Every rabble-rouser, social activist, NGO and budding politician is fully aware that the hugely successful and iconic IPL is a soft target for protestors. Its massive success and corresponding media attention are its worst enemies for they act like lightning rods for any agitation.
Agitators’ cause would instantly attract the attention of national and international media. The IPL thus provides the sort of stage that would otherwise be impossible for these rabble-rousers.
The latest to hitch their protest to the IPL bandwagon is a motley crowd of Tamil Nadu film stars. Some of them had recently dipped their toes into politics and what better way to make a splash than call for a protest against IPL matches in Tamil Nadu. These matches, these fledgling politicians claim, are a form of celebration and hosting them would not send the right message to “poor, struggling farmers”.
Of course they also want the central government to set up the Cauvery Management Board immediately, before the Karnataka elections on 12 May, but that’s another matter.
Pause instead for a moment to reflect on the doublespeak of at least one of the film stars. Five years ago he went through the trauma of a ban when his planned 500-odd theatre mega release of a multi-crore film was banned in Tamil Nadu. He ran from pillar to post pleading for compassion. He claimed that all his finances were linked to the film and he would be on the streets if it was not allowed to be released. He even threatened to quit India forever!
Ultimately, after much heartburn and a few cut scenes, the then chief minister, J Jayalalithaa allowed the film to be exhibited.
This megastar knows what it is to be brought to his knees by a ban and is now keen on subjecting others to the same sort of trauma.
Of course, this is not the first time that the enormously successful IPL has been thus targeted.
A couple of years ago, drought-prone, drought-striken Maharashtra was incredibly allowed to ‘export water’ but the IPL was asked to be shifted to states rich in water resources. The reasoning then was that drought-hit farmers were committing suicide and conducting IPL matches would be an affront to them.
The reality was something else: 50 per cent of the state’s irrigation water went to a crop that occupied less than six per cent of the irrigated area. That is, every single acre of sugarcane plantation required a humongous 18 million litres of water. Yet select ‘farmers’ brazenly cultivated the crop and exported sugar. This was as ridiculously surreal as it could get: a drought-hit state was guilty of exporting water in another form!
Yet when push came to shove it was the IPL rather than the extravaganza of sugar-baron-cum-politicians that took the hit.
Richly contrasting pictures of parched, barren fields, dry taps and emaciated village folks were flashed alongside lush green cricket outfields, cheerleaders performing in skimpy clothes and fans celebrating in the stands to send out a message that the IPL was uncaring and even provocative. Why lush sugarcane fields and sugar barons’ lavish lifestyle were never used as the contrast for the drought was baffling.
There have been other protests too against the IPL. Notably when supporters of the Tamil Eelam said they would not allow a single Sri Lankan player to play on ‘Tamil soil’!
The group had been protesting against Sri Lankan cricket for a couple of years but received instant traction only after they threatened to bar the entry of Sri Lankan IPL players. That year none of the franchises, including Chennai Super Kings, fielded Lankan players in matches staged in Chennai.
The protests were not just against IPL matches or players. In one of the years, there were protests against the cheerleaders too. One organisation wanted Indian dancers in traditional attire to perform as cheerleaders, rather than the skimpily-clad overseas women.
Of course sometimes these protests and public interest litigations (PILs) backfire on the protestors too. One NGO, taking a leaf out of the Maharashtra drought case in which the high court had ordered some IPL matches to be moved out of the state, approached Karnataka courts with a similar plea.
But ex-Test cricketer Brijesh Patel, the erstwhile Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) secretary, was already many moves ahead with his go-green initiatives. He had worked on stadium roof-top solar energy generation, rainwater harvesting, tapped into a city sewage line and set up a sewage treatment plant within the stadium premises to provide water for the upkeep of the stadium. Thus when the PIL came along, the court, apprised of KSCA’s detailed forward-thinking planning, threw out the case.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) latched on to this and asked all its member units to likewise embrace the KSCA’s environment-friendly practices. However, what is becoming increasingly apparent is that the IPL is starting to be a soft target for all sorts of protests and it could only multiply in the coming years.
The IPL governing council must wake up to the challenge and do a bit of pushback in the form of social initiatives. It would do well to learn a lesson or two from the world of golf which too had fought similar battles a long time ago. Today the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) and pro golfers are renowned for charity initiatives.
While at it, the Tamil Nadu government must also come clean on the quantum of entertainment tax they collect from Chennai’s IPL matches. Additionally, the protesting film stars must show that they have the best interests of Tamil Nadu farmers at heart by demanding a two-month ban on Tamil films and serials. That would prove that they are really serious about their protest. Also, they should ask Sunrisers Hyderabad with their massive interest in Tamil film industry, to also pull out. If they don’t, all their bluster against the IPL will be seen as mere attention-seeking bullying.