UPA, Cricket (and the Tamils)

Chennai’s “Karulalithaa” has caught the eye of the (non-South) Indian media. But what’s the source of all this drama?

WrittenBy:Indrajit Hazra
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Democratic politics is, by definition, populist politics. If one side offers you this for your vote, then the other side should be offering you that — that is, if the latter doesn’t offer you this and that.

This suspiciously looks like an open bribe. And that’s because it is. It may seem that a party promising bijli, sadak, paani or food security for all is avoiding the crass freebies-for-votes route. But how different is it really from throwing one-off goodies at people?

In the 2006 assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, the DMK – then in opposition – promised in its election manifesto that if it came to power it would provide colour television sets to all households that already did not have one and “quality rice” at Rs 2 per kilogram through ration shops.

This was in response to the ruling AIADMK’s promise to continue providing rice at Rs 3.50 per kilogram. No correlation between the DMK’s better offer and its subsequent victory can be made, especially since the turnstile model of ‘AIADMK this time-DMK the next’ has been the template for voters in Tamil Nadu since 1989. But the people of Tamil Nadu certainly were the gainers with cheaper rice and a free colour TV, along with free gas stoves for poor women and a monthly maternity scheme of Rs 1,000 for six months.

And as is the case with such a “welfare” model, demands and expectations rise among the electorate. But how do you make an offer of less than Rs 2.50 a kg for “quality” rice in inflationary conditions prior to Lok Sabha elections? For every glass ceiling, there’s also a cement basement floor which simply can’t be penetrated.

Which is when democratic politics has to find other demands to satisfy. Which is where the Sri Lanka Tamil card comes so much handy to both players in Chennai. Commentators have slammed how both the DMK (by pulling out of the UPA at a time when its self-identity as well as self-esteem is at an all-time low) and the AIADMK (by successfully demanding that Sri Lankan cricketers not be allowed to play in the forthcoming IPL tournament in Tamil Nadu and by extension in India) have simply used the issue of Tamil atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan government to shore up political brownie points.

Well, of course, both sides have conjured up this bloody rabbit out of the hat for their own populist purposes. But whatever be their motives, the DMK and the AIADMK, both slammed for “suddenly waking up after years” to the horrors perpetrated against Tamils in northern Sri Lanka, have managed to bring those horrors to the table of apathetic Indians.

New Delhi, in its role as resident Chanakya, continues to hunt with the hounds of international opinion and run with the hare of its friends in Colombo (who, in the meantime, have been making India nervous about their growing friendship with [pregnant pause] China). But how many Indians outside Tamil Nadu were even remotely aware prior to the competitive finger-wagging in Chennai about Sri Lanka’s continuing treatment of its Tamil minorities after the brutal LTTE’s liquidation? I even hear informed people south of the Vindhyas now talk about the mass murders and mass graves in Mullivaikkkal thanks to the media interest and coverage in the “purely political” stories about the DMK’s and the AIADMK’s shenanigans.

But there is good old Indian journalism being distracted by the bright colours that waft into Delhi’s airspace. Chunks of airtime and kilometres of print have already been expended on the decision to not have Sri Lankan cricketers play in the IPL tournament that starts on April 3. I heard pundits of the calibre of rent-an-opinion Suhel Seth and big-earlobed sports writer Boria Majumdar rail against the mixing of politics with cricket – Seth almost bringing me to tears when he implored politicians not to take away whatever little joys Indians still had (I think he was referring to multi-ethnic, first rate competitive cricket). A Shiv Sainik was also carted in to discuss the matter – with the debate getting sidetracked into why the Shiv Sena is so dead against Pakistanis playing cricket in India. ‘Why, why, WHY?’

There was little trickle-down to the “real” story about why Jayalalithaa wanted Sri Lankans out of her sight and why K ‘Goggles’ Karunanidhi pulled out because the Government of India refused to name and shame Colombo’s shameful activities. There have been exceptions such as Meena Kandasamy’s passionate opinion piece in Outlook (www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?284545 ‘Only a Homeland For a Toothless Paper Tiger’, April 1) that was written just after the DMK pullout from the Centre and before Jayalalithaa’s IPL curveball.

Perhaps this disinterest from the media is to highlight the general opposition to the “forced” connection made by the Tamil Nadu chief minister between atrocities against Tamils in Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans participating in the IPL. But I somehow suspect that the disinterest in the Sri Lankan “source” story has more to do with it being a less “debatable” subject. With Colombo having successfully quarantined any information or news from the Tamil refugee camps and rehabilitation areas and disallowing western media – the Indian media’s bloodline for stories beyond its own backyard – from entering these zones, it would be very difficult to hold the viewer’s attention on a talking heads show with the Tamil-Sri Lanka story as its subject.

In any case, the excuse being bandied about to express one’s disapproval of the ban on Sri Lankan players is that New Delhi hasn’t snapped off relations with Colombo, so why has BCCI been “forced” to comply with Jayalalithaa’s demands? The answer to that is because New Delhi doesn’t want to snap off relations with Colombo but doesn’t want to do nothing, so… “Hello, is this the BCCI president’s office? This is the office of the home ministry”.

So if one does have to wag a finger at the two Tamil Nadu parties for making a “national” issue out of Sri Lanka’s treatment towards its Tamil population for its own “cheapo” purposes, there’s no harm wagging a finger and throwing in a frown at our media for jumping to catch the frisbee in the park while a long-drawn daylight robbery continues to take place in the neighbourhood.

P.S. At the time of writing, India Today’s latest issue is carrying a cover story by Sanjeev Unnithan on the Sri Lankan army’s creation of “war museums” highlighting Colombo’s victory over the LTTE. Tamil areas, including former LTTE barracks and operational centres have been – according to the story – opened to visitors and school children. The story, “Cry For Help”, visits areas such as Karaiyamullivaikal, Puthukkudiyiruppu and other Tamil Eelam zones in north and north-eastern Sri Lanka.

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Image By: Sumit Kumar


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