BY SUBHASHIS MITTRA
Call it cricket, call it diplomacy or call it politics. The upcoming India-Pakistan series has all the three ingredients to make the five-match tournament in India a heady mix.
As India prepares to host Pakistan, it is more at stake than just the short series of One-Day Internationals and Twenty20 matches in December and January. And, from all angles, the event is likely to transcend sports as cricket has long played a big part in India-Pakistan relations.
The Indian government’s decision to allow Pakistan to play in India came after lengthy discussions between officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and those of the Pakistan Cricket Board, between the two governments, and finally between the Indian Home Ministry and the Indian cricket board.
In July, the BCCI had decided to resume cricketing ties with Pakistan by inviting the neighbouring country for a short series in December 2012-January 2013, to be sandwiched between the Test and ODI legs of the England team’s tour of India.
The North Block, the headquarters of the Ministry of External Affairs, and the security establishment in the South Block are busy planning the event meticulously, given its widespread ramifications both at home and abroad.
No dilution of stand on 26/11
India has already made it very clear that its decision to resume cricketing ties with Pakistan was not a “dilution” of its demand for action against perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack and said Islamabad must deliver on its “frequently indicated promise” in this regard.
Articulating India’s expectation from Pakistan in the 26/11 case, the External Affairs Minister, Mr Salman Khurshid said, “We do hope this (resumption of cricketing ties) will be seen more of an attempt to persuade those people that this is collaborative effort and what was a conflict must be put to an end. It is a conflict on which there must be delivery of expectations that we have but we don’t want the clock to come to a standstill, clock does move forward…”
Without mincing words, Mr Khurshid said, “As far as cricket is concerned, we are certainly concerned about issues that relate to accountability for very unforeseen attack on our citizens and we expect all countries, including our neighbour country Pakistan to deliver on their frequently indicated promise of that they will make these people accountable. There is no question of dilution of our demand and expectation…” On the decision of resuming the sporting ties, he said, “These are issues that are decided by people who have authority and have mandate on how far we should go and we should have faith in them.”
5,000 visas to Pakistanis
India is likely to issue 5,000 visas to Pakistani spectators to watch the Indo-Pak cricket series beginning December 25 but after framing stricter guidelines this time as several of them did not return home after watching such matches in the past.
A high-level special committee, comprising officials of the Home Ministry and security agencies, has been constituted to frame visa guidelines, finalise types of visa to be given to Pakistani cricket fans, whether to give the visa for one match or for multiple matches. Extra precautions may be taken this time before granting visa to Pakistani spectators as several Pakistanis went missing and did not return home after arriving in India to watch cricket matches in the past.
It may be recalled that during his interrogations, Pakistani-American terrorist David Headley had said that many Lashker-e-Taiba activists had carried out a recce of vital installations including the National Defence College during the Indo-Pak cricket match in Delhi.
“Though in the past India had been liberal in granting visas to Pakistani cricket fans, this time stringent measures may be adopted before issuing the travel permit,” a senior official said. The Union Home Secretary, Mr R K Singh has already held discussions with the BCCI on the issue of granting visa to Pakistani fans. A number of high-level Pakistani dignitaries are also expected to come to India to watch some matches.
The series would comprise three ODIs and two Twenty20 Internationals between December 2012 and January 2013. The ODI matches are likely to be played in Chennai, Kolkata and New Delhi and the Twenty20 games in Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Sticking to the established pattern of keeping Mumbai out of the itinerary of an India-Pakistan series, the BCCI has not proposed the country’s commercial hub as a venue for the upcoming series.
Shiva Sena’s threat
Shiv Sena chief, Mr Bal Thackeray has threatened to disrupt the upcoming five-match series saying the series was a ‘national shame.’ Pakistan played India in eight matches during their last tour here in 2007 but none of the matches were held in Mumbai. The last time India and Pakistan played in Mumbai was a test match in 1979, which India won. No India-Pakistan match has been scheduled in Mumbai for the last 33 years during which both countries have played nearly 50 matches at various other Indian venues.
The BCCI sees Mumbai as a no-no for an Indo-Pak match, especially after Shiv Sena vandalised the pitch at Wankhede Stadium in October 1991, protesting a proposed Indo-Pak series. Protestors had also dug up the cricket pitch in Delhi in 1999, but Indo-Pak matches have since been held in Delhi and the capital is hosting a match in the upcoming series as well on January 6, pointing to the fact that the no-show in Maharashtra remains due to the Shiv Sena presence there. Even participation of Pakistani players in next year’s IPL looks unlikely.
In a statement in Shiv Sena mouthpiece ‘Saamna,’ Mr Thackeray has asked, ‘staunch Hindus and patriotic public’ not to allow the ensuing Indo-Pak cricket matches in India, unless the Union Home Minister, Mr Sushilkumar Shinde withdraws his statement on “forgetting the past” to play cricket with Pakistan. Mr Shinde had commented that past incidents should not come in the way of allowing the Pakistan team to play cricket in India.
“Shinde saheb, if you have an iota of shame left, then withdraw this shameless remark of yours. I am bed ridden but even in this condition, my blood boils and hence I am making this appeal to my Hindu brethren to disrupt these matches,” Mr Thackeray wrote. “You say let bygones be bygones. What to forget and how to forget,” Mr Thackeray remarked.
But playing down the threat, an unfazed Union Minister of State for Home, Mr R P N Singh said, “We will provide foolproof security to the Pakistan cricket team. The matches will happen as per schedule. Those opposing it should take the game as game only.”