Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today/ March 09, 2009

DESPITE frequent reminders to the contrary, most of us still like to believe that politics and sports should not be mixed. But last week was a curious case of a dose of politics coming to the rescue of sport.

It has taken but one season for the Indian Premier League to become the most anticipated event in the country's sporting calendar. But after the Election Commission announced the polls dates last Monday, the IPL, whose schedule was drawn up much earlier, faced the real danger of postponement, putting into disarray the carefully laid out plans of the eight teams that forked out crores of rupees to bring world- class cricketers to India to play for a worldwide audience.

It started with the normally extra cautious Home Minister P Chidambaram who cited security reasons and the strain of paramilitary forces to state that the IPL and LSE ( Lok Sabha Elections) cannot be held together. The real reason, I gather, is something else. PC’s statement may have something to do with the DMK government’s opposition to the holding of matches in Chennai, which in turn had less to with security concerns and more with the proximity of the Chennai Super Kings team bigwigs with the AIADMK’s Jayalalitha.

Since the Home Minister’s statement is seen as the official stand of the Centre, Sharad Pawar was quick to back it. But in the meantime, the Maharashtra Home Minister, Jayant Patil from Pawar’s own NCP, had already assured the Mumbai Cricket Association that the state government would provide full security for all matches featuring the Mumbai Indians to be played in the city. Elsewhere in the country too, apprehensive state governments were rapidly toeing the IPL line.

Behind the mystery of these quick turnarounds was the hand of commissioner Lalit Modi, whose baby the IPL is. In West Bengal, elections are never easy, never free and never fair and the Left Front government’s worries about law and order during the poll process wasn’t quite out of place. But the apprehensions were removed after Modi got Saurav Ganguly, cricketer- turned cricket ambassador, to contact Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. Even Shah Rukh Khan, who owns the local Kolkatta Knight Riders, is said to have got through to Writers Building.

Initially, the BJP officially adopted a low profile, but Arun Jeitley, its chief campaign strategist who is also on the IPL board, wasn’t lying low. He got all cricket associations in NDA- ruled states to offer their grounds, along with assurances from the local BJP governments of security for the teams. Overnight, Himachal offered the picturesque ground in Dharamsala, Modisaab in Gujarat said he would personally welcome teams to Rajkot and Ahmedabad, and in Madhya Pradesh, chief minister Shivraj Chauhan offered the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Indore. Police Commissioners and District magistrates in each of these cities were asked to give clearances after complying with the all requisite requirements.

What started out as political one- upmanship has now culminated in distant Dharmsala getting to host two matches of the Punjab Kings XI for which the stadium is being fitted with floodlights.
Sometimes a controversy ends well, and this is one of those. No major bruises, though the Congress is left looking a bit sheepish. When the first ball of the second IPL is bowled, cricket aficionados in the country will be saluting Modi, Pawar and Jaitley.

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