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The Rediff Cricket Interview
/ Minister of State Swami Chinmayanand
'We are not in a hurry to send the team'
February 13, 2004
The proposed tour of the Indian cricket team to Pakistan has run into serious problems if one is to go by Union Minister of State for Home Swami Chinmayanand's statement that there is no harm if the tour is postponed in the overall interest of better relations between India and Pakistan.
In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh at his home in New Delhi, Swami said the Government of India is in no hurry to send the Indian team to Pakistan and will consider all aspects of the security of the Indian players before taking a decision.
"I appeal to the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) not to take a decision in a hurry to send the team," the minister said.
What is the status of the Indian cricket tour to Pakistan?
We have sent a three-member BCCI team including an officer from the home ministry to take stock of the situation. They will return to India either on Saturday or Monday. Depending on what they tell us we will take a decision.
Are you also assessing the ground realities through independent means?
All countries keep getting intelligence about the ground realities in other countries. We also get these inputs from our people. Of course, these inputs are also taken into account, but the official team has been sent by the BCCI and we are awaiting its report.
Will the home ministry talk to some players before taking a decision about the tour?
We would like to ensure that our players are secure and that they are not exposed to any danger. I would like to point out that the Pakistani authorities had assured full protection to the New Zealand team before that tour began. But they could not provide them with adequate security. There were bomb blasts near the hotel where they were staying. As a result, the New Zealanders left the tour unfinished. New Zealand and Pakistan have no delicate relations that such an incident (calling off the tour) would send a wrong message.
But relations between India and Pakistan are of a different kind. We are coming close to each other. Prime Minister Vajpayee's peace process is getting a positive response in South Asia. If our players go there and there is an unsavoury incident, then this peace process would be sabotaged.
We do not want to let the peace process to be derailed on any count. When it was decided that the Indian cricket team should go to Pakistan then it was taken in the larger interest -- that it would help in the peace process. This (the tour) would help generate goodwill between the people of two nations and also help in building a conducive environment.
What factors have forced you to have a second look at your earlier decision?
Recent developments, which includes two attacks on President Musharraf by terrorist groups in Pakistan, have forced the Government of India to have another look at the decision taken earlier. The A Q Khan incident has also shaken up our confidence.
When India and Pakistan play cricket, it is no longer a contest between India and Pakistan. The whole world watches it with keen interest but with a different view point. It is possible that any terrorist group operating from Pakistan could get desperate and make an attempt to strike at the Indian players in order to terrorise the world at large.
A small incident would derail the peace process initiated by Prime Minister Vajpayee. How can we face the people of India?
What will we tell them? That we could not even protect our players?
The security of our players is our top most concern. Until our intelligence outfits and security forces are not assured that our players are secure we would not like to take any step.
Three terrorists were sentenced to ten years imprisonment under POTA for plotting to kidnap Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. Will you keep this in mind while deciding on the tour?
Each and every aspect of the security will be kept in mind. This includes the smallest possible detail. It includes the case you have mentioned just now. If they could come here for a sinister plot, then what prevents them from striking in Pakistan? Any desperate terrorist group may launch a missile at the very ground where the matches are to be held. Secondly, how can they play when they are living under the protection of guns 24 hours a day? So we are keeping everything in mind.
Nothing will be left untouched which needs to be looked into to ensure the protection and safety of our cricketers.
BCCI President Jagmohan Dalmiya has said he will abide by the Government of India's decision.
This is a welcome statement. I appeal to the BCCI not to take a decision in a hurry to send the team on tour to Pakistan.
Do you feel the tour should take place after the general election?
I am not linking the tour with the election. Where is the hurry to go on the tour? It can be postponed. Whether for two months or more it does not matter.
Should we presume that the government will not take a decision in a hurry?
We are not in a hurry to send the team. Unless we assure ourselves that the security of the Indian players will not be compromised and that they will be safe in Pakistan the Government of India will under no circumstances clear the tour.
If the BCCI wants to take the responsibility for the security of the players, then it is welcome to do so.