Maradona, the Argentine star behind the country's 1986 FIFA World Cup victory, breathed his last On Wednesday, November 25, at his home in Tigre, Argentina, after suffering a cardiac arrest. He was 60.
As the entire world took to social media and other platforms to mourn the loss of the legend, many in India including political leaders and celebrities paid their tributes. Former Indian cricket captain and current BCCI President Saurav Ganguly penned a heartfelt tribute to the star. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also marked the loss of the legend.
But it was Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan whose message has left mourners in India rather divided.
In his Facebook post, the CM wrote, "The people of Kerala are also mourning along with football lovers around the world on the separation of the legendary football player Maradona. Football is the most beautiful game in the world. Maradona was the most popular star of that art. It may be in Kerala that Maradona has this much fans outside Argentina. The magic player has a big place in the minds of football lovers in Kerala since the 1986 Argentina World Cup was raised. It is in this small Kerala that his pictures rise the highest in any corner of the world".
Well-meaning and heartfelt though his comments may have been, his claims that Kerala has the highest number of Maradona fans in the world after Argentina left Bengalis instantly stung, leaving Indian fans of Maradona from both the states at loggerheads on the Internet. Both Kerala and Bengal share a love for the game of football and the socialist and leftist ideals it often represents.
In most Bengali household, Maradona is the most popular name perhaps as common as Ganguly, aka Dada, if not more.
Since I heard about football ASA child, I heard about #Maradona. In a Bengali household,there was no bigger Legend/Hero than Maradona.Everyone spoke about him like he was our own. Football changed today forever,for all those people. Just glad that I was alive during his lifetime. — Sayani Gupta (@sayanigupta) November 25, 2020
#Kolkata will be in mourning tomorrow for Maradona's death. Just like they were last week when Soumitra Chatterjee passed. Both "Bengali" legends. Greatest Maradona loving city in India by far. — Shantanu (@shantanub) November 25, 2020
Bengali dads have an obsession with Maradona my dad and his friends saw the England goal live on TV back in 86 — Enganche ™ (@TmEnganche) November 25, 2020
If that weren't enough, Maradona's visits to Kolkata, the capital of Bengal, in 2008 and 2017, did much to spark the Bengali imagination.
Many recalled Maradona's appearance at a charity football game in the city three years ago. The Argentine legend, who was 57 when he visited the 'City of Joy', managed to dribble, show off rare glimpses of his deft left foot and even crooned Spanish songs, as he sweated it out with a bunch of school children, bidding them adieu with a promise to "bring football" to India.
He also unveiled a 12-foot-tall, gilded statue of himself holding the 1986 football World Cup, an event that was witnessed by thousands of cheering crowds.
I vividly remember how local Bengali news channels had gone absolute bonkers when Argentine football legend Diego Maradona came to Kolkata in 2017 for a 3-day visit. He was invited to play a charity match with former Indian Cricket Captain Sourav Ganguly.https://t.co/mqWi1a5o9F — Rohan Bhowmick (@militant_monk_) November 25, 2020
And it was not even his first visit to state capital, which he had traveled to earlier in 2008 during the CPI(M) regime.
Not one to make any bones about his political ideology, Maradona wore his leftist inclinations and love for icons like the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara and Cuban Marxist-Leninist revolutionary and later its Prime Minister and President, Fidel Castro, on his flamboyant sleeve (and graphic t-shitrt front). In fact, during his 2008 visit, Guevara had even made a point to meet then Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu. To strike an even more personal note with locals, Maradona also visited the Mohun Bagan Football Club and even dribbled a ball.But does that make Bengal the biggest fan state of Maradona? To be fair, El Diego also visited Kerala in 2012 and celebrated his 52nd birthday there in Kannur, with lakhs of cheering fans. The little town has long been considered a nursery of sorts for budding footballers in the state.
Both Kerala and Bengal are often dubbed "football crazy" states, and both states have an active club football scene. both states produce a large number of footballers and have a prolific culture of watching, playing and participating in the game. And the leftist roots of present-day Kerala, currently under the Left Democratic Front government, need no new introductions.
But can one really decide which state loves Maradona more? Counting the number of fans in each state is not feasible. Polls would not be reliable.
One thing is for sure though: Maradona's fans in Kerala and Bengal together may give a good competition to his fans from his home, miles away in Argentina.