Samir Chopra February 24, 2010

Modi's sensible plainspeak

There are other reasons why Modi's comments make sense for they raise an interesting point about the very nature of the IPL, about whether it is a domestic tournament or an international league

"Just like even a broken clock can tell the time correctly twice a day, even Lalit Modi can get it right at times" © Getty Images

I'm not a huge fan of Lalit Modi. One reason why I am reluctant to watch IPL games is there is always the chance that I might stumble across the latest Modi photo-op; I have described him as a zamindar in the past (when his ICL crackdown was in full swing); and when Modi acolytes have shown up on Eye-on-Cricket and demanded I respect his organisational skills and financial acumen, I have politely declined (I similarly find myself reluctant to sing hosannas in praise of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, gentlemen who have plenty of fans but whose achievements I find strangely uninspiring).

But respect must be shown where it is due. Just like even a broken clock can tell the time correctly twice a day, even Lalit Modi can get it right at times. And Modi's response to the release of the independent report commissioned by players' unions in England, Australia and South Africa that has led to talk of shifting the 2010 IPL to another country is a good example of that.

First, Modi correctly notes that "Nobody in the world can safeguard the safety of the players in any tournament. All we have to do is ensure we are putting on the best security". Indeed, there might be disagreements over what constitutes the best security for the visiting players but there can be no guarantees about the player's ultimate safety (perhaps El Al, the Israeli airline, might be able to provide one but I doubt even those formidable folks would go so far). And while the 'threat' to the international players is possibly 'credible', all that can be done is to hunker down and make sure that as many angles as possible are covered. Fleeing to another country isn't really a viable solution. Last year's move to South Africa took place because no security apparatus could be in place.

The IPL's staying put is just the way it has to be for anything else that has to take place in India (plenty of folks continue to go to work in Mumbai, I'm told). If terrorists were to issue kidnap threats against businessmen in India, should business come to a grinding halt?

But there are other reasons why Modi's comments make sense for they raise an interesting point about the very nature of the IPL, about whether it is a domestic tournament or an international league. For Modi goes on to say (showing a non-Vitalstatistix-like personality), "The heavens aren't going to fall...this is an Indian tournament...we have the key Indian players and only a few international players. You have to understand that the market for us is India...it's not only dependent on foreign players, although they are part of it."

Modi is calling his own bluff here. If the IPL goes ahead and is a success even with a diminished international player presence (and truth be told, I think there is a high probability there won't be a complete pullout because the greenback rules), it will have displayed its viability in an Indian market with Indian players and maintained the domestic competition image.

For now, Modi has done all he could do. He has spoken reassuringly to sponsors and has done the right kind of spinning when it comes to the status of the IPL. Behind the scenes, negotiations over the player's security demands will carry on.

The IPL will be played in India. If something does go wrong, there will be terrible consequence, sure. But the worst ones will not be that international players' concerns will have been vindicated. It will be that innocent lives will have been lost. And that is a risk that folks in India are used to.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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