Shimla/New Delhi, March 1 (IANS) The marquee World Twenty20 match between India and Pakistan at Dharamsala threatens to snowball into a major controversy between the Indian cricket board and the state’s politicians, dragging Prime Minister Narendra Modi into it.
At root is the state’s political leaders’ strong reservations over holding the India-Pakistan match in a state that has a high chunk of serving and retired soldiers in the Indian Army as well as families of martyrs of the Kargil War.
Leaders from both the ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party are united in their opposition to the Super 10 Group 2 match being hosted at Dharamsala on March 19, keeping in mind the local sentiments.
While Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has in a letter to union Home Minister Rajnath Singh asserted that the state government will not be able to provide security during the game, former chief minister Shanta Kumar in his letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the match should not be allowed at Dharamsala in Kangra district as it is home to hundreds of valiant jawans, martyrs and ex-servicemen.
“We have informed the government of India on the security issues during the India and Pakistan match,” Virbhadra Singh told reporters in Shimla.
The chief minister was categorically clear in saying that “if the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) is keen on the match, it can hold it at its own risk”.
Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary Anurag Thakur, however, accused Singh of playing politics over the issue, asserting that the match should be held in Dharamsala since it is now too late to decide on a new venue.
“The venues of the World Cup matches were decided one year ago, the allotment of matches was decided six months ago. Fans and media from around the globe based on the fixtures make their bookings and we make sure we provide them with the facilities,” said Thakur, who is also a BJP MP.
“At the eleventh hour to show your failure that we cannot provide the security, it only gives a bad name to the state and the country. It is not fair to give such statements at the last minute,” Thakur told reporters in New Delhi.
“The Congress-led state government is clearly playing politics. Hundreds of Pakistani athletes were given security during the South Asian Games in Assam, why can’t the Himachal government do the same?” Thakur said.
“By claiming that you cannot provide security, you are only giving credence to Pakistani claims that there is a security threat to their team in India. It’s about the country’s image, you cannot play politics over it,” he added.
However, Thakur’s fellow-BJP parliamentarian Shanta Kumar also has in a missive to Prime Minister Modi on February 28 expressed concern over Dharamsala hosting the India and Pakistan match since the region is home to a large number of martyred soldiers, including Kargil War heroes Captain Vikram Batra and Captain Saurabh Kalia.
“In Kangra every family has one person either serving in the army or ex-servicemen. Recently, we lost two soldiers fighting Pakistani militants at Pathankot. There is a war memorial close to the cricket stadium,” Shanta Kumar pointed out to Modi.
The veteran BJP leader, who belongs to the Kangra parliamentary constituency, said the match could create a law and order problem, besides hurting the sentiments of the martyred and soldier families.
President of state Ex-Servicemen League Vijai Singh Mankotia also wrote to the prime minister, asking him to call off the match between India and Pakistan at Dharamsala.
He said it was a matter of pride that thousands of soldiers from the state are serving in the armed forces and hundreds of martyrs had sacrificed their lives.
“The holding of the match will not just hurt the sentiments of the families of the martyrs but could lead to a major law and order problem,” the former minister wrote.
State Transport Minister G.S. Bali has given an ultimatum to the BCCI, saying if the match is not cancelled, it will lead to a massive agitation.