PM hits a six of enemies, clean bowls friends

Published: Thursday, April 15, 2004, 15:56 [IST]
Share this on your social network:
   Facebook Twitter Google+    Comments Mail

New Delhi:When Pakistani and Indian cricket fans joined their flags together and danced arm-in-arm in a jam-packed stadium during last month's One-day final in Lahore, India's wily Prime Minister would have smiled.

He had hit his political opponents in the upcoming general elections for a six.

And when two kites, one in Pakistan's green and white, the other in India's orange, white and green, landed on the field mid-play electrifying an already highly-charged Gaddafi Stadium, his satisfaction would have been complete.

He had clean-bowled the hardliners within his own party.

The fact that India convincingly won the One-day series would have brought 79-year-old Atal Behari Vajpayee to his feet.

And there's no telling what the veteran politician will do should India this week also clinch their first-ever Test series in Pakistan.

Political commentators agree that Vajpayee took a risk in pushing for the tour to go ahead in the lead-up to the five-phased election, which begins April 20 and ends May 10.

Hardliners -- among them reportedly Vajpayee's deputy, Lal Krishna Advani -- had warned that any major incident during the 40-day tour, on or off the field, could have blown up in the face of Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it goes to the polls seeking a further term in power.

But Vajpayee was insistent, choosing, perhaps deliberately, Valentine's Day to give the green light for the tour to go ahead.

Fortunately for the premier the series has been hailed for its friendly spirit while the thousands of Indians who took advantage of the event to make their first-ever foray into Pakistan -- previously "enemy territory" -- have returned speaking only of the overwhelming hospitality they had received.

It was these kind of responses Vajpayee had been looking for to help build on the peace move he has initiated with Pakistan -- and which has now become an important part of his election platform, said New Delhi-based political commentator Inder Malhotra.

"The BJP made the point that the peace process with Pakistan will be an election issue -- the cricket is a wider part of this," Malhotra said.

Vajpayee on April 18 last year, at a rally in Indian Kashmir, extended a "hand of friendship" to Pakistan.

The gesture ended a tense military standoff between the nuclear-ready rivals that had been sparked by a bloody attack in December 2001 on India's Parliament by gunmen New Delhi claims were sponsored by Islamabad.

One year down the line, road, rail, air and full diplomatic links have been restored and substantive talks on key issues -- including Kashmir -- are due to begin once India's elections are out the way.

More importantly right now for hundreds of millions of Indian fans, India and Pakistan are playing cricket in each other's back yards again.

And Vajpayee is cashing in on his gamble, even as voters prepare to cast their ballots.

"Once we traded shells and bullets and today the battle is fought on cricket fields. Some, we have won and some have been won by Pakistan but it is the spirit in which the matches are being played and that is important," the slick-tongued premier told supporters during a roadshow in the eastern state of Orissa.

Malhotra, former editor of the influential Times of India newspaper, said the success of the cricket tour is likely to impact to some extent on voting patterns.

"The tour will be a factor in the elections, not a decisive factor but neverthless a factor," he said.

"The fact that it is even taking place at all will add to the 'feel-good' factor being promoted by the BJP."

Agreed Puspesh Pant, professor of International Relations at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, himself an ardent cricket fan.

"If India does well, the feel-good factor will be enhanced. If they lose the Test series, at least they have won the One-day series. The BJP can also say, 'Look, at least we are playing.' It can't lose."

The Congress Party, the BJP's main opponent in the election, meanwhile, has cried foul because the BJP is capitalising on what is a national rather than a party achievement.

A Congress spokesman warned politicians to tread cautiously in trying to capitalise on the tour.

"In India cricket surpasses politics," he said. "It is much more than politics. It is a national passion."

Write Comments