Updated: June 18, 2015 12:00:39 am
The Lalit Modi-Sushma Swaraj controversy serves a cautionary note to politicians: they are one leaked email away from the next scandal that underlines the promiscuous criss-crossing and disappearing lines between the cricketing and political establishments in India. Being photographed, ringside, at an IPL game like Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje were, or vying for the top post of the cash rich league’s governing council like Rajeev Shukla did, must now be seen to be fraught with dangers that can return to haunt. For too long now, these growing intimacies, that include favours done with disregard to due process, out-of-turn allowances, and unchecked conflicts of interest, in the backdrop of big money and big power, have been an ill-kept secret. Now, the cover appears to have been blown by a controversy that, ironically enough, features at its centre two of the BJP’s most effective leaders — Sushma Swaraj, under whose quiet but resolute helmsmanship the external affairs ministry has notched several achievements, and Vasundhara Raje, who is the chief minister who has shown remarkable political boldness in initiating difficult projects, like that of labour reform, in Rajasthan.
This is not an argument for politicians to keep away from sporting events completely. US President Barack Obama is often spotted at the NBA and NFL games, he has even starred in a YouTube video, displaying a spot of fancy dribbling. But when powerful politicians are seen in the players’ dugouts, when they invite accusations of stitching up consortiums for franchises, or when politicians head most of the state cricket associations and openly push and pull for a place under the IPL officialdom’s sun, there is certainly reason to worry. By hyphenating their names with the IPL, politicians have lost the moral authority to play the bigger and much-needed role of rule-enforcer.
India’s political class is much too smitten by cricket. They need some distance from the dugout if they want to avoid being dragged into controversy. They need to heed what Justices R.M. Lodha and A.R. Dave of the Supreme Court said in 2012: “Let cricket be a game and not a ball for politicians”. As men and women answerable to the electorate, they can at best play the role of a regulator who keeps a watchful eye on the conduct of a big money event like the IPL, instead of plunging into the revelry and then repenting at leisure.
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