Tuesday, March 26, 2013

As Chennai loses (IPL’s top games)….so will Jayalalitha

Upended by the DMK’s determined grab of the Sri Lanka game, after she had started it, Jayalalitha has been forced to play catch up. Yesterday, she pole vaulted up the populism scorecard by demanding that Sri Lankan cricketers not be allowed to play in Chennai during the forthcoming IPL season. Those of us who live in Mumbai have gone through similar treachery by the Shiv Sena – being denied the fun of watching Pakistani cricketers playing in the city. It would help Jayalalitha if she first studied the Shiv Sena’s experience before embarking down the same path.

The Shiv Sena has managed to capture power in Maharashtra only once; that too for only 4 years between 1995-1999. That period of rule was attributed to the heightened religious sentiments prevailing in the aftermath of the Babri demolition and the 1993 riots that followed in Mumbai. The party has since used every divisive trick possible, but to no avail. The more it tries to divide Maharashtra on linguistic and cultural identity, the less it works. It has also sunk with it, the BJP, whose agenda is in any case, only slightly different from that of the Shiv Sena’s. Collectively, both parties have learnt that parochial issues work only partially; and only temporarily. In the long run, people remain unimpressed; in fact, they turn against such parties.

Agreed the temptation to pander to Tamil sentiments is high. But is Jayalalitha forgetting how much theTamilians love their cricket? Isn’t it a matter of great pride for Tamilians that the Chennai Super Kings has occupied the top 2 slots four times out of five and has actually won the tournament twice? Isn’t it remarkable that even in the scorching Chennai summer (which is worse than the dry summer seen in other Indian cities), the finals have been played there so many times? The Tamil population has basked in the glory that Dhoni and his team has brought them. Dhoni, Raina….and even Sri Lankan Kulasekara are heroes. In a city known largely for its conservatism, IPL has given it a progressive feel. Will the people like it if that changes – all for petty politics?

As currently scheduled, two of the top four games are scheduled to be held in Chennai – the 1st Qualifier on the 21st of May, and the Eliminator round on 22nd. Since the teams that will get to play in those matches are not known at the moment, it is impossible to predict if Sri Lankan players will be involved or not. The safest way for the IPL organizing committee to toe Jayalalitha’s line is to re-schedule the games outside Chennai. After all, how can the organizers request a team to drop its SL players for important games only because the matches are happening in TN? There is already some news in the papers that the IPL is planning this. If that happens, Chennai will lose. The IPL will go ahead without a blink. I want to know what Jayalalitha will tell her people then. That they should feel a moral high about their sacrifice; that it is in support of  fellow Tamilians in Sri Lanka (most of whom do not even hail from India. They owe their descendence to Sri Lanka based Tamil kingdoms which existed hundreds of years back)? This is akin to the dogmatic Left parties urging their followers to shun the US, capitalism and prosperity in support of their downtrodden brethren. Well, the Bongs have rejected the Left! Will Tamilians now do the same to Jayalalitha?

Politics should be restricted to small, confined spaces and not allowed to invade everyday lives of people. Or sports. I have always maintained that even if India has a hundred problems with Pakistan, stopping Pakistani cricketers from playing in India makes us look small. And it doesn’t solve our problems with that country. We don’t need to support such moves to prove our nationalistic credentials. The people of India have said as much several times. They want progressive thinking. They want to move forward from traditional viewpoints. This is one reason why the people voted the UPA-2 back to power; because they supported the Congress’s move to sign the Indo-US nuclear deal. Petty politics forced the BJP (an otherwise avid US supporter) to attack the deal. It boomeranged. The BJP’s vote count was pushed down.

People wouldn’t mind if Jayalalitha demanded that the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) scheduled later this year in Sri Lanka be canceled. They don’t care for that event. They wouldn’t mind if the AIADMK government demanded the cancelation of the 1970s agreement with Sri Lanka over the island of Kachchateevu. And on issues that directly concern the people – like demanding that the Sri Lankan navy stops killing our fishermen – the people will even support Jayalalitha. But when politics enters a space held so sacrosanct as cricket, they will give her the boot. Jayalalitha has to realize how fraught such moves are with political risk.

The Congress is hoping that Jayalalitha succeeds in scrapping the Chennai games. It will give the party a chance to show itself as the most moderate amongst the options available. In the long run, such “moderatism” always wins in a country as heterogeneous as India. Being moderate is the Congress’s real trump card. It is this moderate image that makes it attractive to allies. Radicalism has no place in India. Even an act as extreme as the demolition of the Babri masjid; or a CM allowing his goons to massacre thousands of Muslims got the BJP no long term electoral benefits. If any, such acts condemned it to becoming a regional party (with a presence in only a few states in the West) where such extreme ideology works. Jayalalitha’s party is already a regional one; but if it wishes to play a bigger role nationally, a moderate image will be helpful.

The real truth is that Jayalalitha has no idea what kind of emotions cricket generates in Chennai. If the city loses its two top games, the people are going to be terribly upset. And people have a way of getting back. They simply stop voting for the ruling party. Jayalalitha is forewarned….

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