At a time when election campaign has reached the crescendo, cricket in the hills is running into politics. Allegations over cricket promotion in the state are flying thick and fast. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress are raking up cricket to hit out at each other.
The Congress is accusing chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal of showing blind love towards his cricket administrator son Anurag Thakur, who is also a member of Parliament. Further, the Congress is also targeting the state government for bending backwards to facilitate Anurag Thakur-led Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA). Questions are being raised over the land allotted to HPCA for constructing a luxurious hotel. "In name of cricket and his love for son Anurag Thakur, Dhumal has not only achieved milestones in 'grabbing prime land' but also got away with an illegal construction meant to house players in Dharamsala," says All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary Chaudhary Birender Singh. "If the BCCI can give funds for stadium's construction, it can also foot the bill for land," he said.
The opposition party, which is making a desperate attempt to regain power in the state, has upped its attack on Anurag Thakur. The party charged that the government waived Rs 64 lakh bill for security provided by the state police during Indian Premier League matches organised at Dharamsala stadium.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, however, is going all out to defend chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal's son Anurag Thakur. "The Congress people are just abusing Anurag Thakur and Prem Kumar Dhumal in the name of cricket, which is unethical. Anurag has brought laurels to Himachal by promoting cricket. What Anurag has achieved in cricket for Himachal is quite visible and one cannot deny credit to him," said state BJP vice-president Praveen Sharma.
Anurag Thakur accuses the Congress of politicising sports in the state. "The Congress leaders could not do anything for promoting sports in the state. It is sad that when we are doing something, they are criticising us," Anurag Thakur told Hindustan Times.
Apart from the Rs 60crore international cricket stadium in Dharamsala, the HPCA has set up a stadium in Bilaspur and one at Amtar in Nadaun, which have been constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 5 crore each. "It is wrong to say that I am promoting cricket only. The BJP government had laid equal stress on other sports too," he said, adding that it was during chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal's regime that 40 coaches were appointed for different sports. "Why the Congress failed to appoint coaches? Rather, it brought a bill to regulate sports' bodies in Himachal," he said.
The young BJP Lok Sabha member, during his speeches, also highlights his achievements for cricket and other sports. "The Indian Premier League matches have brought Himachal Pradesh on the world map. Matches held in Dharamsala give publicity to Himachal worldwide," says Thakur, adding that apart from this, matches have also boosted the income of locals in Dharamsala.
Thakur claims that the HPCA was paying Rs 13 lakh annually for the land leased for the hotel. The HPCA has now assets of the more than Rs 100 crore.