Cricket, once hailed as a gentleman’s game, has undergone a seismic transformation in India. In an era where cricket has transitioned from a mere sport to a lucrative profession, it attracts the attention of politicians seeking to wield influence and access abundant funds.
The recent clash between arch-rivals India and Pakistan at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium during the 2023 International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup has transcended the realm of sports to become a potent political battleground. This highly strategic choice of venue and timing, aimed at not only drawing an overflowing crowd but also coinciding with state assembly elections in five states, presents the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with a golden opportunity to capitalize on nationalistic sentiments.
The BJP’s well-oiled propaganda machine is primed to utilize India’s victory over Pakistan as a symbol of its prowess, with Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s presence adding a touch of political glamour to the event.
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Cricket as a Political Arsenal: The BJP’s Dominance in Indian Cricket
The BJP has elevated the nexus between politics and cricket to an entirely new level, primarily through its expansive control over the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). This far-reaching influence is orchestrated by Jay Shah, the 35-year-old secretary of the BCCI and the son of Amit Shah, India’s influential Home Minister and a close confidant of Prime Minister Modi. The BJP’s stranglehold extends through various levels, including the BCCI’s state cricket associations, allowing it to shape crucial decisions surrounding the ICC World Cup – from selecting venues to crafting the schedule and even managing the sale of public tickets.
The intertwining of cricket and politics in India is not a new phenomenon. ICC World Cup has long been a sport that invokes fervent national pride and passion among its fans, serving as a powerful platform for politicians to connect with the masses. However, the BJP’s ascent in Indian cricket governance has reached unprecedented levels. Its control over the BCCI has allowed the party to exercise considerable influence over the sport’s administration, making the ICC World Cup more politically charged than ever before.
ICC World Cup as a Tool for Demonization
The BJP’s engagement with ICC World Cup extends beyond mere stadium names and venue choices. In recent years, the sport and the Indian national team have been co-opted as symbols of heightened Hindu nationalism and jingoism. Television broadcasts and advertisements during major cricketing events frequently focus on India’s supremacy over its rivals while ridiculing opposition teams, especially Pakistan, for their World Cup defeats to India. Notably, the Indian government delayed issuing visas to the Pakistan team, compelling them to abandon their plans for a two-day training camp in Dubai. Subsequently, their first warm-up game in Hyderabad on September 29 was shrouded in secrecy, with closed-door proceedings.
This politically charged approach to ICC World Cup has garnered both praise and criticism. While it strengthens the BJP’s image as a party that champions Indian national pride, it also heightens tensions with neighboring Pakistan and perpetuates divisive narratives that may have repercussions beyond the cricket field.
Cricket’s Paradox: Commercial Success vs. Ticket Transparency
Mukul Kesavan, a prominent cricket writer, aptly characterizes Indian cricket as a “paradox.” While it has become a resounding commercial success, it grapples with transparency in ticket sales for marquee events like the ICC World Cup. Criticisms of the BCCI and India’s preparations for the World Cup have increasingly become intertwined with political figures, rendering them delicate subjects best avoided in public discourse.
The challenge of selling tickets transparently for cricket’s greatest event highlights a broader issue within the sport. The commercialization and politicization of cricket have led to a lack of transparency in crucial aspects, including ticket sales. This lack of transparency can erode the trust of cricket fans and diminish the overall integrity of the sport.
A High-Stakes Political Arena in India
In India, cricket isn’t merely a sport but a fulcrum of political power and influence, skillfully harnessed by the ruling party to advance its agenda. The BJP’s far-reaching control over the BCCI, the christening of stadiums in honor of political icons, and the deliberate melding of cricket with the ideology of nationalism illustrate how politics and sports have merged on this grand stage. Whether this intriguing approach will yield the anticipated political dividends remains uncertain, but one thing is evident – cricket has become a potent tool wielded by India’s leaders.
As the cricketing world eagerly awaits the outcome of the 2023 ICC World Cup, the focus remains unflinchingly on the stadium. Beyond the runs and wickets, it’s where political points are scored, signifying the high-stakes game that has transformed cricket into more than just a sport – it’s now a sensational power play in India. With cricket continuing to be at the intersection of politics and sport, its future is destined to be a captivating saga, driven by both fervent fans and astute politicians.