AHMEDABAD: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi cheers India in the blockbuster climax of the Cricket World Cup on Sunday (Nov 19), commentators say he is also seeking to capitalise on the wildly popular sport to burnish his appeal ahead of elections next year.
For tournament organisers and for Modi – after whom the world’s biggest cricket stadium is named – it is a dream finale.
Cricket is a national sporting obsession, and local fans are hoping to see their team continue its streak of 10 straight tournament wins as it faces Australia in the final.
Commentators say Modi has tried to co-opt cricket, turning it into a powerful political tool to bowl out political opponents by piggy-backing on the popular appeal of the game.
Writer Suresh Menon called the marathon World Cup tournament – totalling 48 matches over 46 days at 10 carefully selected venues – the “greatest interactive election campaign”.
Sport and politics are already run hand-in-hand: Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is closely tied to India’s hugely wealthy Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Watching the match with Modi will likely be his right-hand man, Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah and his son Jay Shah, the BCCI chief.
All three come from western Gujarat state, where the critical games of the tournament have been played in the 130,000-seat Narendra Modi mega-stadium in Ahmedabad.
“It is no coincidence that the inaugural match, the final, the India-Pakistan match, the Australia-England match – all the key contests – were played at the Ahmedabad stadium,” Menon told AFP.
Hundreds of millions of fans in India will follow the final match, with a victory sure to trigger euphoric celebrations.
The show-stopper final is set to include an airforce flypast, laser show, and hundreds of dancers performing Bollywood hit songs.
It is not the first time Modi has brought politics into the stadium.
Source: Channel News Asia