Cauvery dispute
IPL Chairman Rajeev Shukla tells TNM that IPL has once again become a punching bag in a political fight.
PTI/file photo

Over the past week, Tamil Nadu has been witnessing massive protests over the Centre's alleged failure to form the Cauvery Management Board. On Thursday, thousands of workers from opposition parties stormed Kamaraj Salai, which faces Chennai's Marina Beach to make their displeasure with the AIADMK and the BJP clear. 

But just minutes away from the agitation, at the MA Chidambaram stadium preparations have been underway in full swing for the first match of the Chennai Super Kings on home ground. With even practice sessions of the team witnessing a full house, the ticket prices have been notched up to a minimum of Rs 1300 for the upcoming games. While the suspended team will return to the IPL with its first match against the Mumbai Indians on Saturday, CSK’s first home game will be against Kolkata Knight Riders on April 10.

But just days ahead of this highly anticipated event, opposition parties and farmer groups in Tami Nadu have united to demand that all IPL matches in Chennai be cancelled. 

The clarion call against the league had so far emerged from smaller political parties such as Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam, Tamizhaga Vazhvurimai Katchi (TVK), Viduthalai Thamizh Puligal Katchi, Thamizhar Vidiyal Katchi and Social Democratic Party of India. 

But on Friday, DMK working President MK Stalin and Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam chief TTV Dhinakaran endorsed the idea of boycotting the IPL as well. 

Talking to the media, after the all-party meeting, Stalin diplomatically said, "As far as we are concerned, we are not saying it shouldn't happen. Those who are conducting it should realise the feelings of the people."

TTV Dhinakaran, meanwhile, did not mince words. In a tweet addressing the people of Tamil Nadu, he said, "Till the voice of farmers in the formation of the Cauvery Management Board gets stronger, I ask fans to boycott IPL matches."

TVK too had offered a similar narrative. Its leader Panruti T Velmurugan said, “In order to condemn the Centre which shows no regard for the livelihood and the identity of the Tamils, we request that IPL should not take place here – at a time when Tamilians are bursting with anger. If the BCCI conducts the IPL here, and the Tamil Nadu government and the Tamil Nadu police support it, then all those who eat the food produced by farmers will buy tickets and go inside the stadium and protest in a democratic way. Tamil Nadu government, BCCI and the IPL management should not push us to that level. If all our notifications on this matter are ignored, we are ready to come to the streets (to protest).”

Organisers, however, claim that cricket has once again become a punching bag in a political fight.

"What does IPL have to do with the Cauvery issue?" asks IPL Chairman Rajeev Shukla. "We also want the Cauvery dispute to be sorted out but why harm IPL for that? This is not a government event, it is conducted by the BCCI. It can't become a punching bag every time a problem arises," he adds. 

When TNM contacted farmer association over this proposed boycott, they expressed their support and questioned the need for celebration when the 'state is in mourning'.

"This boycott is being called for in order to make it clear to the Centre that Tamil Nadu is in mourning," says PK Deivasigamani, TN Farmers Association.

But how is the Centre in anyway connected to the Indian Premier League which is conducted by the BCCI?

"We agree that it is not connected but this is more of a symbolic gesture to show that Tamil Nadu is focussed on the Cauvery issue and has no time for entertainment," says the farmer leader. "When farmers are suffering without water, how can people want to go watch these matches?" he asks. 

And what if the matches, which have already been scheduled are conducted?

"We will go there and create problems. What will they do if 500 people run into the ground? There will definitely be commotion," he warns. 

Political analyst RK Radhakrishnan says it is only natural for political parties to demand that the state not allow the tournament to be conducted. 

"In 2009, the IPL was shifted out of India due to security concerns as it clashed with the general election. The same argument holds now, as protests are erupting everyday over the Cauvery issue. Deployment of police will be a matter of concern," says the analyst. "While it may seem like parties are attempting to politicise the matter, the reality is that the state is not in the mood for this kind of celebration when farmers are going to suffer this summer," he adds. 

But can the matches be stopped now?

"No, the planning is done and not much can be done now. That is unless, there is some incidence of violence," he explains. 

Political tensions in India often spill on to its cricket pitches. This was witnessed when matches between Sri Lanka and India or Pakistan and India were cancelled. Radhakrishnan, however, denies that this demand falls under the same bracket. 

An example that does fall within the same arena is from Maharashtra in 2016. Following a water crisis in Latur, protests from the residents of the state led to some matches being shifted out from Maharashtra.