India’s cricket board called off talks with its Pakistani counterpart on Monday after Shiv Sena workers stormed the Mumbai office ahead of a scheduled meeting between the cricket chiefs of the two nations to protest a proposed bilateral tournament.
Police arrested 10 Sena members after party workers barged into the Mumbai headquarters of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), where Pakistan Cricket Board chief Shaharyar Khan was slated to meet newly-elected BCCI president Shashank Manohar.
Over 100 Sena members chanted slogans against Pakistan and Khan, saying they wouldn’t allow cricketing ties with the neighbouring country, upping the ante days after it forced the cancellation of Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali’s concert and smeared ink on the organizer of a former Pakistani foreign minister’s book launch.
“I condemn the attack. You can’t barge into the BCCI premises and force not to hold talks with the PCB chairman,” said BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur, who is also a BJP parliamentarian.
“In a democracy you can protest but on the street, you can raise your voice but you can’t barge into someone’s home, office or headquarters. That is not fair.”
Thakur also virtually ruled out earlier resumption of cricketing ties, saying the two governments need to talk to each other before a bilateral tournament could be played. The two sides are expected to play in a highly-anticipated series in December, possibly at a neutral venue, the first after cricketing ties were scrapped following the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
“If you are talking about the December series, in today’s atmosphere and situation, for me to say that it will happen is not easy. Until talks happen with the central government and between the two countries, it is not possible,” Thakur said.
Though several media reports said the talks had been rescheduled for Monday in Delhi, Thakur said no such formal talks were on the anvil.
This is the latest in a string of similar protests by the Shiv Sena – the junior partner in a BJP-led coalition government in Maharashtra – that have triggered widespread condemnation and charges of subversion of democratic processes.
The party has repeatedly insisted cultural or sporting ties could be renewed with Pakistan only when Islamabad stopped sponsoring terrorism. In 1999, Sena members dug up the pitch at Delhi’s Ferozshah Kotla stadium ahead of Pakistan’s cricket tour, in an unsuccessful bid to stop the match.
India and Pakistan share of the most intense sporting rivalries in the world and cricket matches featuring the two teams attract an audience of several millions. But the frenzy often gives way to bitterness, with several instances of violence breaking out after matches at high-profile tournaments.
International Cricket Council (ICC) president and former Pakistan cricketer Zaheer Abbas also reacted to the Sena incident, saying, “Politics and cricket are two different things. Pakistan is not asking India to play in Pakistan. Pakistan is asking for a bilateral series to be played at a neutral venue.”
IPL chairperson Rajeev Shukla also “strongly” condemned the attack. “BCCI is a responsible body and will not do anything against national interest. Cricketing decisions should be left to BCCI,” Shukla tweeted.