The shameful attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore because of poor security and the impending general election in India have placed the Indian Premier League (IPL) in jeopardy. The ministry of home affairs (MHA) advisory to IPL to revise the schedule a third time has created a stalemate which needs urgent attention. The last meeting held on Monday very clearly indicates that the Board of Control for Cricket in India and IPL administration have much homework to do.
IPL is possible for a variety of reasons, and as has been rightly brought out by many interested observers, security situations in India and Pakistan are not comparable. Moreover holding IPL is not just about security; this league has caught the fancy of the masses and has larger social and economic benefits. So, let us examine the issue holistically.
Firstly, security: The threat of a terrorist attack at an IPL venue given the protective umbrella in place could be what in security parlance is called a, “wild card”. With energizing of the internal security network under home minister P. Chidambaram in the past three months plus, our police forces are well capable of ensuring a safe and secure IPL. It is also expected that state governments would be particularly cautious in preventing terrorist incidents during the election period, thereby providing additional security assurance.
Atul Yadav / PTI
Yet, the possibility of a stray incident occurring cannot be ruled out, given that the police have not been able to neutralise many terrorist cells still operative in the country albeit in sleeper mode post Mumbai 26/11. For a restive Lashkar-e-Taiba to carry out terrorist attacks or through outsourced entities such as the Indian Mujahideen may not be far-fetched. As also, “copycat” strikes are standard tactics employed by terrorist groups with pay-offs for the perpetrators quite high, yet such strikes are wholly avoidable by taking additional precautions which are well within our capabilities.
Some of the requirements projected by states are minimal demands which can be easily met. For instance West Bengal has demanded 30 companies of paramilitary personnel which would number around 3,000-3,500 from 10 to 24 May, while Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan have placed smaller demands totalling 2,500 personnel for the preceding period from 10 April to 9 May. Problems posed by Delhi and Andhra Pradesh could be similarly resolved or, alternatively, the venue shifted to the closest possible grounds for the convenience of fans from home. MHA seems to be favourably disposed to accommodate as per reports of meeting on Monday with IPL administration; however, the latter needs to come up with viable alternatives, speak to states concerned and should not take the popularity of the tournament for granted to force the hands of the government.
Looking at the issue from the larger perspective, the social and economic costs are even more relevant. As a premium entertainer, IPL has caught the fancy of millions of cricket fans who throng venues as well as television screens.
The opportunity to witness international players in free-flowing motion, competing with young lads from the country’s cricket nurseries, is an experience which should not be denied to us. And for millions of fans of this game, who were hoping to beat the tedium of the general election in the heat of April and May, there would be no succour unless the league is held.
The blow to the country’s cricketing credibility would be something which other competitors would most certainly exploit not just to hold IPL but also perhaps the World Cup in 2011.
However, can you imagine watching an IPL final on television between, say, the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Mumbai Indians at the Oval or in Sydney? Fans in India’s metro cricket capitals will not accept this failure of our security and sports administration.
Finally, let us count the economic costs. A report in the Hindustan Times quoting Lalit Modi, CEO of IPL, states that the guaranteed contracted revenue for the league this year has increased by Rs1,725 crore from that expected initially, with team valuations witnessing an unprecedented jump of 3,700%. Looking beyond what team owners would be earning, the spin-off effect on hotels, restaurants, eateries and the faithful rehdiwala (cart person) selling bhel puri from IPL is a double whammy alongside earnings from the general election, not to talk about the electronic and print media.
All in all IPL is a “must do” which can be held with additional security precautions within the available resources with better coordination between the organizers and our internal security mechanism. With MHA having shown enough flexibility, it is now Modi’s call to come off his high horse and work in tandem with the state police to give us the experience of IPL a second time.
Rahul K. Bhonsle is editor, South Asia Security Trends. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org