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IPL – the convenient scapegoat for all of India’s ills

Wisden India logo Wisden India 15-04-2016

Every year since 2008, like clockwork, the Indian Premier League arrives in the early stages of April. Inevitably, it arrives in a blaze of controversy too, not all of which is of its making.

No cricketing tournament anywhere in the world has polarised opinion like the IPL has, season after season, edition after edition, almost game after game. There are some who believe the IPL has done more to make cricket the global village that Marshall McLuhan envisaged in an entirely different context in the late 1960s than anything else. Then, there are others who lay the blame for all the ills in the world on the ‘cash-rich’ league whose only interest, we are repeatedly informed across platforms, is to fill the coffers of the cricket board, the franchises, the sponsors and, of course, the players themselves.

Season Nine is less than a week old – seems almost an impossibility that, given how much attention has been centred around the tournament – and has already stumbled from one roadblock to another, the latest coming in the shape of the Bombay High Court directive which necessitates the Board of Control for Cricket in India to relocate all matches scheduled in drought-hit Maharashtra after April 30.

The two-judge bench comprising Justice MS Karnik and Justice VM Kanade heard arguments from all parties concerned, weighed the pros and cons and, almost certainly, also took popular sentiment into consideration before deciding in its infinite wisdom that while the show must go on, it has go on outside of a state which has been reeling under severe drought in the absence of adequate rainfall for the past couple of years.

Why it needed the IPL to highlight the plight of the common man in general, and the farmers in particular, is the big question. Should it then be construed that, had matches in the IPL not been scheduled in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur, the severity of the drought and its debilitating effect on people would have been swept under the carpet? If that were to have been the case, then some good must be seen to have come out of the IPL, however twisted and warped an argument that might appear to be.

It’s one of the great ironies of the world that water makes up 71% of the earth’s surface, while the other 29% consists of continents and islands – land mass, if you will. To break it down even further, 96.5% of all of the earth’s water is contained within the oceans as salt water, while the remaining 3.5% is freshwater lakes and frozen water in the form of glaciers and polar ice caps. And yet, it is water, that precious commodity so essential for everyday life, that is at a scarcity because even though the oceans cover 71% of the earth’s surface, they only account for 0.02% of the planet’s total mass.

Tempting, as it might be to point to the vagaries of Nature as the primary reason for droughts especially, it will be worth looking inward to see how much we have done as people to harvest water of any kind – rainwater, seawater, sewage water. Have we had the foresight initially, and just normal vision with the passage of time, to put processes in place to account for these situations? Water harvesting is certainly no rocket science; all it requires is a modest long-term investment in readily available technology, and a desire to make sure that the most basic of all requirements doesn’t become a luxury. As a people, we have singularly failed in that endeavour. Hence the compelling need to look for another scapegoat. Welcome, the Indian Premier League. And thank you for coming.

Sensitivity is as integral a trait as is sensibility. But again, as a people, how sensitive are we to the plight of our suffering brethren? Does it do us any credit to jump on this IPL bandwagon for personal gains and brownie points, using our own prejudices to further a cause that is forgotten as soon as ‘victory’ is achieved? The Bombay High Court ruling has been hailed as a huge victory for the people. I wonder who these people are. Are they really the ones suffering from having to walk 20 kilometres for a bucket of water? Or are they those sitting in air-conditioned studios, embracing a stance of moral convenience and then moving on to the next ‘juicy’ story that is certain to attract eyeballs, boost TRPs and have you at home reaching for the remote to manage rapidly burgeoning decibel levels?

If the moving out of the IPL matches from Maharashtra improves the ground situation in the state, then there’s nothing like that, of course. But will it? Will it really? Is this the ultimate solution, the panacea for the lack of rains and lack of foresight, for the lack of preparedness and for what has to be construed as remarkable apathy from the men and women who have been elected primarily to look after their constituents? How well are the funds that gush into the chief minister’s relief fund utilised to provide short-term succour in the immediate present and long-term solutions given that changing weather patterns stemming largely from man’s avarice will continue to throw up similar situations in the future?

Why is it that we are reluctant to hold our elected representatives answerable? And do we do what we can to conserve water within the confines of our homes? You might ask how being economical with water at your home in Assam or Kerala will help those in Maharashtra and Telangana. If nothing else, it is showing solidarity. Perhaps that’s why the BCCI’s defence of using non-potable and recycled sewage water from the RWITC for the upkeep of pitches and outfields did not cut any ice.

Obviously, there are more important things than a game – or a tournament – of cricket. As Rahul Dravid said, if banning the IPL will improve the drought situation, then ban it by all means. The world doesn’t not revolve around the IPL, and money isn’t the thing that makes the world go round. In that context, the reasonably successful attempt to hold the IPL singularly responsible for the unfortunate scenario in Maharashtra is almost self-defeating. The various stakeholders in the IPL will take a severe hit following the Bombay High Court verdict, but that’s unavoidable under the circumstances. It’s a small price to pay – the cynical might say it’s an easy line to adopt because it is not our money – if it helps contribute to making the life of those in severe strife in Maharashtra as a whole and in the Marathwada region specifically a lot better. And it is worth remembering that that has to be our ultimate goal – ameliorating the suffering, not looking to score brownie points.

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