The scene which unfolded in Kolkata, where members of the IPL-winning Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) team were felicitated on Tuesday, was simply atrocious. Was it a kind of programme planned by a government and its agents? The felicitation ceremony involved reputed cricket players from the country and abroad, VIPs, top officials, cine stars, singers and other cultural people but what eventually turned out at the end was a bizarre chaos resulting in several fans getting lathicharged by the police. But again, controversy has been the hallmark of the current Bengal administration.
From the time Gautam Gambhir and his team had touched the city airport till the conclusion of the felicitation ceremony, 'chaos' was the word which ruled supreme. At the airport, Gambhir's discomfort was clearly visible when one of the receiving officials was seen pulling his arms to wave at the public and say something as per the latter's liking.
The administration planned for a roadshow whereby the players were pushed up on an open trailer in the intense heat for public greeting, followed by the on-the-road felicitation of the players and officials at the state secretariat. The CM was seen running up and down, managing the crowd herself and felicitating the players and franchise members in a great hurry. She was seen dropping uttariyas (scarf-like cloth used for felicitation) meant for the guests and only to pick up again. The railway minister, Mukul Roy, could be seen running with the bouquets (don't know what would have happened if any train mishap took place in those minutes) while local filmstars standing as 'glorified extra'. All these could have been staged in a more organised manner and inside with extensive live telecast for the general people.
Bollywood star and one of the owners of the KKR, Shahrukh Khan, appeared while the felicitation was being carried out outside the Writers' Buildings and greeted and hugged the CM. Not many Kolkatans, were, however, pleased with SRK for he skipped the roadshow where many of his followers were waiting for him, braving the scorching sun.
The CM gave out uttariyas to SRK and Juhi Chawla, and resumed her physical man management role. Then after a while, came the bouquets and Banerjee handed over them to SRK and Chawla. Suddenly at this moment, we saw Yusuf Pathan poking his head out from one of the corners and he was hastily 'felicitated' by the busy CM. It looked as if the players, who fought tooth and nail over the last 50-odd days to win the title, were forced to the backseat. The real heroes now were all the non-sporting people.
The scene, hereafter, shifted to the Eden Gardens. The CM had announced earlier that all were welcome to see their heroes (just as a Maa, Mati, Manush government representative should speak). Things were too chaotic at the Eden. People running helter-skelter, cine artistes and Banerjee culture clan shaking a leg or two with popular Bengali songs. On the dias, the CM asked the people to maintain peace and the police to ensure public safety. Governor MK Narayanan, too, had arrived and he led the next round of felicitation. The national anthem was sung, cake was cut, players and officials did a victory lap, punctuated all in between by dance, songs and SRK's acrobatics. The CM, in between, felicitated the winners once more with gold chains.
Not to forget, the constant rambling of the electronic media men. Today was perhaps a dry day for the news men with all focus fixed on a non-event being staged in the Eden Gardens. The media were particularly missing Sourav Ganguly, the only non-KKR man relevant to the entire episode.
The twist in the tale occurred once all the VIPs departed. 30,000 fans waiting outside the stadium went berserk and broke the police barricade. The cops, too, resorted to lathicharge (it was surprising to see that the police personnel who went after the people with sticks were mostly wearing KKR colour T-shirts, an irony indeed), injuring several of the fans.
If this is the standard of affection that Kolkata exhibits towards its achievers, then not many of those at the receiving end would want the KKR lifting the cup for a second time. There was no planning and organisation in any of the arrangements and in fact, an embarrassing conclusion to a happy moment.
Sources said the state government spent Rs 45 lakh for the entire show, which again raised quite a few eyebrows, for many asked the justification for a debt-ridden state government to spend the amount.
The administration must be careful in hosting any such programmes in the future for not only what happened on Tuesday but also on Monday, when a vernacular pro-government newspaper in Kolkata said 'KKR this time does not have Sourav Ganguly, a CPI(M)'s man, and hence the change'. If such is the practice in a state known for its 'sport-loving' culture, then it's better if we don't have such occasions to relish any more. We can't afford to indulge in excesses at the cost of others' plight and loss of honour.
To end with, a number of Twitter jokes have been doing the rounds in the social media over the last couple of days over Mamata Benerjee's move to felicitate the KKR.
One joke read: “Dear Dhoni you should be thankful to Gautam Gambhir. If he hadn't made KKR win IPL you would have been branded a Maoist by Mamata Banerjee.”
Another read: “KKR SRK - Be warned, don't wear red otherwise you can be called Maoists” another of the jokes read.
A third said: “Mamata announces victory rally over KKR's win in IPL. Should've delayed the anti petrol price rise rally & done a 2 in 1 - austerity.”
(The writer is not a supporter of any political party in Bengal and surely not a Maoist)