Cricket hits election campaign, crowds elude leaders

Updated on Apr 03, 2004 02:04 PM IST

Cricket hits election campaign, crowds elude leaders

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PTI | ByIndo-Asian News Service, New Delhi

Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani, for all his crowd-pulling charisma, is no match for Sourav Ganguly and his boys.

India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Partyhas curtailed Advani's public meetings in course of his Bharat Uday (India Shining) road campaign fearing poor attendance due to the second India-Pakistan one-day international match in Rawalpindi.

For good measure, the party has gone as far as installing TV sets at the meeting venues to enable people to catch the game until Advani arrives.

"We hope to attract more people by showing the matches," said a party leader.

Lest it be difficult to tear the fans away from the TV sets, they will be switched off just before the arrival of Advani. But the scores would still be announced.

And Advani is not the only victim of the cricket fever that has gripped Indians -- unfortunately at a time political leaders have hit the roads to campaign for the parliamentary elections just weeks away.

Stumped by the India-Pakistan cricket fever, Indian political parties are rescheduling rallies, meetings and briefings.

The Indian cricket team's first tour of Pakistan in over 14 years, featuring five one-day internationals and three Tests, ends April 17, barely three days before the national ballot begins.

India is holding five-phase parliamentary elections from April 20 to May 10.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is also in the middle of campaign road shows across the country, remained Tuesday in New Delhi where she met US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"We can understand cricket is preoccupying everybody; even we are avidly following it whenever we can," a Gandhi aide told IANS.

But the party did not reschedule its usual media briefing at 4 p.m., like the BJP did.

"The BJP is always looking at cricket," snorted a Congress functionary.

The BJP advanced its usual press briefing from 3 p.m. to 1 p.m., about an hour before the widely anticipated game was to begin.

The two main political rivals continue an SMS (Short Messaging Service) war to exploit the last game in Karachi, in which Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly's men won a five-run cliff-hanger against the Pakistani team helmed by Inzamam-ul-Haq.

Scenes of deserted political rallies and thinly attended meetings are visible in many states.

The Orissa BJP unit has also cut down on its campaign meetings, unsure of people coming to attend even in leaders' own constituencies.

"We have cancelled meetings of (Union Tribal Affairs Minister) Jual Oram in his home constituency of Sundargarh," BJP leader Dhiren Senapati told IANS.

Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was keeping busy with the selection of candidates Tuesday. His Biju Janata Dal (BJD) did not organise any meetings, neither did the Congress party.

In Maharashtra, political parties have decided to do away with rallies when the matches are on. The Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the BJP and the Shiv Sena have also sworn off mass campaigns in those days.

"It will not be easy to mobilise people," admitted an NCP leader in Mumbai.

Petroleum Minister Ram Naik, who has begun campaigning in his Mumbai North constituency, is expected to take a break Tuesday afternoon. BJP sources said he would spend the evening canvassing support from commuters returning from work outside railway stations.

In the first one-day match on Saturday, no conferences or meetings were scheduled across Maharashtra as politicians and people stayed glued to their TV sets.

Tuesday's day-night match coincides with the assembly session in the Maharashtra legislature. No one expects much attendance as legislators were expected to slink away to watch the match.

Curiously, politicians in West Bengal shrugged off the effects of the cricket obsession, pointing out that the tour ends April 17, which is a long way from the May 10 polling in the state.

The state is famed for its collective life-stopping cricket mania that has offices and streets deserted by mid-morning and fans crowding around TV sets with glazed eyes.

Taking no chances, no party scheduled any big meetings on Tuesday.

"We will take up street meetings and processions in the afternoon before the game," said Swapan Maity, a Nationalist Trinamool Congress leader.

He said in the evening, when the India-Pakistan match would be under way in Rawalpindi, workers would visit houses because there would be a good chance of catching the entire household at home.

"Meetings of party cadres, however, are held on days when there is no cricket," admitted Maity.

The BJP is, as usual, careful. BJP leader Tirthankar Sengupta said cricket was kept in mind while planning meetings to ensure maximum crowd participation.

The BJP in Chhattisgarh cancelled Chief Minister Raman Singh's public meeting scheduled March 19 at Dongargaon, as it coincides with the third India-Pakistan one-day match at Peshawar.

Singh is contesting the by-polls from Dongargaon assembly seat. A member of parliament till he took over as Chhattisgarh chief minister in December, Singh has to seek election into the state assembly to continue.

The state Congress is worried about the success of Sonia Gandhi's road shows from March 19, when she tours Raigarh and Janjgir districts.

"The Congress has pinned high hopes on the road show and a low turnout would affect morale of the party workers," said Congress leader Mahendra Karma, the leader of opposition in the state assembly.

"After all, the main idea of the road show is to recharge the party", said Karma, who is tipped to contest the Lok Sabha poll from Bastar.

In the hill state of Himachal Pradesh, which goes to the polls May 10, political parties are only worried about the second half of the cricket tour affecting their campaign.

Said Devinder Shyam, a Congress functionary: "Cricket will naturally affect the attendance in rallies. But we cannot stop campaigning, can we?"

(With inputs from Shiv Kumaar, Krittivas Mukherjee, Jatindra Dash, Baldev S. Chauhan and Sujeet Kumar.)

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