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How Bengal & Himachal politics played around India-Pak WC T20 match at Eden

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For the teams and the cricket lovers, the reasons to feel happy and sad might have ended with the winning runs that came of skipper MS Dhoni's bat, but for the politicians, the high-voltage India-Pakistan match at the Eden Gardens on March 19 was more than just a game.

Ask the likes of West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, the Bengal state Congress, BJP MP and cricket administrator Anurag Thakur or Himachal Pradesh's Congress's Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.

dhoni afridi

Sting-op wary Mamata had a great scope to send across a feel-good message

The TMC supremo had a welcome opportunity to make the most of the match ahead of the Assembly election in the state starting April 4. From the moment the match was shifted to Kolkata from Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh to the pre-match felicitations of some former greats from both India and Pakistan besides Amitabh Bachchan, Banerjee used the opportunity to convey a feel-good message to a huge audience which was glued to the occasion.

Honouring Pak cricketers ahead of elections a helpful gesture

She just not tried to show that the shifting of the match to Kolkata spoke highly about her government's 'strong' stand on divisiveness but also by honouring former Pakistani cricketers like Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, she gave a signal to the minority sentiments. 'I do not believe in divisive politics' was precisely the message. And ahead of the Bengal polls, this message suggests that she is at a distance from both the BJP and Congress (the latter is in power in Himachal Pradesh from where the match was shifted).

Welcoming Ghulam Ali, Pak cricket team: 'I do not believe in saffron style of politics' is Mamata's message

After welcoming Pakistani Ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali to Kolkata after his scheduled events in Maharashtra were cancelled because of the Shiv Sena's protests, the star-studded Eden match between India and Pakistan was certainly a moment that Banerjee had to cash on in the wake of the first episode of the Narada sting operation.

But has this make Bengal Congress upset with Himachal Congress?

The Bengal Congress will feel upset even if it is saying on the face that Banerjee succeeded little in convincing the minority voters about her government's goodwill. State Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury said Banerjee's tokenism has been exposed now since the minorities of the states haven't seen any real empowerment under her rule.

But despite criticising her, the state Congress will also rue the fact that the match was shifted from a Congress-ruled state.

According to reports, the match was shifted after Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh decided to take into consideration of the sentiments of war veterans who were against hosting the match in Dharamsala in the wake of the death of a number of Indian soldiers in terror attacks in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Did Virbhadra refuse to host the match to teach a lesson to his opponent BJP?

But the security reason was just a faÇade, observers feel. The real reason is, as the political circles have been saying, is CM Singh took a strong stand to not only embarrass Anurag Thakur, BCCI secretary and chief of the Himachal Pradesh cricket body before the international cricket fraternity but also to score some brownie points in the Dharamsala municipal corporation elections scheduled on March 27.

Dishonouring army sentiments a risk ahead of municipal & Assembly elections

Had Singh not toed the widely followed line of nationalism now, his party could face an electoral debacle not just in the immediate civic elections and also in the Assembly elections in 2017. The Congress, with a few states under its rule now, cannot afford to lose them ahead of the Lok Sabha elections of 2019.

Anurag Thakur also seeks "revenge"

That Singh played to a plan was evident from Anurag Thakur's call on Sunday whereby he asked the people to vote for the BJP candidates in the upcoming municipal polls to take "revenge" against the Congress government in the state for shifting the India-Pakistan match to Kolkata, causing losses to the public and business community in crores. Anurag Thakur is the son of Prem Kumar Dhumal, Singh's arch-rival and a former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh.

Respective states' politics played a part in this cricket episode

So both in West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh, the respective state politics played a key part in the rescheduling of the match and capitalising on it. The BJP tried to make the most of the occasion in Kolkata by framing the moment when the Bachchans and Tendulkars were celebrating India's 6-wicket victory as a symbol of India's nationalism.

It was a consolation prize for the saffron camp at the most after it lost both the occasions in Dharamsala and Kolkata to claim its greatness in giving cricket a chance in these torrid times.

Story first published: Monday, March 21, 2016, 22:31 [IST]
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