Breaking News: For security reasons. Along with IPL cricket the Lok Sabha elections will be held outside the country. Cell phone satirists are speedy creatures so this SMS arrived on my phone the day it was announced that Indias favourite cricket tournament was being outsourced for reasons of security. Perhaps,some cruel person sent the SMS to Shri P. Chidambaram because he appeared shortly afterwards on my television screen,glowering ferociously at the camera and pronouncing in those clipped,lawyerly tones that he had never said India was not safe for cricket tournaments.
Too late,Mr Home Minister,much too late. By then travel advisories warning against India as a salubrious,safe tourist destination were already flitting about the world. And,tourism to our battered and ancient land dropped further. It has been in freefall since the attack on Mumbai. If the Home Minister had been more robust in defending India against the false impression that we are as unsafe a country as Pakistan,none of this would have happened.
Why did he instigate the panic? Why was he the first high official to announce publicly that in view of the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore the IPL was unlikely to be possible during the period of the Lok Sabha election? I wrote then,in my humble way,that Shri Chidambaram should not have spoken as he did because he had made India sound as unsafe as Pakistan.
By then the mood created by the Home Ministers warning had trickled down to chief ministers less robust even than him,who said they were too scared to hold the tournament during the general election. In my view the organisers of the IPL behaved with remarkable restraint. They offered to change dates so that they did not clash with polling days,they cooperated fully in every way they could,but because official India remained adamant they were left with no choice but to move the tournament to South Africa.
What puzzles me is why the damage done by official obduracy is being blamed on the IPL bosses. Angry editorials in major newspapers (including this one) charge them with arrogance. Should this charge not be more appropriately made against the Home Minister? If he had stopped to think before he spoke he would have realised that it was not a good thing for him,as the man in charge of internal security,to be talking so loosely. If the availability of our security forces is so limited that we cannot hold a cricket tournament while the general election is on then whose fault is it if not that of the Home Minister?
Its true that we have been most unlucky in our Home Ministers since the jihad began against India. I believe the exact moment that the jihad spread beyond the borders of J& K was when IC 814 was hijacked. The Iron Man who seeks to become our next prime minister was the Home Minister then and he proved that he was really quite useless. Not only did he politely send a senior minister to escort the monsters we freed to Kandahar,he did nothing to catch them afterwards and nothing at all to build our defenses against Islamist terrorism. Every time there was an attack Shri Advani would respond by rubbing his hands together despondently while blaming the Pakistani hand.
Then came the haute couture Home Minister. Shri Shivraj Patils general response to a terrorist attack was to go home and change into a fresh pair of clothes. When he was criticised for being more interested in sartorial matters than in the attack at hand,he said petulantly that everyone had the right to change their clothes twice a day. By the time the attack on Mumbai happened he had taken the Home Ministry down to its lowest moment ever. He had to go.
When Mr Chidambaram replaced him he brought a few moments of hope but it seems now as if he did little more than create the impression that things would improve. If they really had improved,surely he would have personally guaranteed that India was safe for cricket matches,fashion shows,foreign tourists,consortiums of loose pub going women and elections. Why has he done the opposite? Only he knows.
Meanwhile,the country has been deprived of a tournament that brought many hours of joy to our cricket crazy land. In recent days I have met many angry cricket fans who admit that one reason why they will be voting against the Sonia-Manmohan government is the IPL. This is not as facetious as it sounds if you remember that national security is an issue that dominates almost all others in the coming election. Everyone remembers Mumbai.