Till the other day, every cricket fan in Tamil Nadu was excited over the return of the Chennai Super Kings to the Indian Premier League (IPL). The whistle podu gang was creating a buzz over the yellows taking to the field at Chepauk once again.
That was until March 29. That day was the deadline for the Centre to formulate the `Scheme' (Read, setting up the Cauvery Management Board) to monitor the release of water by Karnataka expired. The AIADMK that rules Tamil Nadu has been pretty helpless in mounting pressure on the NDA regime to help the state's farmers in the Cauvery delta. All it could do was to observe a rather quick fast, between breakfast and evening tiffin, to register protest. Some of them even took a lunch break. New Delhi could not care less.
The DMK-led opposition closed down Tamil Nadu for a day this week. Between April 7 and 9, it is also involved in organising the Cauvery Rights Retrieval March in the Delta region. The aim is to focus on the plight of the farmers, whose lifeline is the Cauvery water.
But the country's attention was riveted on the verdict in the Salman Khan case rather than Cauvery. Which is why realising that the IPL was a juicy opportunity to exploit and make those wanting to watch IPL matches live, seem like traitors to the Tamil Nadu cause, several fringe groups asked for cancellation of the matches in Chennai. In the city, on walls that bore the CSK logo, activists smeared paint on them, scribbling ‘We need Cauvery’ on the space.
The mainline political parties are not asking for a strategic time-out from the IPL but DMK leader MK Stalin asked for organisers to understand the feelings of the people. Rebel AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran asked fans to boycott the IPL matches till Cauvery Management Board was formed. Those supporting this idea believe that the power of television will ensure the world over will see the empty stands at the stadium and know that Tamil Nadu is agitated over Cauvery.
Perhaps realising that the effort to make cricket lovers boycott the game will not work, those batting for the farmers are emphasising that the IPL at the MA Chidambaram stadium is not the Indian Paani League. A sketch that was released tried to pit one against the other, asking the question ‘IPL or Agriculture?’. On the left, it showed a CSK cricketer in yellow, holding the bat. On the right, it showed a farmer in just his loinscloth, holding his spade.
The cartoon being circulated on social media
But to my mind, this ‘either or’ approach is wrong. Yes, IPL is a source of entertainment but it is also connected with a sense of pride in Brand Chennai, its ethos and the spirit of the city and Tamil Nadu. What is needed is for Chennaites, CSK and the organisers to reflect the angst over the Centre's discriminatory attitude towards Tamil Nadu through the game of cricket.
Attend the matches, if you must, but register your protest in a peaceful manner. Let the organisers and the police allow spectators to wear black ribbons as a mark of protest on their shirts during every match. Let the crowd carry placards talking about Cauvery instead of singing paeans to MS Dhoni and his men.
Let the large TV screens on the ground show films on why the Cauvery cause is so dear and important to the people of Tamil Nadu. Let that be broadcast for the world to know what Tamil Nadu is fighting about.
Let Dhoni not equate Chennai only with a Rajinikanth. Let him show that his heart beats for all of Tamil Nadu. Let the captain and his teammates be part of a video that highlights the plight of the farmer and bat for the cause.
Let the CSK tee shirts say Cauvery Dhoni, Cauvery Bhajji, Cauvery Jadeja. Why cannot CSK and its owners, India Cements be part of a local movement? If cricket is religion, then Cauvery is the Ganges of the south. What can be a more holy communion?
Let CSK and the Tamil Nadu cricket association that will make big bucks from the matches and endorsements, contribute a certain percentage to local panchayats in the delta region towards constructing small check dams to store precious Cauvery water instead of letting it flow into the sea.
It may well be argued that cricketers cannot be made to endorse anything political. Someone may even cite IPL rules to buttress their argument. But then, since when did water become political? And Dhoni's tee reading ‘Cauvery Dhoni’ is by no stretch of imagination, political.
What needs to be borne in mind is that people of Tamil Nadu love their cricket. When the idea of the IPL was mooted, it was to piggyback on a sense of pride in a city-state team. It is an expression of regional sub-nationalism through a popular sport. So what can be wrong in cricketers giving voice to the cause of the region they represent?
This positive marriage of cricket with an important cause is the only way Tamil Nadu can stop the fringe from fishing in troubled waters. Because there is no guarantee that these groups will not stop the Royal Challengers Bengaluru from playing their game against CSK in Chennai. All political parties in Karnataka are opposed to the setting up of the Cauvery Board.
It is not the first time that the IPL has been hit by a crisis related to water. The 2016 edition saw a few matches in Maharashtra moved out following severe water crisis in Latur.
The IPL management bristles at being made a soft target, arguing it has nothing to do with the Centre's indecision over Cauvery. It is right, but cricket in India is not just a sport, it is an expression of various emotions. And there cannot be a better opportunity than this crisis for CSK - both its management and the players - to show that their heart indeed is Thamizhan.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.