In October 1991, a rabble-rousing satrap turned arbiter of India-Pakistan cricketing ties. He thundered that the Pakistan team which was to play an ODI with India at the Wankhede stadium on October 28, wouldn't be allowed to step in Mumbai, and if the MCA went ahead with it, "Wankhede would be burnt".
His raison d'être for this obstructionist move: "India is playing cricket with Pakistan at a time when they are disturbing this country and fomenting terrorism. A cricket match with Pakistan at this stage is as bizarre as Nero, the Roman Empire, playing the fiddle while Rome was in flames".
He and his party in the years to come became the undisputed bête noire number one of cricketing fans across the border. "He" was Shiv sena supremo Bal Thackeray.
25 years later, cricketing fans might have found a new nemesis in the form of Congress' Virbhadra Singh, the sitting CM of Himachal who has written to Union Home Ministry stating that state government wouldn't be able to provide "adequate security" for the marquee India-Pakistan clash in Dharamsala and has publicly expressed how averse he is to the idea of the Pakistani team playing in his state.
By doing this, it appears as if the Congress has done a "Shiv Sena" in Himachal. Yes, the same Congress which in every election doesn't miss a single opportunity to brag, boost and bluster about it's glorious "Gandhigiri" past has resorted to "Senagiri" in Himachal. There are striking similarities between these two incidents in which two poles apart parties of India politics.
Of course, there's no violence, vandalism, hoodlumism were involved in the Dharamshala dilemma. We may soon see that as well, as a little known group "Anti-terrorism front" has threatened to dig up the Dharamshala pitch, Thackeray style eh?
Shiv Sena: A Congress handmaiden?
Perhaps, there has always been some kind of bonhomie between the Congress and Shiv Sena, especially during Sena's salad days and so the Congress switching from Gandhigiri to Senagiri is hardly surprising. The Shiv Sena's relationship with the Congress have always been the cynosure of all eyes among political pundits. Some of them have even labelled Thackeray's Sena as the handmaiden of the Congress in it's early years.
The Congress at times vociferously lambasted the Shiv Sena but took no step to keep it under control because it knew the Sena would protect it from the onslaught of left parties as the popular Sena slogan was "Jala dalo, jala dalo, lal bavta jala dalo (Burn the red flag)". The Congress logic was simple it needed political machismo and chauvinism to fight Communism which the Sena had in plenty.
Sleeping with the enemy
Coming to the obstructionism of politicasters especially of the Shiv Sena, one thing needs to be highlighted is the Janus-faced nature of the Shiv Sena supremo - he could host Miandad at his Matoshree and promise him he would allow resumption of India-Pakistan cricket matches and of course like all demagogues, he never ever kept his promise. In the Dharamshala dilemma and in the case of Congress taking a "right-turn" also, a few pertinent questions also need to be asked to Virbhadra Singh.
If the septuagenarian Gogoi who is also a Congress CM can allow Pakistani athletes in Assam during South Asian games, why can't he allow Pakistani cricket team in Himachal?
Maybe, because obstructing cricket that too India-Pakistan match in a world cup will give more publicity and political mileage in the polls. The fixtures were declared three months back and venues six-seven months ago, what was he doing then?
Perhaps, because back then he was battling his own personal woes - the CBI raids. And more importantly, he says soldiers from Himachal have been martyred and so it isn't appropriate to host the match and it will hurt sentiments of their families. So, pray tell us Virbhadra Singh is there any state of this country from where soldiers haven't been martyred in clashes against Pakistan?
The season of political harakiri
This appears to be the season of committing harakiri in Indian politics. First, the BJP committed some serious harakiri by starting a vicious campaign against 'Pakistan ke Dalle' and the JNU which has eventually resulted in the rise of Kanhaiya Kumar as the most popular student leaders in the country. Now, by doing a "Shiv Sena" in Himachal, the Congress has also committed a horrendous harakiri. What is indeed interesting is how the Congress is flirting with McCarthyist Right-wing Jingoism which is pièce de résistance of it's direction less game plan. Just a few days back it took a highly audacious and admirable stand in the JNU fiasco but it's stance on this issue is very antediluvian and will surely backfire.
Cricket versus politics
One thing has been said many a times, since the last two and a half decades, during which India-Pakistan cricket has become the favourite "punching bag" and "belting boy" for politicians trying to gain votes through jingoism - "Don't mix cricket with politics". The reason is very simple: politics not only worsens India-Pakistan relations, but also divides us a nation.
On the other hand, cricket brings the two Asian giants together and also unites Indians, Rightists or Leftists, Congressmen or BJP workers and "Nationalists" or so called "Pakistan ke dalle" and this was once again proved by the recent India-Pakistan clash in Asia Cup. From Jammu jawans to JNU everyone came together ecstatically to celebrate India's win.
So politicians, grow up! Stop fussing about cricket!
Unfortunately, I think they will continue to do this because after all this not Utopia or in simple terms not the "Ek India Happy wala" as the IPL advertisement claims.