As the Cricket World Cup reaches its much-anticipated climax, observers argue that Indian PM Narendra Modi is strategically leveraging the cricket fever to support his political standing ahead of next year's elections.
For Modi, who has the distinction of having the world's largest cricket stadium named after him, the tournament's dream finale is a prime opportunity.
Cricket, deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche, serves as a powerful tool for Modi to score political points by tapping into its widespread popularity.
Indian journalist Suresh Menon describes the marathon World Cup as the "greatest interactive election campaign," highlighting the intersection of sports and politics.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Modi, has close ties with Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), emphasizing the intertwining of political power and cricketing influence.
Accompanying Modi in the stands will likely be Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah and BCCI chief Jay Shah, both key figures from Modi's home state of Gujarat.
Crucial matches were strategically hosted at the Narendra Modi mega-stadium in Ahmedabad.
The selection of match venues and the prominence of key contests in Gujarat are no mere coincidence, according to Menon.
Modi's government has always been good at bringing politics into cricket. The stadium has been used to host US President Donald Trump.
While the alignment of sports and politics is not a novel concept in India, Modi's BJP has been criticized for a more openly and organized approach.
The upcoming World Cup final, featuring an air force flyover, laser show, and Bollywood performances, showing that Modi likes combining entertainment and politics.
Modi aims to highlight India's broader sporting ambitions alongside potential cricket success. India recently bid for the 2036 Olympics, likely in Ahmedabad, aligning with Modi's vision for global recognition beyond cricket.
Critics, however, point to a darker side of Modi's tenure, marked by a decline in political rights and civil liberties, a crackdown on protests, and allegations of favouritism from business allies.
As the BJP eyes victory in the upcoming elections, the World Cup becomes a spectacular platform for Modi to stoke nationalistic sentiments, prompting discussions beyond the boundary lines of sports.