New Delhi: Before the start of the India-Australia cricket match on Thursday morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese took a “lap of honour” around the Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad. They were seated on a chariot-like vehicle, made out of a golf cart, which bore the message ‘Friendship through cricket’.
In addition to Modi taking this lap around the stadium named after him, he was presented with a picture of himself by Jay Shah, secretary of the BCCI and son of Union home minister Amit Shah. This is Modi’s first visit to this stadium after it was refurbished and renamed.
As some commentators have pointed out, the event seemed more like a political rally than a cricket match. One of the major reasons for this appears to be that 80,000 tickets for the first day of this test match, as Gujarati newspaper Divya Bhaskar has reported, were purchased by the BJP. The stadium seats about 1,30,000 people.
Four BJP MLAs from Gujarat confirmed to The Wire that they have been instructed to buy tickets for the match. One MLA said that he himself had purchased 12,000 tickets. BookMyShow, where the tickets were being sold, refused to comment when contacted by The Wire.
Arjun Modhwadia, a Congress MLA from Gujarat, criticised the BCCI for allowing this kind of politicisation of a cricket match. “Reducing a great sport like cricket into a political spectacle is ridiculous,” he told The Wire. By purchasing tickets like this, he continued, the BJP was reducing the match to political cheering and showmanship.
Fans travelling from overseas have reportedly had a tough time trying to get tickets for this particular match. The only seats members of the public were able to get tickets for, ABC News reported, were ones from were the match would be barely visible. It was only after pressure that some more tickets were made available for Australians. “A box office is being set up at the stadium for Aussie fans to buy tickets,” Cricket Australia tweeted.
Ahead of the VIP visit, Ahmedabad’s streets were cleaned and also dotted with posters – some welcoming Albanese and others talking about a ‘Vibrant Gujarat’.
In Australia, questions were raised about why the country was endorsing India’s ruling party in this way.
“India’s Gujurat being a dry state, you won’t be able to avail yourself of a beer at the fourth Test in Ahmedabad. But if you like your cricket with a side serve of fascistic ostentation, the climax of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Ahmedabad will be right up your alley,” cricket writer Gideon Haigh wrote in The Australian, in an article titled ‘Why are we tolerating the intolerant?’.
Haigh also brought up Modi’s dubious human rights records, particularly during the 2002 Gujarat riots:
“Usman Khawaja [an Australian cricketer] will be required to shake the hand of the man in charge of the city when, 21 years ago, hundreds of his coreligionists were slaughtered and tens of thousands displaced in the pogroms following the Godhra train burning while security forces remained mysteriously inactive. Strange that in Australia there’s all that sensitivity to Khawaja being anyway near a can of VB [a beer], but here nobody’s fussed about his being placed in uncomfortable proximity to a political leader whose whole career has been characterised by demonising and disenfranchising India’s Muslims,” he wrote.
ABC News too talked about how the cricket match – like other parts of the visit – seemed to be a PR exercise. “It’s unheard of to see the prime minister’s face so prominently displayed at an international sporting event in Australia, in fact, it would probably be frowned upon by many sports fans,” the website’s report states. “But in India — where Mr Albanese is touring this week — the Modi government is putting on a show.”