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IPL resists govt pressure to postpone spectacle

Mumbai/New Delhi, March 3: Organisers of the money-spinning Indian Premier League appeared set for a collision with the government after Union home minister P. Chidambaram asked them to postpone the tournament, a heady mix of cricket and glamour and a potential terror target, till after the elections.

This year’s IPL season gets under way on April 10, six days before the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls, and continues till May 24. The final phase of the elections is on May 13.

Chidambaram said security agencies had written to the ministry suggesting postponement of the tournament involving 59 matches. “It will be difficult to provide adequate paramilitary forces for election purposes as well as provide security (for the cricket matches),” he said. “I don’t want my forces to be strained.”

Home secretary Madhukar Gupta has been asked to discuss the new dates with the cricket officials.

But organisers of the T20 league held firm, though it was unclear how long they would be able to withstand government pressure.

“The IPL is fully congnizant of the importance of general elections in a country such as ours. We will go a step further to ensure that there will be no games 24 to 48 hours prior to the polling dates across the nine match venues in the country,” IPL commissioner Lalit Modi said in a statement in Mumbai.

The home ministry tonight appeared to toughen its stand, with sources saying if the IPL organisers asked for security, they would be refused.

The matches are spread over nine cities — Visakhapatnam being the new entrant. Last year, a serial bomb attack had ripped through Jaipur during the course of the tournament; Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai were victims of terror attacks later in the year.

The home ministry has spared about 65,000 paramilitary troops, or 550 companies, for poll duty over five phases. This is less than the 750 companies provided in 2004.

Ministry officials said most paramilitary troops are engaged in anti-Naxalite or counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, because of the increased threat perception post-26/11 and after today’s Lahore attack, the Centre has decided to plan their deployment to ensure foolproof security during the elections.

A stadium as large as the Eden Gardens had a deployment of 5,000 policemen last year for each of the matches. Jawed Shamim, the detective chief of Calcutta police, said security this year is likely to be stepped up.

IPL officials and sources in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said the government’s decision to review the tournament’s security and schedule was a further blow to the already beleaguered Modi.

The IPL commissioner, who lost the Rajasthan Cricket Association election, has seen his fortunes tumble since his friend Vasundhara Raje was voted out as Rajasthan chief minister.

“The window made available by the ICC for the tournament is really small. Tweaking around dates or postponing the tournament will make many international players unavailable to play the IPL,” said a source.

The source said it was up to Union minister Sharad Pawar, the former BCCI chief and now ICC president-elect, to bail out Modi.

The IPL sources said they had assured the agents of some English and Australian players, who called during the day, that “security will be top-notch”.

The security will be monitored by South Africa’s Nicholls Steyn & Associates, which was in charge of Rajasthan Royals last year. One of its personnel, Faisul Nagel, was inside Taj Palace hotel during the 26/11 attacks and guided nearly 120 people to safety in the kitchen.

IPL franchises like the Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians said they had been in touch with the Sri Lankan players in their teams. Among the injured Lanka players are the KKR’s Ajantha Mendis and the Kings XI Punjab’s Kumar Sangakkara.

“We spoke to Ajantha’s agent and all is well with him. His injury is not serious,” said a KKR source.

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