I’m in the middle of Edward Luce’s fantastic In Spite of the Gods, a marvelously brisk introduction to modern India and its recent economic success. I want to excerpt a passage in which Luce describes his experience as a cricket fan in India:
I once bought a ticket to watch a big international cricket match between India and England…We had each paid 5000 rupees ($120) for our ticket. But we were denied entry to the ground, along with thousands of other ticket-holders. The Delhi and District Cricket Board, whose president, Arun Jaitley, was India’s Law Minister at the time, had printed thousands of complimentary tickets for VIPs for a ground with a capacity of just 26,000….I wrote a letter to Jaitley complaining about our treatment, demanding a refund and asking for an explanation…Mr. Jaitley’s private secretary telephoned the following morning to convey his ‘profound apologies’ and offer me a complimentary ticket for the next big game. But the next game was against Zimbabwe — not the same thing at all.
Two years later, Luce says, when India played against Pakistan, Jaitley called him personally and offered him tickets. This time, Luce says he accepted (much to his shame). He also notes that a whole slew of VIPs flooded Jaitley with requests — and among them, only Manmohan Singh’s wife had the decency to enclose a cheque to pay for her ticket.
I’d like to believe, while reading accounts of Indian cricket’s modernization, that this kind of stuff isn’t par for the course anymore. But during the World Cup, we witnessed terrible scenes of Indian police beating down fans in search of tickets for a game against England. (It later emerged that out of about 38,000 tickets, only 7,000 or so had been kept for the public.)
This is the rather ironic element of the ICC’s dictum that South Asian countries should clear their boards of politics by 2014. In India at least, it is almost impossible for someone to be apolitical. In almost every routine interaction with the government — a new telephone line, a police certificate, purchasing an apartment — you will encounter a barrage of political forces and alliances that no political neophyte can hope to win over. What hope is there if the basic elementary transaction of cricket — buying a ticket to watch a game — cannot be done without active lobbying and requests to the well-connected?