A victory for the terrorist?

Published : Apr 24, 2009 00:00 IST

AT THE M.A. Chidambaram stadium in Chennai during the DLF-IPL T20 cricket match in May 2008.-K. PICHUMANI

AT THE M.A. Chidambaram stadium in Chennai during the DLF-IPL T20 cricket match in May 2008.-K. PICHUMANI

THE die has been cast after weeks of debate and controversy. The hugely popular Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket matches will now be played away from home. This decision seems irreversible with the announcement of the detailed schedule of matches to be played at eight centres in South Africa. To say that millions of cricket-hungry fans in the country are disappointed is an understatement. The theory that the shift of the venue to South Africa will not cause any heartbur n to the average Indian is unacceptable.

Ninety per cent of those who watched the first edition of IPL last year may have seen it only on television. There is, however, a lot of difference between a match played at home and the one as far away as South Africa. It is the direct spectators who actually generate emotions so readily transmitted to the television audience. I can vouch for it from my own experience at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai last summer.

The frenzy that Chennai Super Kings aroused at this hallowed turf may hardly be replicated at The Wanderers (Johannesburg) or Kings Mead (Durban), even though the local Indian contingent at either ground will not be insubstantial. Let the IPL organisers hoodwink us saying that it matters little where a game is played as long as it is brought live to our drawing rooms by TV. But then, who is responsible for this mess? It will be unfair to lay the blame squarely on either of the two contending parties. I use contending deliberately, because, for more than a fortnight, acrimony marked the exchanges between the Home Minister P. Chidambaram and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)/IPL Organising Committee headed by Lalit Modi. Chidambaram did not mince words while explaining why IPL could not be staged alongside the Lok Sabha elections without the support of Central security forces that would reinforce the State police.

One can hardly fault him for taking what many regarded as a rigid and unpopular stance. What we are talking about here is not mere player safety. We need also to keep in mind the lives of thousands who will be at the grounds. Several Chief Ministers are known to endorse this point of view.

Elections to a countrys Parliament are sacrosanct. As it is held once in five years, they are to be conducted in an ambience of high security. We will necessarily have to pour in as much manpower as we can. Paramilitary forces lend considerable numbers and stability to polling. The first edition of the IPL was held last year in relatively peaceful times, and the State police forces could handle the arrangements by themselves without requisitioning Central security personnel. The scene has changed after the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai and the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. Only a government out of its mind could have agreed to take care of the IPLs needs while engaged in poll security. The Union Home Ministrys stance is unexceptionable, of course, with certain caveats.

The IPL committee was willing to reorganise the tournament itinerary within specific dates. It did display some flexibility to start with, and this was commendable. However, this was not enough because it was required to agree to a drastic pruning of the schedule. Postponing the matches to dates after the elections ended on May 13 was almost impossible because of the prior commitments of most of the international players taking part in the IPL. In fact, the IPL fixtures had to be necessarily concluded before the commencement of the Twenty20 World Cup in England on June 5.

The fundamental question is how the IPL could year after year get away with such a tight itinerary that left little room for manoeuvre. This is particularly because terrorism has become the order of the day, and the terrorist can strike at will anywhere he wants, and he does not take a holiday. If 2008 was a bad year, 2009 and 2010 could be worse. Recent developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan do not augur well for the immediate future. No let-up in terrorist designs is on the horizon. Where is the guarantee that the IPL will not face extraordinary situations in the immediate future, like a terrorist attack or a natural calamity? In such an eventuality, can the organisers take a rigid stand that, come what may, the matches will be played in India on dates of their choice, with or without security?

A major sporting event that exploits the avarice of sponsors and players beyond limits deserves to be doomed. The IPL is moving towards this, unless, of course, the outsourcing model proves sustainable. If this happens too often, the title of the tournament itself may have to undergo a change. As one wag put it, the IPL could soon become the NRIPL (Non-Resident Indian Premier League)

Interestingly, there is strong public opinion critical of the governments stand. It accuses the government of driving the IPL organisers to the wall and forcing them to take the most unusual decision. One school of thought believes that this could partially affect Congress prospects in the forthcoming elections. However, fanciful this may seem, one cannot spurn this as wishful thinking on the part of Congress adversaries. Added to this is the feeling that in taking its stand vis-a-vis the IPL, the Indian authorities have sent a wrong signal to the world at large that our internal security is fragile. An immediate offshoot is the demand from Tennis Australia that the Davis Cup tie in May with India should be shifted out of India (Chennai) to a neutral venue outside the country.

This may appear to be an unreasonable and exaggerated response to what happened on the IPL front. But then, how are we to convince Australia that Chennai is as safe as any other city in the world, and that the Davis Cup matches do not attract the kind of crowds that an IPL match draws, and therefore security arrangements could be on a lower scale? Unfortunately, the damage has been done. It is in this context that misgivings have already been raised in some quarters about the kind of security that we can give to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. This seems mischievous.

But then New Delhi has possibly unwittingly pushed itself into a situation where it has to defend a definitely rational decision. A lot of public relations work by the Ministry of Home Affairs abroad seems warranted.

The question raised by many right-thinking citizens is whether by forcing the IPL out of India, at least this year, we have played into the hands of the terrorist. How long are we going to be cowed down by the terrorist capacity to disturb public peace and disrupt legitimate activities such as organising international sports meets? Will it not be more prudent to systematise security for events like the IPL so that any terrorist attempt to generate fear and cause commotion is frustrated? India will be required to organise more and more prestigious sporting events in the years to come. Securing stadia, players and spectators will require high investment in terms of state-of-the-art equipment and dedicated and well-trained security personnel. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has its work cut out for it. We have a knowledgeable and enthusiastic Minister in M.S. Gill, who should discuss the issues raised here with the Home Ministry and initiate immediate action. I would strongly commend the raising of an exclusive Central force like the Central Industrial Security Force that would be available to complement the State police forces at major sports gatherings. The BCCI will be the principal beneficiary of such a force, and has the money to support it at least in the early years.

Relations between the IPL organisers (read BCCI heavyweights) are not exactly cordial. There has been some avoidable misunderstanding and a lack of grace on either side. I do not know whether this can be attributed to the Congress-Bharatiya Janata Party divide. If this were true, the future of Indian cricket is going to be stormy.

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