While anti-government protests in several Arab countries have put security forces throughout the region on high alert, India’s army, police force and other security personnel are also in a state of readiness, as part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s proactive initiative known as Operation SAPROCS (Strategic Action to Prevent Riots Over Cricket Scores).
India, along with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, is hosting the cricket World Cup, an event that eclipses the soccer World Cup in terms of number of fans willing to set themselves on fire after a loss.
Cricket isn’t just the No. 1 sport in India, surveys show that it’s also the No. 1 activity of any kind involving one ball or fewer. A recent poll asked male college students to rank their top ten favorite activities and “watching cricket” came second, right behind “playing cricket” and just ahead of “thinking about cricket.”
Cricket has been played in India for almost three centuries and, according to historian Gopal Krishnan, is considered by most Indians to be “the only good thing the British gave us.” Other scholars point to the vital role cricket has played in the country’s progress. Indeed, when angry nationalists demolished statues of British lords in the 1950s, they did so with cricket bats.
Despite the sport’s popularity, India has captured the World Cup only once -– way back in 1983, when you had to commit a crime to use a cell phone. Indian fans have watched in anguish as Australia hauled away the last three World Cup trophies. But hopes are high this year, because not only is the Indian team playing at home, they’re the odds-on favorites. Fans are dreaming of victory parades, fireworks displays and a national month of celebration. “It’s a heaven or hell situation,” said cricket writer Manoj Shah. “If our team wins the World Cup, everyone will be in heaven. But if they lose, all hell might break loose.”
That’s where Operation SAPROCS comes into play. A million uniformed men and women will hit the streets of major cities to quell any riots that break out. “One way or the other, a riot is going to happen,” said Mumbai cricket fan Jatin Bhagat. “If we win the World Cup, there will a big riot. If we lose, there will be a bigger riot. Some of my friends are already practicing rioting.”
In the event of an embarrassing loss, the homes of cricket players will be cordoned off by security forces, with an extra buffer provided by members of India’s SPCC (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Cricketers).
Special protection will be given to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captain of the cricket team, as well as his namesakes, said SPCC spokesman George Abraham. “We have determined that there are 10,568 men named Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Punjab alone and we are offering them protection too.”
SPCC had originally planned to distribute effigies of every cricket player, so that fans could discharge their anger by burning and kicking the effigies. But the plan was shelved following threats of more riots from members of PETE (People for the Ethical Treatment of Effigies).
Mike Sanders, a global security expert, is also concerned about India’s overall security, with everyone distracted by cricket. “If any country wants to invade India,” he said, “this would be the good time to do it. And if any married women want to fool around, well … the men are too busy!”
Prime Minister Singh took a moment at his regular press briefing to reassure the nation that the security personnel watching over India’s nuclear weapons are not simultaneously watching the World Cup. “We want to eliminate Pakistan,” Singh said, “but only with our bats.”
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