The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Before first ball, the run for visa

New Delhi, March 3: Mahendra Singh and Surendra Mohan were at the Ferozeshah Kotla to cheer Lala Amarnath’s boys against Abdul Hafeez Kardar’s team during Pakistan’s first Test tour of India in 1952-53.

The friends have bought their tickets for the Sourav Ganguly vs Inzamam-ul Haq one-day game in Lahore later this month.

But after queuing up for hours outside the Pakistan high commission on the first day visas for the historic series were to be issued, Singh and Mohan were harassed and angry, like hundreds of other fans.

“I came here at 6.30 in the morning. The official at the counter told me to step aside as visa-seekers for the matches would be dealt with separately. We waited but no announcement was made about when our application would be processed,” fumed Singh, who was born in Lahore and now runs a business in Delhi.

Aftab, a youth from old Delhi, echoed him: “I was told I will get my visa by 10.30, but even after waiting for hours, I have not got it.”

Pakistan high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan said those who have tickets would be given visas, choosing not to comment on the chaos. Other officials said despite their best efforts, everyone who came today could not be given visas. “We are short-staffed…. We have over 400 applications and we need at least eight minutes to process each one of them,” an official said.

But this was no comfort to the large crowd that had gathered outside the Chanakyapuri mission and included people who had come from outside Delhi — many from Punjab and one all the way from Trinidad.

Ravi Jamwani, a businessman from Trinidad who has travelled all over the world to cheer the Indian team, was told to come back after three days. “The mismanagement here is making me apprehensive about the kind of facilities we will get in Pakistan,” said Jamwani, who has bought tickets for matches in five venues.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee will meet the team before it leaves for Pakistan on March 10. An inter-ministerial meeting was held in the foreign ministry this afternoon to explore possibilities of increasing flights, trains and buses for cricket fans.

But today, people were thinking only about visas. Mohammed Afzal, who runs a travel agency in the capital and plans to make arrangements for a large number of Indians wanting to travel to Pakistan for the cricket series, fumed: “There is not a single person to receive phone calls and there is nobody in the high commission to explain the procedure.”

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