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Ranjit Bajaj: Fans are the main stakeholders of East Bengal

Published at :July 14, 2020 at 11:21 PM
Modified at :July 14, 2020 at 11:21 PM
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The former Minerva Punjab owner made some interesting statements about the Red and Gold's current situation.

The merger between ATK and Mohun Bagan finally took place and the new entity will join the Indian Super League for the upcoming season. That said, there is a lot of hue and cry about the I-League winners' arch-rivals East Bengal, who are in a spot of bother with their inability to exercise an exit plan with their investors Quess Corp. Surprisingly, former Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj has also been linked with a potential takeover of the club.

The Red and Gold were under a joint venture with the Bengaluru-based firm where the latter owns 70% stake, along with the sporting rights of the club. However, things haven't gone down well and Quess have clearly admitted their desire to leave. CEO Ajit Isaac even admitted that they are looking to divest the shares to a third party, if East Bengal don't take action.

Now, former owner of Minerva Punjab, Ranjit Bajaj has jumped in and expressed his desire to buy the stakes to help the club get back their sporting rights. His main aim is to retain the identity of East Bengal.

"The reason I came to Indian football was because of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal and I do not want them to lose their identity. There were doubts over Mohun Bagan as well and it was down to prayers. I don't want the same to happen with East Bengal," explained Ranjit Bajaj in a Facebook live chat.

The Minerva Academy owner also assessed the options that the club officials have and is ready to help them in their time of need. It is a tough time for East Bengal, as without the sporting rights they won't be able to play even in the Calcutta Football League.

"There are two options for East Bengal right now. Firstly, I can buy the sporting rights and sit quietly and if they (club officials) want to run the club then kudos to them. But, if I have to run the club then my club would first win the I-League and then only think about moving to the ISL."

"I am not Quess, I know well how to run a football club. If they let me run the club, I will guarantee them success and all the plaudits and hardships that come along will be mine. But, if they want me to do what Quess did, paying them and allowing them to run the club which has not been a success for the last 15 years, then I am not willing to do that. If they want my help to get back the sporting rights, then I am ready to do that," Bajaj went on to add.

After years of experience with Minerva Punjab, where he won the I-League and dominated several other age-group tournaments, Ranjit Bajaj knows the structures of club ownership. He feels that the member ownership model which is followed by top clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid and which is also prevalent in Germany, should help a club like East Bengal where there is no shortage of supporters.

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"I don't believe a club like East Bengal can be owned, you can be a servant or custodian of the club. The fans have to be the owners. But, at the end of the day, if the shares fall in my hands I want to take it to the Barcelona model where the fans will own the main stakes. If there is a memorandum mentioning that shares can only be transferred to the club and not to anyone else then there won't be any chances of takeovers in future. If that happens, then the supporters will take important decisions and it will be a revolution," he asserted.

Coming to the contract between Quess Corp and East Bengal, there is a right of first refusal clause when transferring shares. Explaining that, Ranjit Bajaj again highlighted the deep trouble the Red and Gold are currently in at the moment.

"People aren't understanding the clause. If somebody gives an offer to Quess, they will first approach the minority stakeholders (East Bengal officials) and only if they aren't able to acquire those shares then Quess can give it to whoever they want. Now, Quess have made the offer to the club."

"Mr. Nitu (Debabrata) Sarkar has been talking about investors for a long time. So, I have given him a push and if he truly has one, this is the time to show up or else fans will understand that he is simply blowing smoke."

He also explained how most of the decisions at these two legacy clubs are taken by club officials without the supporters' consent. "Unfortunately, that is what these people are supposed to do, they do not own the club, they are just representatives. I am pretty sure if you would have asked the Mohun Bagan fans about the merger most of them would have rejected it, mainly because there was a chance of losing their identity. Now, the same way, East Bengal officials need to speak with their fans as they don't realize the main stakeholders are the fans."

Lastly, he also reminisced about how Mohun Bagan and East Bengal form a large part of Indian football history and how their success will bring glory to the nation and also help football progress in the country.

"India cannot survive without East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. The history book of Indian football will be 3-4 pages long if we take these two clubs out of it. When there was no football in India, these two giants kept it alive. I truly believe that unless these two football clubs are there, the future of Indian football is very bleak. But, if they do well, our football as a whole will be better."