Congress bats like the BJP

The shifting of the India-Pakistan T-20 cricket match from the Congress-ruled Himachal Pradesh to West Bengal has been a public relations setback for the Narendra Modi government.

The shifting of the India-Pakistan T-20 cricket match from the Congress-ruled Himachal Pradesh to West Bengal has been a public relations setback for the Narendra Modi government. The fight between the BJP and the Congress over the staging the match at Dharamsala has its roots in state-level rivalry between Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and his predecessor, PK Dhumal, whose parliamentarian son is a cricket administrator. But the message has been wider at both the domestic and international levels. Singh laid bare the BJP’s doublespeak on Pakistan when he donned the mantle of a super-nationalist by asserting that the opposition to the match was neither political nor religious. Pakistani sportsmen must be kept away from Dharamsala because families of many slain jawans lived in the state.

By denying security to the match, Singh has deprived his political rival's son the pleasure of raking money from the derby match of the T-20 world cup. This will dent his powers of patronage as the chief of the state cricketing body. Free from the responsibility of power till 2014, this had been the BJP’s approach for the past decade whenever the Manmohan Singh government tried to build bridges with Islamabad. Moreover, the BJP has been frequently invoking the mantra of nationalism to cow down its supporters. It, therefore, could hardly preach to the Congress the benefits of engagement. Nor could it point out the illogicality of blocking a cricket match when it was in conversation with Pakistan to book those responsible for the killing of soldiers at Pathankot.

 India's image is the collateral damage in such confrontations. But such ugly face-offs are inevitable in the atmosphere of confrontation between the BJP and the secularists. As the head of the country's political family, the Prime Minister should take a step back from relentlessly baiting the Opposition. As the Dharamsala episode shows, the unspoken contract of accommodation between the Centre and states has broken down. The silver lining is that the principal opposition party’s opposition is tactical and not inborn like that of the Shiv Sena. If only Modi would extend the olive branch.

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