary and Ashok Dinda, his longtime comrade and attacking lynchpin in the state team, will be on either side of the fence. Dinda, who also represented India and is the second highest wicket-taker for the state, will be at the Opposition benches as a BJP MLA of the BJP from Moyna of Medinipur district.
How will you tackle any bouncer from Dinda, should there be any, in the Question Hour? ‘‘Like the way I have handled his bouncers all these years,’’ Tiwary said with a laugh, before adding: ‘‘Earlier, you had only two ways to handle a bouncer - either leave it or hook or pull it. Now, you can play an upper cut for a six or try other adventurous shots. On a serious note, let me assure you that I will walk into Vidhan Sabha always well-prepared.’’