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Gautam Gambhir was right, after all

Gautam Gambhir said he did was done with such felicitation celebrations © IANS
Gautam Gambhir said he did was done with such felicitation celebrations © IANS

Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) were felicitated for their second Indian Premier League (IPL) title on June 1, 2014. Things, however, got a bit violent, and the police stepped in, resulting in violent actions that injured the fans. The incident led Gautam Gambhir to announce that he will not be part of subsequent celebrations even if KKR wins the title. Abhishek Mukherjee seeks justification of the announcement.

The victory celebrations were expected to be an encore of the one from 2012, and it was so in every sense of the word. The cricketers were there, Shahrukh Khan was present, and to add to the list there was the ubiquitous presence of Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal Chief Minister.

The fans’ attitude can, of course, be debated upon: it was not the first time that Kolkata “cricket fans” have reacted in a similar fashion. Leave alone the frenzy of seeing your heroes in person (which you have been doing anyway during the IPL), why give up the chance to see cricketers and filmstars for free when both IPL and multiplex tickets cost money?

That, of course, was one side of the story. Given that the fans had arrived, did things get so out of hand that the police had to lose control and launch an assault on them? It cannot be denied that India, not being a sporting nation at the best of its times, has produced fans that have seldom been renowned for being composed and erudite. Even if we assume that bit of information is true (however unfortunate that may be) — was this the way the administration should have reacted to it?
Let us revisit: there was a stampede outside the ground, which had resulted in the injuries of seven people. Stampedes have happened before during matches; they are, on the other hand, not so well-known when it comes to victory celebrations. The general idea is that the police may have merely instigated the stampede getting the fans to a stage of panic, but television footage had clearly revealed Firhad Hakim, the Urban Development Minister, instructing the police to remove the barricades, allowing the people to enter the ground.

But how did the men in charge react? Sports Minister Madan Mitra, who claimed that there were two lakh people at the event (the ground currently has provisions for 69 thousand people) responded: “What can police do if there is a tsunami of people? If police didn’t take action, then there could have been a stampede.” Unfortunately, the stampede could not be stopped.

Mitra’s comments were, however, paled by Hakim’s, who dismissed the incident as a “petty matter.” He told the media: “Badi badi events mein chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rehti hain (in big events, minor things do happen). Our own team KKR has won. Lakhs of people are happy watching this felicitation ceremony; you should focus on the grand spectacle; so what if 10 people fell down?”

We have never really done anything to call ourselves a sporting nation. The question remains (and I am not even discussing Commonwealth Games 2010 here): have our administrators allowed us to act sanely?

Recall Eden Gardens, 1996 World Cup semifinal. This columnist was there. There was accommodation for a hundred thousand, but at least 20,000 more were pushed in, which meant that a lot of people had to sit on the concrete staircases; if one did brave the queue, they would find the toilets completely unusable; there was no drinking water past the mid-innings break. And this is only one stadium that we are talking about.

Leave the fans alone. What have the administrators done to help India on the way to be called a sporting nation? Gautam Gambhir was right, after all. The administrators do not deserve him, or any cricketer, to be part of a gala festival to commemorate a victory towards which they never played a part. They should earn their right first.

 (Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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