Unsporting decision

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Casting Cauvery shadow over IPL is to belittle the very spirit of the game

The BCCI has set a grossly wrong precedent and killed the very spirit of sports by shifting the IPL home matches of Chennai Super King (CSK) to Pune following volatile protests in Tamil Nadu over the Centre’s delay in setting up a Cauvery water sharing board as directed by the Supreme Court. With this move, not only has the BCCI made sports subservient to politics but let a violent mob mentality hijack mature thinking, assertive action and most flagrantly subjected a gentleman’s game to hooliganism, one that involved cheap threats like letting snakes loose at Chepauk stadium and cowardly action of hurling shoes at cricketers. In a country where cricket is no less than a religion, such a precedent compromises its ability to override sectarian zealots who always target mascots of popular culture to get mainstream legitimacy. They have done it with films — the protests over Padmaavat are all too fresh — and now they will do it with cricket. With this summary move, the BCCI has commodified cricket as a bailable ransom to be availed by any extremist fringe. For the CSK itself, the shifting of home matches is a big blow. Having served a two-year suspension on charges of spot-fixing in 2013, this comeback edition is its way of reassuring home fans that they are clean and are back in the groove as they trumped Kolkata Knight Riders under the cool captaincy of MS Dhoni. Post-match, he reiterated that he wanted to infuse “a positive spirit” among team members but clearly he cannot do it for Chepauk loyalists or the game anymore. 

Although the Supreme Court has asked the Centre to formulate a draft scheme on sharing water between Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry by May 3, the Modi Government has its own imperatives for buying time with regard to setting up a Cauvery management board. Considering Cauvery is an emotive issue, it won’t risk its electoral prospects in Karnataka by hastily cobbling up a board and be seen to be giving into Tamil pressure tactics. Besides, the Supreme Court, while increasing the share of the 270 tmcft Cauvery water for Karnataka by 14.75 tmcft, has also averted a drinking water crisis in Tamil Nadu by allowing extraction of 10 tmcft ground water from the river basin. But Tamil politicians are not looking at this concessionary clause and, self-servingly, setting their own agenda by insisting on establishment of a water-sharing board. Part of the problem lies in the fact that in a post-Jayalalithaa vacuum, a weakened Palaniswami Government at the helm and a jaded DMK reduced to a mumble, the agenda of the Cauvery discourse has been completely taken over by popular film icons like Rajnikant and Kamal Haasan, who have demi-God status and have recently stepped into the political arena. Overnight their followers and industry colleagues are floating outfits peddling Tamil pride. Much of the protesters and vandals belonged to such groups. The film fraternity has cobbled together a new forum and cases have been registered against lyricist Vairamuthu Ramasamy and director P Bharathiraja. Though they seem to be ignorant of the fact that the IPL schedule was drawn up months ago and is independent of any political manoeuvering, the larger question, therefore, is will they stall their film releases and grind their industry to a halt over the Cauvery issue? Will Rajnikanth himself delay the release of his latest film Kaala, which has been submitted to the Censor Board for certification last week and which has a few crores at stake? There has been no history of the Tamil film industry shutting down for days on end over a socio-political or socio-economic cause beyond the tokenism of a day-long shutdown. Will Haasan and Rajnikanth set a precedent? Why then set a precedent of putting the brakes on sports? As Russian President Vladimir Putin, perceived to be totalitarian, has said, “politics should not interfere with sports. And sports should impact politics.”

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