No one knew – or at least no one let it slip. Clearly, the officials of the Gujarat Cricket Association can do a pretty good job of keeping a secret.
On the eve of the match on Tuesday, journalists were given a walk-around the reconstructed Sardar Patel cricket stadium by officials. They spoke about it in glowing terms about the stadium, the world’s largest cricket venue in terms of seating capacity.
The cricket stadium is part of a sports complex that is spread over 63 acres. The stadium houses 11 centre strips, four dressing rooms with in-built gyms, a clubhouse with 50 deluxe rooms and five suites, six indoor pitches with bowling machines, two outdoor practice grounds with pavilions and a main ground lit entirely with LED lights. When full, it will seat 132,000 fans. It is, by all accounts, a fabulous facility.
The Sardar Patel Stadium was built in 1982 and it was refurbished in 2006 when Narendra Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister. The upgrade, many felt, was in line with the Vallabhbhai Patel’s growing status in India more than five decades after he died in 1950.
The Bharatiya Janta Party has installed the freedom fighter and India’s first deputy prime minister as one of their icons as a counterpoint to Jawaharlal Nehru. The BJP claims that Patel – the man who persuaded 562 princely kingdoms of British India to join the Indian Union – actually deserved to be India’s first prime minister.
“No one has copyright over Sardar Patel,” Modi declared in October 2016. “I am from the BJP and he was from Congress, but I still follow his ideology and beliefs, which belong to no party.”
Modi’s statement ignored the fact that Patel had in 1948 banned the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the parent organisation of the BJP – for its involvement in the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi. For decades, Modi was a full-time worker of the RSS.
In keeping with its attempt to boost Patel’s presence in contemporary Indian life, Modi in 2018 commissioned a colossal statue of Sardar Patel in Gujarat in 2018. The Statue of Unity is the world’s tallest statue.
Given the BJP’s obsession with size, it seemed only fitting that that refurbished Motera stadium was also named after Patel, the Iron Man of India. As recently as mid-January, when knockout matches for the Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament for domestic teams were played at the revamped facility in Motera, it was still being called the Sardar Patel stadium.
But then on Wednesday morning before the third Test between India and England was to begin, as the venue was inaugurated by President Ram Nath Kovind, the name was suddenly changed to Narendra Modi Stadium.
As some handles on Twitter noted, the world’s largest stadium deserved to be named after the world’s largest personality.
The decision has generated a slew of jokes on Twitter, prompting BJP officials to clarify that while the stadium had been renamed after Modi, the complex in which it is situated will be called the Sardar Patel Sports Enclave.
Of course, the big question is why the BJP has felt the need to do this.
Only last month, India’s Sports Ministry said that all upgraded and new Sports Authority of India facilities would be named after athletes who have made the nation proud on the global stage. Why did the same policy not apply to the Motera cricket stadium? Why wasn’t it named after a cricketer who has made the country proud?
Over the years, we have seen politicians in India seeking to control sports organisations because it is a very convenient way to keep their names in the media. Name recognition does count for something.
But Modi is already everywhere – from his frequent messages on Twitter to his monthly Mann ki Baat radio address, he is front and centre of everything the BJP does. To be sure, when the Congress party was in power, it named several sporting arenas after Nehru. But why does Modi need a stadium?
The most obvious answer is that this is just good marketing. Sports stadiums are visited by lots of youngsters. A stadium bearing his name is good for the Modi brand. It helps his name stay in the conversation, especially with Indians below 35. Does this mean we could soon have an India filled with Modi stadiums?
It is worrying that someone currently in power is already having facilities named after him. It is worrying that those around him feel the need to do this and even scarier that he is allowing it.
The cult of Modi has taken concrete shape sooner than most of us thought it would.