Renaming World’s Largest Cricket Stadium After PM Modi, Elicits Criticism

India renamed the world’s largest cricket stadium after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday last week, a move that drew criticism from many. The name change to the Narendra Modi Stadium was unveiled at the 132,000-seat venue formerly known as Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad, in the western state of Gujarat, where India are playing England in the third match of a four-game test series.

The site on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Modi’s political home town in the state of Gujarat, was recently rebuilt as the world’s largest cricket venue with capacity for 110,000 spectators. Modi has sought to use a slate of signature projects — such as building the world’s tallest statue and remaking India’s parliament — to project himself as the country’s most transformative and powerful prime minister in decades.

“It’s quite stunning,” said Ronojoy Sen, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore and author of a book on the history of sport in India. He argued that “the symbolism — the largest, the biggest, the best — being built in Ahmedabad” was central to Modi’s political brand. “This is the first time in my memory at least that a living Indian [prime minister] has named a stadium after themselves,” he added. The stadium was previously named after Sardar Patel, a leading figure in the independence movement and one of Modi’s political heroes.

“World’s largest stadium dedicated to the world’s largest personality!,” Priti Gandhi, a BJP spokeswoman, said in a tweet. Others said the decision reflected a cult of personality surrounding Modi. “The people of Gujarat will not bear this insult to Sardar Patel,” said Hardik Patel, president of the opposition Congress party in the state.

Sardar Patel was India’s first interior minister, long revered for his tough approach on national issues. Authorities have named the larger complex surrounding the stadium after him. Dedicating sports stadiums to former prime ministers is common in India, but renaming such a high-profile venue for a sitting leader is rare.

Many of India’s public institutions and projects have been named after members of the Congress’ Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that governed India for decades and which Modi’s party long criticized as the dominance of one family.

“Both the BJP and Congress are busy perpetuating political branding,” Sanjay Jha, a former Congress official and political commentator, said. Archit Khare, a 29-year-old student at the game, said: “I don’t know why it has been changed. Sardar Patel is more iconic. Sardar Patel was the iron man of India, it should have remained.”

Gaurav Pandhi, who runs social media for the opposition Congress party, called it the “heights of narcissism . . . Megalomaniac!” Modi served as chief minister of Gujarat before his ascent to the premiership in 2014. The newly rebuilt stadium hosted Donald Trump when he visited India last year, but its debut as a cricket venue was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The name change was revealed only a couple of hours before the start of the third test match on England’s tour of India. The ground was at half capacity on Wednesday, hosting about 50,000 fans, thanks to a precipitous nationwide drop in Covid-19 infections.

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