The political slugfest between the BJP and its rivals – the Congress and Aam Admi Party -- has now spilled onto a new arena: The T20 cricket World Cup.
In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress-led government and the BJP-dominated state cricket association are at loggerheads over hosting a high-profile India-Pakistan match. The government doesn’t want the game, scheduled on March 19, citing anti-Pakistan sentiments in the state, especially after two Indian Army soldiers were killed in an attack on an airbase in Pathankot in January.
But if Dharamsala fails to host the match it would mean a loss of face for Anurag Thakur, the local BJP MP who is the president of Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association as well as the secretary of the country’s cricket board. Thakur would be looking to draw political mileage out of what is seen as the biggest draw of the World Cup.
Reports in Pakistan media suggest that its security team, which visited Himachal Pradesh on Monday, has advised its government to ask the ICC to shift the venue to either Kolkata or Mohali.
Trouble for the BJP’s cricket managers are not just confined to Himachal. It also faces an internal political tussle in New Delhi that has led to a peculiar situation at the city’s Ferozeshah Kotla stadium.
The stadium employees, who have gone on strike demanding bonuses and an increase in their provident fund money, locked up the water supply, parching the ground for the past four days. The ground has lost a bit of the green cover. This comes with just a week left for Kotla to host the World T20 matches, beginning with a women’s game between Sri Lanka and New Zealand on March 15.
DDCA insiders attributed the strike to the BJP’s factional infighting. “There are clearly two lobbies. One headed by the current president Chetan Chauhan and the other group is backed by rebel cricketer Kirti Azad. The strike of the ground staff is a result of this factional feud,” said a DDCA insider.
For a while now, the city’s AAP government has been alleging corruption at the DDCA.
Towards the end of last year, when mud-slinging between AAP and BJP was at its peak, DDCA officials had said the ruling party would try to derail the World T20 matches at Kotla. “We have got to know through a source in the Delhi government that the DDCA will not be given clearances certificates for fire safety, electrical and entertainment tax,” DDCA treasurer Ravinder Manchanda had told Hindustan Times.
“Since all these issues fall under the Delhi government, the AAP is trying to play a spoilsport again. They played similar tactics before the India vs South Africa Test at the Ferozeshah Kotla.”
In February, such political brinkmanship saw an India-Sri Lanka T20 match moved from Kotla to Ranchi following high court orders.
The politics of cricket is also reverberating to the east of the country. In Kolkata, Mamata Banerjee’s ruling Trinamool Congress is trying to make the most of a no-show in Dharamsala.
The Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), backed by Banerjee and led by former India captain Sourav Ganguly, has started lobbying as an alternative venue for the India-Pakistan match. The CAB officially wrote to the BCCI on Monday that they be awarded the match if Dharamsala can’t host it.
“It also suits Banerjee’s politics just ahead of the state elections. Last month, she hosted Pakistani ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali after he was refused a concert in Mumbai. An Indo-Pak match can only add to her political goodwill,” said a Trinamool MP.
Of all the venues hosting the men’s World T20 matches, Himachal, Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore are the ones where BJP is not in power. There are political battles being fought in three of them, leaving out the Congress-ruled Karnataka which is the second possible stand-by venue for the Indo-Pak match.
Pakistan have never beaten India in any format of a World Cup match, in any ICC tournament to be precise. But if this political slugfest continues and the venue is finally shifted, it could be the first moral victory for the Men in Green even before the first ball is bowled in the main draw of the tournament.