Ipl at cricket’s cost

April.26 : Perhaps it was inevitable that the Indian Premier League (IPL), with its unprecedented high profile at the time of its creation, the extraordinary publicity around the spectacle of our nationally iconic cricketers being “sold” and “bought” by equally iconic filmstars and corporate heads, should also stir up the most hysterical and feverish speculation when controversy reared its ugly head.

I still remember the visuals of the first auction which in itself was a telecaster’s dream. Many watched the spectacle with shock and awe some watched it in shock, some in amusement and many with a faint sense of dismay that the game of cricket had come to this.

When the matches actually took place the glamour of the spectacle, the glitzy inaugural, the unusual sight of scantily-clad cheerleaders strutting out onto hitherto more conservative Indian fields, the high octane after-match parties created a kind of intoxication among the high-flying attendees, while the “hoi polloi” watched in bemusement.
The IPL grew larger than its own image. I remember feeling anger and resentment when the Opposition parties and the IPL itself questioned the home minister’s word of caution regarding the deployment of security for the IPL matches in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
Surely after a national tragedy of those proportions, the issue of national security, the deployment of security and the paramount importance of ensuring that India’s image was not marred by a single untoward incident of breach of security was more important than holding the IPL matches as scheduled. The protagonists of the IPL and the leading Opposition parties did not agree. They argued that it would be a failure of the Indian state if we did not successfully conduct the IPL. In vain, some did argue that the IPL was essentially a private tournament organised by private interests, and howsoever high profile or successful was neither an extension of the Indian state nor would it be a reflection upon our capacity if we felt it was more important, in the aftermath of 26/11, to focus our energy upon more fundamental issues.
I only draw attention to this to remind ourselves of how the IPL bubble was fed and nourished by undue hype and importance. Merely because it represented and represents big money and many opinion-makers, including leading political parties, began to elevate it to the level of the Commonwealth Games or even the Olympics. There is no doubt that for three years the IPL has proved to be a magnetic and successful business model. There is also little doubt that it has fired popular imagination in India, particularly of cricket lovers, and has changed the way cricket is played in India. There are still some fuddy duddies, in which group I include myself, who think wistfully of the days when cricket used to be played for India and Ranji matches for the states.
Our cricket heroes were Indian heroes and icons. Now, however, we are told that the heroes are Chennai Super Kings or Kolkata Knight Riders or Mumbai Indians or Rajasthan Royals, and even more confusing for the uninitiated like me, are the fact that Sri Lankan player Kumar Sangakkara could be in Kings XI Punjab or Albee could be playing for Chennai as is Dhoni! It is very very complicated for people like me, whose allegiances have been hitherto very simplistic and straightforward, namely the India team or the Tamil Nadu team, and I certainly feel nostalgia for the good old simplistic days. There is also a niggling sense of doubt, whether all these players who are bound to be exhausted from playing against Royals or Knight Riders or whatever, and after putting in either willing or command performances at the late-night parties and events will have the energy and the spirit left to play for the country. This is not to question their intentions in any way but only to suggest that it might prove too exhausting for them to try and do everything. Is it possible that team India may suffer due to their external commitments?
However, this is merely the rambling of a lay person and I am authoritatively told that IPL is a huge success. That Lalit Modi is a genius. That he has brought the big bucks to cricket. And vice versa. Never before have I seen admiration of money-making skills more evident than when that almost worshipful tone with which people talk about how Mr Modi has made a success of the IPL in three short years. I can’t help wondering if this worship is reserved only for success with money-making or whether people will feel the same respect if someone finds a cure for cancer or puts a satellite in orbit or writes the best book ever or composes heavenly music. Somehow, I doubt if any of the above can compete with the IPL with its heady mix of money, glamour, films, entertainment and cricket, in that order. And I am saddened but not surprised.
It’s a very strange paradox that we in India who venerate sacrifice and renunciation also worship at the altar of money and success. The entire country was mesmerised by the call of Mahatma Gandhi, but in much more recent times, so many admired Harshad Mehta who was something of a middle-class hero for his successful manipulation of the market and now Mr Modi. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Mr Modi has committed wrongdoing, violated laws or done anything that was illegal and until the true facts come out, he cannot be castigated. It is self-evident that Mr Modi has galvanised the game of cricket in our country, and created what his admirers call a “world-class” product.
However, despite the commercial success of the IPL the scandal surrounding it has now become larger than life. It is very important for our democracy that the full truth around all the opaque allegations is exposed and total transparency established. Those who have broken the law should be brought to book and the game of cricket should be regulated and placed above suspicion. It is important for us to conclusively establish that rule of law and integrity are paramount in our democracy, and that our basic values will never be compromised due to the expediency of successful business in whatever combination of entertainment, games or spectacular financial achievement.

Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.
The views expressed in this column are her own.
Jayanthi Natarajan

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