The farce over the India-Pakistan clash that was scheduled to be played in Dharamsala but has been shifted to Kolkata after the tournament began can be laid squarely at the feet of politicians.
Anurag Thakur is not just the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association president and secretary of the BCCI; he is also a three-time BJP MP, the head of Yuva Morcha (BJP’s youth wing) and the son of former Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
For him to have to shift the match out of Himachal “would mean a loss of face” as Hindustan Times politely put it on Wednesday. “Thakur would be looking to draw political mileage out of what is seen as the biggest draw of the World Cup,” the newspaper said. Losing the match has put paid to all of that.
Thakur has laid the blame at Congress Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh's door who opposed the match using the recent terrorist attack at Pathankot to justify his stand. Politics of opportunism is a speciality in this country but Thakur and the BCCI should have asked for and received security clearances months ago instead of allowing themselves to be ambushed at the last minute. This is a World Cup, not a gully cricket tournament.
It is also ironic that Kolkata is the beneficiary in this case. During the 2011 ODI World Cup, Eden Gardens lost the India-England match a month before the game because of concerns that the venue would not be ready in time. Of course political image was not at stake in that case as neither BCCI president Shashank Manohar nor CAB president, the late Jagmohan Dalmiya, were politicians.
Had Thakur not been a politician, shifting the match would not have come with a potential political cost, and it could have been moved weeks ago. Had that happened, the fans who made arrangements to travel to Dharamsala might not have got a raw deal, but then the board has never cared much for India’s fans anyway.
Of course, all of this is the direct result of allowing Pakistan matches to be disrupted in India over many decades. The national interest and respecting our soldiers has been invoked repeatedly to prevent India and Pakistan from playing bilateral series against each other and to keep Pakistan players out of the IPL.
But politicians have walked a fine line in allowing Pakistan and India to play each other in global tournaments, including on Indian soil. After all, successfully hosting a sporting event is in the national interest, which trumps, err, the national interest.
Now the same logic has inevitably come back to bite the BCCI and the politicians that run it.
Act two in this farce is the Delhi and District Cricket Association. Mired in corruption allegations, the association’s officials has been running from pillar to post to get permission to host the four allotted matches, including a semi-final, partly because it has not addressed demolition orders dating back to 1997.
Despite this flagrant violation of the law for almost two decades, the association continues to be granted high-profile matches and there is no attempt by the BCCI to investigate its functioning, or make arrangements for the matches to be moved.
In fact, the opposite is true, with Thakur saying at a news conference earlier this week that he was confident the Feroz Shah Kotla would host all its matches.
This, after a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court headed by Chief Justice G Rohini slammed the board, saying it could not “live from match to match”. According to Hindu, “The court said the DDCA could hold the matches after demolishing a part of the structure situated near the monument, Kotla Baoli. ‘If it is unauthorised, it has to go. The matter has been kept pending since 1997,’ observed the Bench.”
You don’t have to look far for an explanation. Arun Jaitley, Union Finance Minister, was president of the DDCA from 1999 to 2013 and remains its patron saint.
When politics is involved, political imperatives will always trump cricketing ones. And so cricketing tragedy becomes cricketing farce even as the BCCI tries to prevent getting more egg on its face than it already has.
In its last hearing on the Lodha Committee report on 3 March, the Supreme Court said "the feeling is that politicians may want to hold the post for power and clout. It is the source of aggrandisement, that is why this recommendation has been made (to keep politicians away)."
On the basis of this evidence, the Court and the Lodha Committee are absolutely right in wanting to keep politicians away from the BCCI.