Monday, February 01, 2010

The Case of the Missing Pakistanis

Diplomacy is a tough nut to crack, especially when the issue is an Indo-Pak issue. It takes a small snub (even imaginary) for the so called peace between India and Pakistan to shred. Every “window of opportunity” opens both ways – either into chaos or peace and inevitably, it is the chaos that makes it mark when it comes to our grand relationship with our neighbours. Lalit Modi, Vice-President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) runs this cash cow called IPL, which incidentally also indulges in cricket as a major past time and is now single-handedly responsible for hijacking India-Pakistan relations!!!

The IPL-3 issue that is being treated as a setback to Indo-Pak diplomacy is at best a business decision where the franchisees who put in the money decided to hedge their bets, play safe and not risk bringing in Pakistani cricketers. Sure, they could have been more taut and diplomatic and put up an honest face saying that looking at the state of affairs in the sub-continent, they were not too keen on promoting Aman ki Aasha here. Isn’t this a rational decision where investors with limited money put in the money, keeping in mind the maximization of their returns?

But then cricket in India’s been a simple game – it is a kind of diplomatic chessboard where every guy has a word on how to play one’s moves. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) claims that the move was a deliberate snub by India and that the Modi must apologize for hurting the sentiments of thousands of Pakistanis. The way I see it, the IPL and India have made fun of us and our country by treating us this way," Afridi said. 'I am very disappointed,' said all-rounder Abdul Razzaq. 'This is a conspiracy to malign us... It was their plan.' Pakistan Sports Minister Jhakhrani told Indian Sports Minister M.S. Gill that it was 'utterly disappointing that not a single Pakistani was auctioned for the cash lucrative IPL'.

The Government also decided to put in feeble comments on how eager they were all to watch the Pakistani players and how Modi and Co had missed this window of opportunity. Rediff reports - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is believed to be extremely upset -- some say even livid -- over the manner in which Indian Premier League boss Lalit Modi has ensured that Pakistan players are kept out of the latest edition of the Twenty20 extravaganza. The Indian PM actually spoke, without asking for madam’s instructions!!!! Wish he explained what window of opportunity is it that has been squandered? Maybe it’s time we had a few cricketers to handle our foreign affairs – would be so much easier to shut down terrorist camps and bring about peace.

Union Minister for Youth and Sports M.S. Gill said I trust, that the IPL corporate owners of cricket, have also taken a small lesson, from all this. Everyone must realize, that sports are the bedrock, of people-to-people contact, which we need to promote, with our neighbours. Can someone remind him to try and resolve the sad state of affairs facing hockey in India, with the impending World Cup in February, instead of promoting world peace? Women’s hockey is in a worse situation and the Commonwealth is around the corner but we have left it to the Gods to complete the work on time.

Earlier, Home Minister P Chidambaram had also chided the IPL franchisees, saying the franchisees had done a "disservice" to the game by ignoring the Pakistani players. Chidambaram said the cricket lovers were disappointed by the franchisees' behaviour and felt the entire controversy was avoidable. Of course, if there are any untoward events that would happen, don’t expect the government to gear up to handle the situation? SRK (trying to sound more intelligent than Aamir) chipped in that saying it is sad that Pakistani players were not picked for the event but also adds that such a climate needs to be created for Pakistani players to play (since such a climate does not exist, why the so-called feeling of humiliation at not inviting them?)

The Home Ministry says that there has been a greater outbreak of hostilities lately and the chances of terrorist activities have grown multi-fold in the recent past? Under such circumstances, if some terrorist activity were to happen, what would be the reactions of Indians and Pakistanis here? Can the government promise that Pakistani players would be safe here under any circumstances and protect them (and even Aussies now) from the madness of Shiv Sainiks, who know that they can make the ugliest of remarks and exhibit violence against anyone Bal Thackeray points at and get away with it because the spineless government cannot stop these buffoons?

Skipping an IPL is a snub to Pakistani cricket and has damaged it, says sources. So, if a handful of players make millions, would Pakistani cricket actually be better off? The Pakistani players ignored at the auction were justified in feeling humiliated because they were obviously not judged on merit. But they could have also handled it quietly and taken the moral higher ground but then that’s clearly asking too much from them. By taking measures like cancellation of the visit to India by parliamentarians and the election commissioner and making calls to boycott all sports events scheduled to be held in India, they have merely aggravated the issue.

The IPL is just an investment for the parties who have put crores into it and want to play it safe? How different is it if a private entity decides to start a company in India and decides to play safe and cut all risks. If there were to be a situation like a 26/11 again, will the franchises be able to play the Pakistanis in India (After all, the same Pakistan Governemnt banned its players from playing in IPL-2 stating the same reason)? So, the franchises took a practical call that having Pakistani players in their sides could lead to potential problems. But judging by reactions, the franchises have in one stroke hurt Indo-Pak relations, insulted cricket fans worldwide, embarrassed the country and even brought India and Pakistan to a potential war (What the Mumbai terror attacks could not achieve — an Indo-Pak war — this fresh row could well do that – yes, Pradeep Magazine actually wrote that in The Hindustan Times!!!)

Cricket has, unfortunately, this wonderful responsibility to bring world peace and people still dream that it will bring people together. I must confess that I harboured such thoughts at the height of the Agra Summit hype but as time passes, I have stopped allowing myself to indulge in such inane fantasies. The IPL is a commercial enterprise run by a group of savvy businessmen who can see the fiscal potential of the game; attributing larger virtues of brotherhood is simply foolhardy.

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