When the hilly town of Dharamshala was picked up as the venue for the World T20 match between India and Pakistan, it was immediately seen as a great achievement for BCCI’s secretary and MP from the state, Anurag Thakur. However, with less than two weeks to go for the big-ticket match, strong doubts prevail over whether the match will be held or not, with Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh having bowled a bouncer that the cricket administrators are finding tough to negotiate even on their backfoot.
The CM has written to the Home Minister asking him to shift the venue as the state cannot provide security in view of the strong opposition to hosting Pakistan.
“I’m not personally opposed to the match or Pakistan,” Virbhadra Singh told The Sunday Guardian in an interview here. “The concern has been expressed by the people. The families of martyrs and ex-servicemen say they will feel betrayed if the Pakistan match is allowed to be held.”
He denied that there is politics behind his opposition to the match. “Even the tallest BJP leader is not opposed to the match,” he said, referring to Shanta Kumar. “Personally, I have no stand on the issue. If people are fine with it, let the match be held… But the problem is that they have threatened to come out in protest.”
Singh suggested a solution to the predicament: “There are eight matches scheduled in Dharamshala. Why not shift just one of these to another venue?”
India is slated to play Pakistan on 19 March in the picturesque stadium in Dharamshala, famous globally as the home of Dalai Lama. As it always happens for a clash between arch-rivals India and Pakistan, tickets are in huge demand. The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) said that over 1.15 lakh people signed up online on the first day of registration to buy tickets for the match. Hotels are already over-booked for the match to be played in the 23,000-capacity stadium.
BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur who met the CM in Shimla on Wednesday said he is confident about hosting the match as the government would talk to the people opposed to the tie. Himachal Pradesh is among the states from where the armed forces get a large number of recruits. Many families of martyrs, including those of two martyrs in the Pathankot air base attack, have opposed hosting Pakistan in the state. Claiming to support their cause, Congress state president Sukhwinder Singh has threatened to hit the street in protest.
Himachal ex-servicemen League president, too, seems unrelenting. “There is no question of allowing the match, whatever the consequences,” said Vijai Singh Mankotia.