Monday, 18 April 2016

The IPL and the drought!

The 9th edition of the IPL has kicked off. The first match of the season almost mirrored the plight of the drought-struck farmers in Maharashtra. The defending champions were easily humbled by a team that was making it's IPL debut. Since 2008, when the league first kicked of, controversies always seemed to follow it. The infamous fixing allegation and the 'conflict of interest' observation were the ones that were actually uncovered. Just as the die-hard Indian cricket fans were longingly hoping for the IPL to subdue their hurt egos from the World T20 exit, the High court of Maharashtra made a scathing observation. The paradox was quite visible, but maybe people just chose to ignore it! At a time when the farmers are committing suicide, a billion dollar entertainment league does seem a bit reckless. The cost of the IPL has always been an ambiguity. The auction, the advertisements, the cheerleaders, the fan army, everything seems alluring, but the expenses have always remained a mystery. A few things however are within our realm of understanding. Having followed the IPL since it's inception, one of the greatest things about the competition is the lush green outfields which are often as quick as an oiled marble. The question however is, how the outfield remains lush at the Wankhede and  Pune, while the fields of Maharashtra stand dry and worn out. The answer lies in the gallons of water that BCCI has been using to keep the outfield green and lush. What appears to us as green and appealing, is actually at the cost of thousands of farmers in Central India. The basic question here is rather simple. What is more important? The IPL, or the grieving farmers? Democracy mandates the welfare of citizens encompassing the nation, and despite the fact that cricket is nothing short of a religion in India; people trump cricket at any given point. The fact that IPL, as a brand is slavishly dependent on the Indian public validates the High court observation. The drought and the subsequent shortage of viable water must be given primary importance, over and above the IPL on any given day.

This would have been a non-issue in most democratic countries, but Indians have always been sensitive when it comes to cricket. The IPL has indeed been a great success. The discovery of new talent, the galore of sixes and wickets, the theme songs and cheerleaders...the IPL is probably the sole reason for the new global affection for the shortest version. Indeed, the IPL is something the country is proud of. But the question today is not about the IPL, or it's import, the question is the glaring dichotomy between the fields of Latur and the outfield of Wankhede! The IPL in 2009 was shifted to South Africa as India was undergoing it's General Elections. There was no backlash from the players, no retaliation from the BCCI, but a simple acceptance of the fact that something bigger than the cricket league was confronting the country- the Elections. Today, in 2016 the state of Maharashtra has been confronted by an issue much larger than cricket- Water! The BCCI, and it's coterie of stakeholders have seemed to fans like me, perennial office-bearers. Since the time I can recollect of this great game, the likes of Srinivasan and Dalmiya have been the so-called torch bearers of the game. The power wielded by the cricket board is not derived from the staunch fans that the game boasts of, but the shrewd political muscle and acumen of the BCCI leadership. Indeed the BCCI office-bearers are legally bound to serve the game in it's true spirit, but at what cost...what can be an acceptable collateral? Surely the bar has to be set higher than human necessities. The BCCI did make a convincing stance regarding the issue. It's secretary, Anurag Thakur asked the courts as to how many 5-star hotels were asked to drain their expansive swimming pools. A compelling argument one must say! But by comparing the IPL to few 5-star hotels in Mumbai, the secretary has completely lost track of the success of the IPL! The reach and public visibility of the IPL worked against it in this instance. But the fact remains that the BCCI missed a trick! At a time when the benevolence, and the integrity of the board is under deep-seated public and judicial scrutiny, it would have been a great accolade if the BCCI accepted the court's observation without crying foul! It would have rejuvenated the people's faith in the game and the board, and earned them praise from all quarters. But by continuously resisting the public sentiment, the board has lost the little faith it possessed among the avid lovers of the game. The demand is not really threatening to the IPL at all. Maharashtra has two IPL teams, Mumbai Indians and Pune Supergiants, and both of them have home grounds within the state. The court opined that the scheduled matches in both the venues be shifted out of the state so as to conserve the water which would be otherwise used for maintaining the outfield and the pitch. The court never said that the shifting of the matches would solve the ongoing crisis, but the matter of principle and social responsibility do come to the fore. India has around 45 international cricket stadiums of which around 7 are situated in Maharashtra. That leaves around 30 international stadiums for the 2 teams to choose from as their home ground! And to think that this actually became an issue! Despite the availability of grounds and the public outcry, the BCCI refused to yield for many weeks.

The issue had become a rallying point across the country, fans just wanted to see some action. It did not matter whether they played in Maharashtra or some other state....on a realistic note, most fans wouldn't be bothered if the IPL was once again shifted to South Africa as long as they could watch it from the confines of their living room. And despite Dhoni's convincing arguments, the game looks the same in TVs of all sizes and set-top boxes of all configurations! The stubbornness of the BCCI was further fueled when the Indian skipper waded into the controversy. MS Dhoni claimed that shifting the IPL venues was not the solution, but the catch is that, it was never a solution. The court observation did not claim that the shifting of venues would by any scale solve the crisis, it merely questioned the social responsibility of the BCCI. The issue in it's most simple terms can be defined as follows- what is the primary use of water? Drinking, or watering outfields? By joining the controversy, the skipper has clearly betrayed the millions of fans who chant his name when he wields the willow! Why is the BCCI against the shifting of venues? Surely there are stadiums which are as lucrative as Pune and Mumbai! Surely the players must empathize with the people who are suffering from the drought! Surely Mrs Ambani, who prides herself on her philanthropy, would not mind a change in her team's home ground! But once again, the game and it's pawns have let down the Indian public. The BCCI tried to prevent the inevitable with means that seemed even absurd. They even tried the low-hanging 'money-fruit' trick. Anurag Thakur reminded the state government that it would loose a 100 crores if the league was shifted out of the state. Fortunately, the state government saw beyond the haze of the glitz and glamour and asked the BCCI to do what any responsible civic body must do. With the mountain of public opinion flooding in, the BCCI was left with no option but to fold. The Mumbai Indians have already opted for Jaipur as their home ground, in what has been a 'rainy' move.

The issue has been solved, or has it? The games in all likelihood will be shifted, the people and their will has prevailed, but why the delay, and why the controversy? The BCCI, the body governing India's largest religion should have taken cognizance of the paradox without the court's poke, and once the poke came, it should have been swift in carrying out it's social responsibility! This issue has not affected the IPL or it's stratospheric aura; but once again the question of cricket and where it stands on our hierarchy of importance has propped up. How powerful should the BCCI be? If the courts can break centuries-old temple traditions, then how is the BCCI immune from it? The game of cricket has always been placed on a pedestal, one that has grown higher over the years. But when the rain gods frown on the people, their fury from heaven first paralyses the pedestal and then the ground!

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