While the English strikers succumbed to a spin attack by India on the opening day of their cricket test match, another Indian passed even harder, although he did not ball a single ball: Narendra Modi.
Indian politicians have long been involved in cricket, enjoying money, power and celebrating the most popular parties in the country – unfortunately for purists who claim that political interference is hampering the sport.
Modi, however, took Indian cricket politics to new heights. India and England played in Ahmedabad, his political hometown, at the newly built cricket stadium – the largest in the world – which was renamed for the premiere shortly before Wednesday’s game.
To some observers, the grip of Modi and his party Bharatiya Janata over Indian cricket symbolizes the way they are reshaping the political and economic order in the country.
“The stadium itself – the name, the way it is funded and the people who hold Gujarat cricket as a state body – says a lot about the power structure in contemporary India under BJP,” said Ronojoy Sen, a senior researcher at Singapore National University and author of history of Indian sport.
The field with more than 100,000 seats was conceived when Modi ran the state cricket association Gujarat, before his rise to national politics. His right hand Amit Shah, now interior minister, became president of the body.
The pedestals at the ground, built for an estimate of 8 billion (110 million dollars), were named after Mukesh AmbaniReliance Industries i Gautam adanithe eponymous group, the two most powerful Indian tycoons who have deep ties to the prime minister.
Shah’s son Jay is secretary of the Cricket Board of India, the richest and most powerful cricket board in the world, while the father-son duo of Reliance management recently helped run the Gujarat association.
For Modi’s supporters, the stadium highlights the leader’s ambitious ability to achieve results world-class infrastructure it will help India shine globally.
But for his opponents, it encompasses what they declare a link between the prime minister and his lieutenants and favored tycoons, whose collective influence on India’s political and economic system is hotly debated.
“It’s wonderful how the truth is revealed,” Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition congressional party, wrote on Twitter. “Narendra Modi Stadium / near Adani / end of reliance / under the chairmanship of Jay Shah.”
Early Hindu nationalist ideologues Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of the BJP, condemned cricket as a colonial import. But later generations of leaders, such as Modi and Shah, embraced it because of its universal appeal — a popularity that transcends regional, caste, or religious divisions — as well as because of its wide range of patronage opportunities.
“Cricket is a cocktail of money, power and influence – even Bollywood,” said Mahesh Langa, a Hindu newspaper journalist in Ahmedabad.
Persistent involvement of politicians in local and national cricket bodies has sparked allegations of mismanagement and fraud. Back in 1959, legendary striker Vijay Merchant lamented that “there is a lot of politics in our cricket,” according to Ronojoy Sena’s book, Nation at Play.
This has triggered reform efforts, with limited success. In 2017, the Supreme Court reorganized the BCCI administration to impose mandate restrictions and ban ministers from holding office. Some of the reforms are being challenged in court.
Observers have questioned the will of the country’s leaders to keep their distance from the sport, especially its rapid commercialization, especially after Indian Premier LeagueThe launch in 2008 caused unprecedented revenue.
“The involvement of politics in cricket is very strong and it’s getting stronger,” said Ayaz Memon, a sports writer and commentator. “It’s the axis of a huge sport that has become phenomenally rich in the last 30 years.”
Vinod Rai, a former auditor general appointed by the Supreme Court for the BCCI to implement his recommendations, said: “It is rare where places are not politicians who control these institutions.”
He added that Modi and Shah, unlike many others, at least managed to get things done. “The built fine international stadium is a huge feather in the cap,” he said.
The Motera Stadium, as it was known, was originally built in 1983 when the Congress Party ruled Gujarat.
In 2009, Modi, then Gujarat’s chief minister, was elected to lead the state’s cricket federation, taking control of Congress in a move that signaled his triumph in national polls five years later.
He then launched plans to rebuild the stadium, which reopened to the public last year when the former US president Donald Trump visited India. He hosted his first game against England this week.
That Ahmedabad, long neglected as a cricket hub, is now in a global circle, along with Mumbai, Sydney or London, is proof of what Modi’s supporters claim is his transformative vision and execution.
Others said he stressed that the prime minister had concentrated Indian power structures around himself and close allies – from centralized government policy-making to extensive use of his image to promote social schemes or sports.
Sandeep Dwivedi, an Indian Express columnist, wrote that the center of Indian cricket had shifted “from Mumbai to Moter. . . nor are the blades of grass cut in the Indian cricket without the obligatory invitation to Ahmedabad.
For Modi’s loyal base in Gujarat, this change has long been needed.
Aditya Mehta, a 22-year-old biotechnology master’s student, said off the field: “Our prime minister and interior minister have built the biggest cricket in the world and now all possible matches can take place at this stadium.”