Narendra Modi’s cricket acumen maybe untested (although he was once the president of the Gujarat Cricket Association) but his political antennae and communication skills remain razor sharp. Which is why it should come as no surprise that the prime minister chose to recently write a personal letter to former India cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni on his retirement that was soon made public through social media.
Clearly, Modi was seeking to identify himself with the remarkable legacy of Dhoni, one that is seen to typify the “kaamdar” (workman) versus “naamdar” (dynast) storyline that the prime minister has also sought to consciously embrace. As Modi writes, “You have been one of the important illustrations of the spirit of New India, where family name does not make young people’s destiny but they make their own names and their own destinies.”
There is little doubt that Dhoni’s story is one of the more compelling tales of our times. That a boy from the cricketing backwaters of Ranchi who briefly worked at a railway station in Kharagpur as a ticket collector should then go onto lift all of cricket’s major trophies is the ultimate dream come true.
Sachin Tendulkar was the middle-class posterboy of the satellite TV age, Virat Kohli is the iconic face of the millennials, Rahul Dravid may appeal to the more refined metropolitan mind, Sourav Ganguly is an all-time Bengali hero but Dhoni is the modern-day leader whose life journey strikes a chord that cuts across all divides.
It’s the kind of success story that the politician from Vadnagar who claims to have once sold tea at the local railway station likes to project as his own. After all, if Dhoni is the only captain to have won both the T 20 and 50 over World Cups, then Modi too is the first prime minister in nearly 50 years to have won two successive electoral majorities.