Mamata Banerjee, SRK, Bengali stars for KKR’s royal reception

Kolkata: The eastern metropolis is all set to accord a “royal felicitation” to IPL champions Kolkata Knight Riders Tuesday at the Eden Gardens, with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee altering an important tour schedule to attend the occasion in the company of team owner and Bollywood ‘baadshah’ Shahrukh Khan and a host of Bengal film celebrities.

The hour-long programme would be attended by a number of state ministers, former cricketers and other sports personalities and cultural icons from the state.

The state government is hoping for a full house at the historic ground where entry would be free.

However, Sports Minister Madan Mitra said fans wishing to watch the gala would have to collect passes from the local police stations.

“We will give a royal felicitation to the team. We are hoping for a packed stadium. If even on the day, we find some genuine sports lovers like say former players keen to join the celebrations, we will issue passes on the spot,” he said.

The programme – to be jointly organised by the state government, Kolkata Police, Kolkata Municipal Corporation and the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) – would begin at 1 p.m.

Shahrukh, likely to be the centre of attraction, would arrive Tuesday morning, while team co-owner and former Bollywood diva Juhi Chawla arrived with KKR skipper Gautam Gambhir, Yousuf Pathan, Piyush Chawla and some other players by a Monday evening flight to a rousing welcome.

Hundreds of delirious fans shouting “KKR, KKR” danced in joy as Gambhir stepped into the city holding aloft the IPL trophy that his team won after a three-wicket win in a thrilling final against Kings XI Punjab at Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore Sunday.

Sports Minister Mitra and CAB officials were present at the airport to receive the players.

The felicitation ceremony programme was finalised at a high-level meeting at the state secretariat Nabanna, where CAB president Jagmohan Dalmiya, Home Secretary Basudeb Banerjee, city police commissioner Surojit Kar Purokayastha and some cultural personalities were present.

Mitra said the players and the support staff will be given mementos, but refused to disclose the details.

“If there is no secret, the fun and excitement will be lost,” he said.

He said Banerjee will felicitate the players after the programme begins with a cultural show.

However, unlike in 2012 when the KKR lifted the title for the first time, the authorities have decided to do away with a roadshow of the victorious team, fearing rains.

The chief minister, known for her love for cultural megashows and big ceremonies, kickstarted the hectic pace of developments Monday morning itself in a series of Facebook posts and tweets.

She congratulated the Knights for their victory, and announced a felicitation programme on “public demand”.

“We will felicitate KKR tomorrow (Tuesday) in Kolkata for IPL victory. There is a public demand,” she tweeted.

Later, talking to media persons at the Kolkata airport before embarking on her official trip to north Bengal, she referred to the spirit of Kolkata that relishes sporting events.

“The people deserve to celebrate… the people in Bengal have always loved sports like cricket and football. It is their spirit. I congratulate KKR for the win and they will get a reception tomorrow (Tuesday),” she said.

Banerjee’s north Bengal tour was meant to run through five consecutive days.

However, she will now return to the city Monday night – after her day-long administrative meeting in the north Bengal secretariat Utarkanya in Jalpaiguri district – to be in time for Tuesday’s ceremony, official sources said.

She will return to north Bengal after the reception.

After the 2012 triumph, the chief minister had feted the team outside the state secretariat and then travelled in the team bus with Shahrukh to the jampacked Eden Gardens where a civic reception was given to the victorious side.

Now, the city’s cricket buffs are waiting with bated breath for a replay of the 2012 jamboree.

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