Cauvery row: Why Tamil Nadu farmers are pinning their hopes on Chennai Super Kings
The farmers expect N Srinivasan of the India Cements Limited to show he is a son of the soil by supporting their fight for Cauvery waters.
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In Aamir Khan's superhit film Lagaan (2001), when the villagers realised that they would not be able to pay the annual tax because of severe drought, the British officers challenged them to defeat them in a cricket match to get the tax waived. In the real world, however, the farmers of Tamil Nadu, vexed with the delay in the constitution of the Cauvery Management Board, want the cricket match in their land to be called off.
The irony apart, the Indian Premier League games in Chennai are on the radar. Several voices within the state have pointed out that it is insensitive to the cause of the farmers that while they agitate for Cauvery water by burying themselves in sand pits on the river bed, Chennai enjoys the adrenalin rush of Twenty-20 cricket. If nothing else, the sentiments have underlined the divide between rural and urban Tamil Nadu.
Several fringe groups asked for cancellation of the IPL matches in Chennai. The same walls which bore the CSK logo have been smeared with slogans such as “We need Cauvery”.
Mercifully, the mainstream political parties have reacted sensibly. DMK leader MK Stalin asked organisers to understand the feelings of the people. Rebel AIADMK leader TTV Dinakaran asked cricket fans to boycott the IPL matches until the Cauvery Management Board was formed. The intention was to have matches played to empty stands at the MA Chidambaram stadium to make the world realise Tamil Nadu's angst.
Tamil superstar-turned-politician Rajinikanth waded into the controversy by pointing out that it will be embarrassing if people enjoy the extravaganza at a time like this. He supported the idea of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) players and spectators sporting black bands as a symbol of protest and solidarity with the cause.
Why politics should be mixed with sports, critics may ask. In what way is the IPL responsible for the NDA government not obeying the Supreme Court verdict of setting up the board by March 29?
It is a fair question. No one is suggesting that CSK and IPL are responsible for the mess around Cauvery. But the farmers are clutching at straws at this point in time. They would look to use any platform to get their voices heard.
Rewind to 2017. The farmers protested in New Delhi for 41 days, using every gimmick to get noticed by the “powers that be” at the Centre. But the loincloth-clad farmers were reduced to a spectacle and they finally moved out, dejected.
Years 2016-17 saw a severe drought in Tamil Nadu, the worst in 140 years. More than 300 farmers have reportedly killed themselves in the last two years in the state. The Cauvery river bed has largely been bone dry. The Supreme Court verdict that fixed the quantum of water to be released was seen as a beacon of hope that now Karnataka would not be able to decide when and how much water to let into Tamil Nadu. But with the board not constituted yet, the verdict has not been worth the piece of paper it was printed on.
But how fair is it to target the game of cricket? After all, this is the world of mega bucks running into crores, entertainment, cheerladers, endorsements; far from the world of a farmer in Thanjavur and Nagapattinam who would consume pesticide or hang himself, unable to repay a debt of a couple of lakh of rupees.
This is exactly how CSK can show that they have their heart in the right place. The farmer expects N Srinivasan of the India Cements Limited to show he is a son of the soil. No farmer is asking for the matches to be cancelled and the organisers to incur huge losses. The farmers know that CSK is back in the IPL after two years in the wilderness. All they are asking for is visible solidarity, to make the farmers feel that CSK is with them in this hour of distress. The reach of the game can let the world know about the farmers’ concerns. Now, it is up to CSK how they choose to send the message.
Those batting for CSK could rise to the occasion the way FC Barcelona supported the Catalonian referendum and condemned the acts of the Spanish government against Catalonia in 2017.
In Lagaan, the farmers approached their king, Raja Puran Singh, for help. Likewise, Tamil Nadu farmers are beseeching the Chennai Super Kings.