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IPL is not about national pride

By B Raman
March 09, 2009 18:19 IST
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Should the Indian Premier League tournament go ahead as scheduled, or should it be postponed due to security considerations?

The national debate on this question is sought to be influenced more by commercial considerations arising from the profit-making urge of the corporate entities owning the participating teams and the money-making urge of different sections of the media and the advertising community, than by security considerations which have assumed an added importance in view of the recent terrorist strikes in Mumbai and Lahore.

The importance of ensuring the security of life and property of the common citizens is sought to be subordinated to catering to the money-making urge of these sections with a vested interest in seeing that the IPL tournament goes ahead as scheduled. One also has valid reasons to suspect that electoral considerations -- the anxiety of the Congress not to step on the toes of Sharad Pawar, who apart from being an influential member of the Union cabinet wears a second hat as the czar of the commercial cricket world -- are also playing a role in preventing a totally professional judgement on  the issue.

The IPL organisers should have known that elections to the Indian Parliament were due before May 2009. This is a Constitutional requirement which has to be fulfilled. Making security arrangements for the elections in the rural and urban areas is always a very difficult task. This is going to be even more difficult this year in the wake of the wave of terrorist strikes since May 2008 -- in Jaipur, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Assam and Mumbai. Home Minister P Chidambarm was quoted on TV as saying that one has to be prepared for a possible terrorist strike as the elections approach.

In view of this, one would have expected that in getting a window of dates for the IPL tournament approved by the concerned international cricketing authorities, the IPL organisers would have seen that the tournament dates did not clash with the likely election dates. Even if there was no terrorist threat, making simultaneous security arrangements for two major events such as the general elections and a cricket tournament of tremendous public interest would have been an uphill task for our security agencies, the police and paramilitary forces.

Even in the absence of possible threats from terrorists, there would have been tremendous pressure on their manpower resources. It is not just a question of finding the required manpower. It is also a question of giving adequate rest in between polls and cricket matches to the forces that would be deployed to provide security. A tired member of the security forces cannot reasonably be expected to be alert enough to prevent a threat to security.

The security arrangements are likely to be more difficult and complex this year due to the recently-emerged threat from terrorists. Before the attempt by a group of terrorists to blow up New York's World Trade Centre in February 1993, the conventional wisdom among terrorism analysts was that terrorists would not indulge in mass casualty terrorism as that could antagonise public opinion. The February 1993 attempt disproved this and showed that a new group of terrorists has arrived who are not bothered about the impact of their actions on public opinion.

Before the Lahore terrorist attack of March 3, 2009, the conventional wisdom was that terrorists would not target a cricket match in the subcontinent because that could antagonise millions of the cricket-loving public of the subcontinent. This too now stands disproved. The terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan team without bothering about the impact on public opinion and on the cricket-loving public. Shockingly, the cricket-loving public of Pakistan too has not condemned the attack. It has chosen to keep quiet.

The terrorists have seen, firstly, how their actions have not had an adverse impact on the minds of the cricket-loving public and, secondly, what kind of publicity they got all over the world.

Any sensible member of the security community anywhere in the world would take the lessons from Lahore into consideration while drawing up security plans for sports events. The first lesson from Lahore is that it is more difficult to make route security arrangements than security arrangements at the hotel and in the stadium. The second lesson is that even the best of security can break down in the face of determined commando-style attacks. This is a modus operandi to which an appropriate response by the security forces is yet to be found.

By their totally unwise action in fixing the dates of the tournament at the same time as the elections, the IPL organisers have placed the government and its security bureaucracy in a cruel dilemma. If they suggest a postponement of the tournament, they might give the impression that they have allowed themselves to be intimidated by the terrorists. Such an impression could give added oxygen to the terrorists. If they go ahead with the tournament, despite its clashing with the general elections and despite the deterioration in the security situation, they could be playing with the security of the lives and property of the citizens of this country.

Faced with this dilemma, it is important that the government goes purely by the professional assessment and advice of  the security bureaucracy in deciding whether the IPL should go ahead as scheduled. Unwarranted arguments such as "national pride" etc should not be allowed to indluence the decision. Commercial and electoral considerations should not be allowed to prevail over security considerations. Professional views are more important than the views of vested commercial interests.

The writer is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com

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