Shiv Sena vow to sabotage Pakistan tour (20 January 1999)

20 January 1999

Shiv Sena vow to sabotage Pakistan tour

by Kuldip Lal

NEW DELHI, Jan 20 (AFP) - Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray on Wednesday reiterated his pledge to disrupt Pakistan's upcoming cricket tour, despite stifling security laid on by the Indian government.

Thackeray, whose Shiv Sena party dug up the pitch at one of the Test venues and was believed to be behind the ransacking on Monday of the Indian cricket board's headquarters, said the campaign to stop the tour was in full flow=2E

"Right now we won't disclose our plans but the truth is that Pakistan won't be allowed to play," he said on the eve of the tour which starts on Thursday.

Even as police carried out pre-emptive arrests of Shiv Sena activists, a Hindu militant opposed to the tour set himself on fire Wednesday in the southern city of Madras, where the first of two Tests starts on January 28.

The man, an autorickshaw driver identified as Palani, doused himself in petrol in the street and set himself ablaze. Onlookers managed to put out the flames and Palani was rushed by police to hospital.

Palani is a member of the right-wing Hindu Munnani Front, which has backed the Shiv Sena campaign.

Thackeray, a political ally of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, said a senior party official had been despatched to Madras to "make an assessment about the arrangements to prevent the match."

He also deounced Vajpayee for criticising his campaign.

"I do not know what has happened to the Vajpayee government," he said, rejecting official comments that sporting links would improve relations between the arch-rivals as "utter nonsense".

"What kind of relationship does (Vajpayee) want to improve with Pakistan?" Thackeray said.

The Shiv Sena wants the tour cancelled because of Pakistan's support for Moslem separatists in Kashmir.

The Pakistanis, who last played a Test in India in March 1987, will step off the plane into an unprecedented security blanket that will remain firmly wrapped around them until they fly home in April.

The players will be guarded around-the-clock by commandos, while bomb-disposal squads and paramilitary security forces will be on standby at all the match venues.

The Shiv Sena has vowed to mobilise some 25,000 supporters during the tour, and claims to have formed a 50-member suicide squad who will set themselves alight in front of the prime minister's house on the opening day of the first Test.

Party leaders have also threatened to "target" Indian cricketers, triggering calls for the tour to be cancelled.

"It is not just the players' safety that is in question now but also that of the common man," said Krishnaswamy Kumble, father of Indian international Anil Kumble.

The Indian players were set to fly back to Bombay Thursday from New Zealand, but officals said their flight would be re-routed to an undisclosed destination.

Police protection has been guaranteed for the Indian team, especially stars like Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar.

"We are not taking any chances," Delhi police chief V.N. Singh said.

Delhi is scheduled to host the second Test at the heavily-guarded Ferozeshah Kotla ground where the Shiv Sena dug up the pitch earlier this month.

But the police assurances, coupled with personal pledges from the Indian government, have not convinced everyone.

"This is not the right time to play Test cricket," said former Test cricketer Dilip Sardesai.

"I am worried about the lives of Indian players, especially those like Tendulkar and Azharuddin who live in Bombay. It requires one madman to undo what the security forces have promised."

Pakistan are also due to play the opening Asian Test championship match against the hosts at Calcutta and a triangular one-day series also featuring Sri Lanka.

Pakistani captain Wasim Akram could not hide his lingering fears.

"I have told the boys to forget all that happened and just concentrate on the game but it will be difficult," he said. "I can't say what is in store for us in India but let's hope all would end well."

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