The puritan hated bear baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators, wrote British author and statesman Thomas B. Macaulay.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) obviously doesn’t inflict pain on any creature, but then that was never the point. The point was, and is, pleasure. And this the self-appointed guardians of our morality cannot stand. They can’t bear to see us enjoying ourselves.
Remember the semi-clad cheerleaders in the first edition of IPL in 2008? Cricket has always been characterised by glamour but firangi babes with their uninhibited gyrations were new. The fireworks, the pace, the atmosphere, the stadiums were set afire and were, for once, welcoming and full. The crowds just loved everything. It was fun unlimited. It was rapturous abandon. Joie de vivre.
It was also something the grannies and nannies of all persuasions did not approve of. Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury talked about “two Indias… in the making — IPL India and BPL (below the poverty line) India.”
As if the IPL was in any way related to poverty. If anything, the IPL can only help reduce poverty, for it paces up economic activity. But Mr Yechury, who is wedded to a discredited ideology, cannot comprehend this simple fact: the event is not just about boom boom cricket, curvaceous cheerleaders, filmstars and celebrities, and big money; it is also about giving a big boost to direct and indirect employment generation; after all, you need people to take care of logistics, publicity, scheduling, merchandise, lodging, sight-seeing, etc. But the media-savvy commie has no patience for such unsexy facts.
And then there are the culture-wallahs who are paranoid about “Indian culture”. In their scheme of things, our culture is so fragile that it can get damaged by the celebration of Valentine’s Day, the shortness of a celebrity’s skirt and, of course, by the “obscene” IPL cheerleaders.
Actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, who was also a member of the BJP-led government, once called them “cricket’s item numbers” who performed “indecent dance”. This from the guy whose own movies have sizzling scenes. How sanctimonious one can get.
What the detractors of the IPL refuse to notice, and its promoters fail to point out, is the huge impetus it gives to tourism — a sector with enormous potential for job creation and growth acceleration.
Tourism has been long neglected, even discriminated against, by our political masters as it was perceived to be meant for the rich and their amusement. The Indian hospitality sector, for instance, is the most taxed sector in the world. Union tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahai has acknowledged on record that viewing tourism as an activity for the rich has been a folly.
Unsurprisingly, while Incredible India could not even touch the six million mark in 2010, tiny Malaysia got 24.58 million international tourists. Thankfully, policymakers have realised their folly; this is the reason that state governments have begun aggressively promoting tourism. Glitzy events like IPL and Formula One give a big fillip to tourism and help tap its enormous potential.
Another allegation against the IPL is that it is destroying cricket. Of all the charges against the IPL, this is the one that has some merit. Yes, it does promote a kind of game that is meant for immediate gratification, for quick results. Here the fate of a match is decided in less than four hours, whereas the classical format demanded five days without the surety of a result. If Test cricket is like a romantic date ending up in tender, passionate love-making, T20 is akin to wham bam thank you ma’am.
In the ultimate analysis, it is a matter of choice; a player can always decide to focus on a particular form; and such choices have been made. There may be some irregularities, which can be taken care of, but any restriction on the IPL would amount to an infringement on our freedom — to enjoy a sport the way we like to. After all, it is our life and our game. It is not Indian Prudes’ League. Not as yet.