The political game over non-allocation of Indian Premier League (IPL) matches to Himachal Pradesh is turning intense with both the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP trying to bowl each other out with a flurry of bouncers in the midst of the parliamentary election season.
The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA), led by BJP MP Anurag Thakur, had hosted nine IPL matches at its Dharamsala stadium, the home ground of Kings XI Punjab, in the lap of the snowcapped Dhauladhar range.
Thakur, who is re-contesting the election for the Hamirpur seat, is firing potshots at the Virbhadra Singh government during his political rallies for not giving its consent to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to host IPL matches in Dharamsala, 250 km from here.
"The BCCI wanted to hold two to five IPL matches in Dharamsala - two between May 10 and 14 and the rest of the matches after May 17," Thakur, a BCCI joint secretary said.
The matches were shifted to other venues due to the deliberate delay in giving security clearance to the BCCI, he added. (While the IPL kicks off April 16, the initial matches will be played in the UAE. The tournament returns to India May 2, when the bulk of the 10-phased Lok Sabha elections will be over.)
"The shifting of matches has led to a revenue loss of Rs.500 crore ($83 million) to the state exchequer," he added.
Organisers believe over 20,000 tourists, mainly from the plains of northern India, visit Dharamsala during a match.
They say the local hospitality industry gets a major boost as a galaxy of Bollywood stars and corporate honchos descend to witness the matches.
Getting on the front foot and attacking the bowling, Industries Minister Mukesh Agnihotri blamed Thakur for robbing the state of IPL matches.
The state proposed to hold the matches but the state lost out due to the lackluster approach of Thakur, who was contesting the elections, Agnihotri claimed.
"The government was serious about hosting the matches but the HPCA president misguided the BCCI that the state was not able to provide the required security," Agnihotri said in a statement.
Batting for the HPCA, its press secretary Mohit Sood said the Board wrote to the state director general of police (DGP) March 14 to which he did not reply nor express his inability to provide security. Even the HPCA president wrote to the DGP March 18 and April 8 but did not get any response.
"It was due to this non-committal and non-cooperative attitude of the government that ultimately Dharamsala has been left out as an IPL venue," Sood added.
Defending the government, state Congress chief Sukhvinder Sukhu questioned the BJP for defending the "misdeeds" of the HPCA, which he said was a "private company".
"Is it not true that the HPCA was a society when it got the land on lease from the government? Then how could it convert itself to a company and transfer the entire government land in the name of the company, and that too without the government's knowledge," he asked while speaking to reporters here.
Sukhu said the Congress would go to the people with this issue during the elections and ask of Thakur that if the HPCA was to be converted into a company and was to run a hotel, why had it not bought the land like any other private company.
The state Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau had last August filed a case of cheating and misappropriation case against the HPCA over alleged wrongdoing in the allotment of land to it for constructing a residential complex for players near the Dharamsala stadium.
The state April 2 got the sanction to initiate proceedings against BJP leader and former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal for allotting the land during his regime to the HPCA, led by his son Thakur.
Polling in the four Lok Sabha constituences in Himachal Pradesh will be held May 7.
In the 2009 elections, the BJP won Shimla (reserved), Kangra and Hamirpur, while the Congress bagged Mandi through Virbhadra Singh. He went on to become a minister at the centre but quit in 2012 after a corruption case was registered against him in 2012. He quit the seat the same year and his wife won the byelection held in May 2012.
Virbhadra Singh became chief minister after the Congress ousted the BJP in the December 2012 assembly elections.