India Approaches A Crescendo Of Its Twin Passions, Politics And Cricket

A supporter of India’s ruling Congress Party wears a mask of leader Rahul Gandhi during a rally in Mumbai. Photo: Getty

Is it possible for a nation to be equally enamoured by the game of politics as it is smitten by the game of cricket? India is a cricket-worshipping country, which is also rooting for change as parliamentary polls are taking place.

But if you ask us to choose one over the other, it will be like having to decide which one of the two eyes is our favourite.

The question will be deemed downright absurd. One look at social media is enough to understand that India, the biggest democracy in the world, is quite capable of splitting its attention right in the middle and dedicating two equal halves to the two things that make its world – politics and cricket.

While the world’s second most populated country, home to some 1.2 billion people, is deciding its political fate through nine phases of polls spanning two months and held across 543 general constituencies, the same population is also ensuring that the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket matches, spanning a little over a month from mid-April, won’t suffer loss of viewership, come rain or shine!

The number of Indian voters listed this time is about 815 million. The poll outcome may largely depend on nearly 10% first-time voters. This demographic dividend, higher in the north of the country than in the south, will also mark the biggest ever impact of first-time voters if they come out and vote in large numbers. But according to the Election Commission data, the enthusiasm among young voters has not been as high as anticipated over the past few years.

There are many possible explanations. For one, pan-India migration owing to career demands makes voting a cumbersome process and young people are not able to dedicate enough the time and energy required.

Juxtapose this with the Indian Premier League where cricket comes home, comes in a conveniently short format, and is available at all times. It was of little surprise that last season’s IPL reached 129 million television homes. It is expected to reach another pinnacle this year as well.

The dates for the IPL matches taking place in the faraway venues of Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been cleverly decided – so that they will not clash with the election dates across the Indian states. In fact, India decided to host the initial matches in those locations owing to the elaborate security arrangements which were to be made at home for the polls. The shortage of security forces was the prime reason behind the IPL shifting base till the time the Indian democracy is through with exercising its voting rights.

Cricket will reach its zenith from the quarter-finals onwards. The electoral process, too, will see its culmination when the next government is formed, with the Prime Minister and the Parliamentarians sworn in. Subsequently, Indians can enjoy the crucial matches, interspersed with equally crucial policy discussions, as portfolios get allocated to various ministers.

The ongoing IPL Season 7 will create new heroes and will also witness some iconic figures bite the dust. Politically, too, the high-pitched battle being fought on fierce grounds has evoked a lot of interest among the young and the old alike. But it is the young people who will take the cake.

Now, if you have to talk about the most important and most common aspect of these two events that may impact billions of Indians living in India and abroad, it will surely be the bookies and how they operate. This is where part of India’s black money changes colour or changes hands. Bookies operating in what’s called the ‘satta bazaar’ have now set their eyes on the polls, predicting the victory of some candidates. Stakes are high and the number of those who would like to bet for or against this prediction run into crores.

Although large corporate houses have invested well to create the cash cow called IPL, the onset of the Lok Sabha elections may pose a challenge to the backdoor entry of money. Except for this aspect and that of security, which has forced the matches out of India for a while, before they return to the country around the first week of May, IPL matches are well endowed to maintain their viewership and rake in millions for their advertisers.

A country that breathes and lives cricket, is also voting for a change in leadership, or so it seems. But what is making the polls more exciting this time around is the fact that apart from a huge sum of money and mammoth operations conducted by the Election Commission to ensure ‘free and fair’ elections, it will also throw light on the fact whether the Young India has, indeed, voted for change or for short-change.

This post originally appeared at Business Insider India. Copyright 2014.

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