The largest stadium in the world by capacity is the “Rungrado 1st of May Stadium” in Pyongyang, North Korea. Oddly enough, it isn’t named after Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Representative of the Korean People. Luckily for us, the Supreme Representative of the Indian People, unafflicted by bashfulness, stepped up to rename the second-largest stadium in the world (by capacity) after himself.
To make room for Narendra Modi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was taken off the marquee and given the important supporting role of naming the sports enclave in which the stadium is set. There is a nice metaphor in that: Sardar Patel as the setting for the solitaire that is Modi, the Loh Purush as warm-up act for Non-Stick Narendra.
Napoleon Bonaparte famously crowned himself Emperor of France; Narendra Modi at Motera went one better: he had himself elevated in absentia with the President of the Republic in close attendance. To time the renaming of the stadium so it was done just before a Test match which 50,000 spectators and hundreds of millions of television viewers had turned up to watch ranks as one of the great event-management coups of our time.
The extended Shah family commercials that played during the breaks were particularly well-made. There was Amit Shah genially leading the President through the team introductions. Even as the players stepped forward one by one to be greeted by the President, the Home Minister took the opportunity to wave, Caesar-style, at the assembled spectators. It was just as well that this was a captive audience with cricket in prospect; else, the sight of Shah surveying a crowd and benignly raising a hand might have emptied the stadium.
But it was his son, Jay Shah, who was the star of the 3rd Test between India and England. In the little documentary promo for the stadium, there was an extended shot where the camera panned around the magnificent stands, empty, save for a solitary figure, the Secretary of the BCCI, surveying his surroundings. Its atmospherics were straight out of a Western: this could have been a shadowed Clint Eastwood at sundown, squinting at a desert landscape…different silhouette, but the same mood.
The criticism levelled at the Narendra Modi stadium for having its ends named after two of India’s most distinguished business houses was entirely beside the point. The critics missed the self-aware symbolism of the naming. We should think of this stadium as a giant representation of India’s political economy. The political figures who built and named this stadium are, so to speak, the means. Ambani and Adani are this enterprise’s ends. The lovely, literal playfulness of the naming has been lost on the dour critics, who, unlike Modi and Shah, aren’t used to thinking on this scale.
There is a case for arguing that the logic of naming wasn’t followed through. This test could have been a landmark in cricket history. Given how arbitrarily cricket’s fielding positions are named (backward point?), the BCCI could have Indianized them. The BCCI calls the shots on television commentary, and Jay Shah calls the shots at the BCCI, so the commentators could have been told to use a new fielding scheme.
So, Info-slip, Wipro-slip and TC-slip; Backward-short Birla; Forward-short Tata; mid-Ambani, long-Adani; Backward Bajaj (for backward point), Silly Bennett Coleman; Fine Hinduja; Mallya (for cover); Third Murugappa; Square Muthoot…the possibilities are endless. What better way to stamp India’s modern ownership of cricket into the very nomenclature of the game? There’s still time; a beginning could be made in the second Test at this great venue next week.
The breast-beating about the length of the day-night test, the lamentation about it ending in less than two days, should be ignored. If after the pharaonic splendour of the renaming and the ring of fire spectacle served up by the lights, people still want five days of cricket, they’re irredeemably stupid. The test was an opportunity to show the world that this stadium is a giant crown worn by a colossus. Test cricket is a trinket in that crown; Modi’s storied meeting with President Trump is its Koh-i-Noor. Given the occasion, India did what it had to; it won. Enough said.
Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in Delhi. His most recent book is ‘Homeless on Google Earth’ (Permanent Black, 2013).
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