Chennai : This is a story you would tell with extreme care and caution. But it so starkly characterises the current state of top-level politico-cricket relations that it is a folly to keep it under wraps, as the BCCI has tried to do for some time now.
While many, including the spokesman for the BCCI, said it was much ado about nothing, it is the story of a most unusual night when Fort St George in Chennai was spooked as never before in peace time.
Essentially, on the evening of April 3, the day the opening ceremony of IPL5 took place in Chennai, state intelligence agencies reported considerable activity around the cricket stadium. The lookouts confirmed the movement of what was a significant unit. Cops were seen whispering `Whistle podu, Over’ on their walkie talkie, suggesting some sinister plot was being unearthed. Sleuths in plainclothes were told to specifically keep a lookout for members of Royal Challengers Bangalore, what with the Cauvery dispute between Tamilnadu and Karnataka rearing its head, and IPL teams with aggressive names like Warriors and Daredevils.
The presence of Congress minister-cum-IPL commissioner Rajiv Shukla at the helm of affairs gave rise to suspicion that there could be a political angle to the entire event. Soon the panic button was pressed. Tamilnadu chief secretary was asked to summon the BCCI boss, N Srinivasan who explained that it was just another cricket event.
But the political establishment headed by Jayalalithaa did not lower its guard. It looked at with suspicion Amitabh Bachchan’s rendition, which they could not make head or tail of. When they asked why the Chennai Super Kings team made an entry on to the stage through smoke, the IPL organisers explained it was to prepare them for the smog in the night during matches that started at 8 pm.
The BCCI’s explanation that it was a simple smog-time exercise was however, viewed with scepticism at the highest level. The question : Why was the well-set protocol, that any such rehearsal, at any time, near Fort St George or Poes Garden has to be pre-notified to Jayalalithaa or Sasikala not followed?
While the IPL kept mum on this, it had a more elaborate explanation for Priyanka Chopra’s airborne movement. The organisers said the intention was not to convey that someone in the audience had big dreams but only to thrill the spectators. And that `Don’ was merely the name of the film, whose song Priyanka lip-synced to.
Tenali Rama Reports has had detailed conversations with key people and sources at the very top of the politial and cricket leadership. There is unanimity over Rajiv Shukla’s impeccable reputation as a moneybag, professional politician, earned over 30 years of distinguished service to 10 Janpath. Nobody is using the “C” word to imply anything other than “Chennai”. All else is considered an impossibility.
But in the backdrop of what Sasikala’s relatives had allegedly attempted, the AIADMK government was loath to dismiss anything as a routine misdemeanour. The timing — Sasikala had returned to Poes Garden a day before – did not help.
Sources speak of confusion and unease in the government. To be fair, the Tamilnadu government’s considered view now seems to be that it was a false alarm, caused by some non-adherence to Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) by the IPL.
It is also learnt that certain inputs from London also misled the Tamilnadu government. Former IPL chief Lalit K Modi, now bankrupt, was tweeting away to glory that the IPL opening ceremony was a shame. The intelligence authorities admit it was an error of judgement to conclude that there was a coded message somewhere in those tweets.
(This report by Tenali Rama Reports is inspired by the front page report in `The Indian Express’ today)