It takes just a few or even one hooligan to tarnish the hospitality to visitors laid out by a State. The stone thrown at the Team Australia bus on Tuesday night has not just besmirched the reputation of Assam — the shameful incident in Guwahati can have serious repercussions on the holding of intertiol fixtures at Barsapara Cricket Stadium. It is a crying shame, considering the lengths to which the State government went to facilitate the India-Australia match and even arrange for a crucial bank loan to cash-strapped Assam Cricket Association (ACA). For cricket lovers in this part of the country, it was an answer to fervent prayers that this stadium — with its history of missed construction deadlines, cost overruns and fund irregularities — had been allotted an intertiol match after seven long years. Now they are having nightmares whether any BCCI-sanctioned or IPL match will come Guwahati’s way in near future. Fortutely, no Australian cricketer was injured, but Union Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has been quick to make his point that “persol security of visiting athletes and teams is extremely important for us”. The entire train of events in Guwahati raise questions about the security cover provided to the cricketers. From prelimiry accounts, the stone was pelted at Saukuchi area alongside NH 37 when the Australian cricketers were returning to their hotel. The city police would have us believe that there was no way for an outsider to distinguish which bus was carrying which team, since both buses were supposedly identical. But the Aussies having won the encounter had more formalities to take care of in the post-match ceremonies, and so had started out later than their Indian counterparts. There are also reports that a Team Australia plaque was fixed in front of the bus. In that case, it won’t take much IQ for a miscreant to guess which set of players was inside the bus and lob a rock. The police also claim there were pilot vehicles going ahead of the bus while other security vehicles were following behind. But obviously, they seem not to have prepared for attackers coming in suddenly from either side of the highway. Was the threat perception not considered serious enough to warrant any sanitising of the highway on both sides? If a stone projectile left window panes of the bus in smithereens, one shudders to think what a bullet or a rocket-propelled grede would have done had it been a militant attack. When the Assam government still believes the ‘disturbed area’ tag for the State should stay, thereby necessitating the continuance of draconian AFSPA, then surely an attack by disgruntled ultras would not have been far-fetched. Since no militant group has made any adverse calls against the T20 cricket match and U-17 FIFA World Cup football matches in Guwahati, was there a lowering of guard by security agencies? Judging by the contradictory statements by Assam police top brass, it seems to be in two minds whether it was a grave security breach or a minor incident that could have occurred anywhere. What is done cannot be undone now — despite profuse apologies by the State government and anguished cricket fans — but there is an urgent need to review the security bandobast for the Junior World Cup matches scheduled in the city till October 25. Assam has successfully hosted the tiol Games in 2007 and the South Asian Games only last year; the South Asian Boxing Championship is coming up as early as December this year. When gun-toting security personnel whizzing by in high speed vehicles fail to deter a stone-pelter, surely a trained militant can do far greater mischief with a planned attack. Bulletproof buses for athletes, more armed escorts, thoroughly sanitised routes and rigorous intelligence screening may well be part of extra efforts needed to make for impenetrable security cover. There is no way untoward incidents can be allowed to tarnish the reputation of the State any further, and to make a mockery of the Sarbanda Sonowal-led government’s fond dream of turning Guwahati into a sports capital.
A crying shame