Modi harnesses cricket and politics to remake India


As England’s batsmen succumbed to India’s attack on the opening day of their cricket try-out match, another Indian won even more during the match, although he did have not played a single ball: Narendra Modi.

Indian politicians have long been deeply involved in cricket, basking in the money, power and glory of the country’s most popular pastime – much to the dismay of purists who claim political interference has held back the sport .

Modi, however, has taken India’s cricket policy to new heights. India and England played in Ahmedabad, his political hometown, at a recently rebuilt cricket stadium – the largest in the world – which was renowned for the Prime Minister shortly before Wednesday’s game.

For some observers, Modi and his Bharatiya Janata party’s hold on Indian cricket symbolizes how they are reshaping the country’s political and economic order.

“The stadium itself – the name, how it was funded and the people who run Gujarat cricket as a state body – speak volumes about the power structure in contemporary India under the BJP, “said Ronojoy Sen, senior researcher at the National University of Singapore and author of a History of Indian Sports.

Narendra Modi supporters see the world’s largest cricket stadium as a symbol of India’s ambitions © AFP via Getty Images

The 100,000-seat pitch was designed when Modi ran the state-level Gujarat Cricket Association, before his rise in national politics. His right arm Amit Shah, now Minister of the Interior, became president of the body.

The ground stands, built for an estimated Rs8bn ($ 110 million), were named after Mukesh AmbaniReliance Industries and Gautam AdaniThe eponymous group of India, India’s two most powerful tycoons with close ties to the Prime Minister.

Shah’s son Jay is secretary of India’s Cricket Control Board, the world’s richest and most powerful cricket board, while a father-son duo of Reliance executives recently helped run the association of Gujarat.

For Modi’s supporters, the stadium highlights the ability of an ambitious leader to deliver world class infrastructure it will help India shine in the world.

But for his opponents, he sums up what they decry as a link between the prime minister and his favorite lieutenants and magnates, whose collective influence over India’s political and economic system has been hotly debated.

“It’s beautiful as the truth turns out,” Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress party, wrote on Twitter. “Narendra Modi Stadium / Adani end / Reliance end / Under the presidency of Jay Shah.”

Motera stadium was renamed after the Prime Minister hours before the third test between India and England © Amit Dave / Reuters

Indian leaders have long flocked to cricket for its universal appeal – its popularity transcending regional, caste or religious divisions – as well as for the many opportunities for patronage. While the early Hindu nationalist ideologues of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s parent organization, decried cricket as a colonial import, later generations of rulers such as Modi and Shah embraced it.

“Cricket is a cocktail of money, power and influence – even Bollywood,” said Mahesh Langa, reporter for Hindu newspaper in Ahmedabad.

The continued involvement of politicians in local and national cricket bodies has fueled allegations of mismanagement and corruption. As early as 1959, legendary drummer Vijay Merchant lamented that “there is a lot of politics in our cricket”, according to Ronojoy Sen’s book, Nation in play.

This sparked reform campaigns, with limited success. In 2017, the Supreme Court overhauled the management of the BCCI to impose term limits and prevent ministers from holding positions. Some of the reforms are being challenged in court.

Observers have questioned the will of the country’s leaders to keep their distance from sport, especially with its rapid commercialization, especially after the Indian Premier LeagueThe 2008 launch sparked an unprecedented windfall.

“The involvement of politics in cricket is very strong and growing,” said Ayaz Memon, writer and sports commentator. “It’s an axis in a massive sport which over the past 30 years has grown incredibly rich.”

Vinod Rai, a former auditor general who was appointed to BCCI by the Supreme Court to implement its recommendations, said: “There are very few places where it is not politicians who control these institutions.”

He added that Modi and Shah, unlike many others, had at least been successful in getting things done. “A beautiful international stadium having been built is a huge feather in the cap,” he said.

Motera Stadium, as it was popularly known, was originally built in 1983 when the Congress Party ruled Gujarat.

In 2009 Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, was elected to lead the state cricket association, wresting control from Congress in a move that heralded his triumph in national polls five years later.

It was then that he launched plans to rebuild the stadium, which reopened to the public last year when the former US president Donald Trump visited India. It hosted its first game against England this week.

The fact that Ahmedabad, long neglected as a cricket hub, is now on the world circuit alongside Mumbai, Sydney or London is a testament to what Modi’s supporters contend to be his transformative vision and execution.

Others said he highlighted how the prime minister has concentrated India’s power structures around himself and his close allies – from centralized government policy to the heavy use of his image to promote social protection programs or sports.

Sandeep Dwivedi, a columnist for the Indian Express, wrote that the center of Indian cricket had moved “from Mumbai to Motera. . . not even a blade of grass has been cut in Indian cricket without the compulsory call in Ahmedabad ”.

For Modi’s loyal base in Gujarat, this change is long overdue.

Aditya Mehta, a 22-year-old master’s degree student in biotechnology, said off the pitch: “Our Prime Minister and Home Secretary built the world’s largest cricket ground, and now every possible match can have. place in this stadium.



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