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The party's in Brazil!

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Last updated on: June 05, 2014 22:20 IST

World Cup in Brazil

The World Cup is being played in the football crazy country after 64 years and nothing excites the Brazilians more than the sacred game, says B S Prakash, India's former ambassador to Brazil.

In the next six months Brazil will see three major events demanding attention: First, the FIFA World Cup starting on June 12, a global sports show rivalled only by the Olympics; at the end of it and two days after the finals, the BRICS summit that has a special significance for India since it will mark the first multilateral summitry by Prime Minister Modi; and in October a domestic determinant, the national Presidential election.

The three are distinct events and yet related in terms of its larger effects on Brazil's polity and orientation, both domestic and external.

There should be no doubt about which of these excites Brazilians. It is the World Cup being played in the football crazy country after 64 years, with the finals at that Mecca of football lovers all over the world, the legendary Marcana stadium in Rio.

Reams have been written about the stadium, the festiveness and frenzy of crowds there during the national league matches. Brazilians still talk about the final in 1950 when a supposedly sure winner, their team lost to its tiny neighbour Uruguay in the dying moments of the match. A stunned nation plunged in deep sorrow with some labelling it as Brazil's Hiroshima moment!

In this World Cup, Brazil is being regarded by experts as one of the four best teams, capable of taking on Spain, Germany or Argentina, the other three superb squads brimming with talent and aggression.

Brazil's new stars like Neymar, Thiago Silva, and Hulk with exotic names and personalities to match are like the heroes of yesteryears Pele, Socrates, Ronaldinho. In today's fast and furious games, their play has to be collective and cohesive, and not only magical or individually brilliant like that of the legends of previous decades.

However, all the young players in the team are already used to the European pace of football and the lovers of Brazilian style all over the world including in India wishes them the Cup.

The team will no doubt be wildly supported within the country but the same cannot be said about the organisers or even the event itself. Over the last year, there have been several expressions of resentment and anger against FIFA and Brazil's government.

The unbridled ambition in constructing new stadiums in many cities in far flung corners of the country, the exorbitant costs, the delays and inefficiencies in the projects have all come under criticism.

Though football is sacred, there is a sizable section that is angry at the misplaced priorities in the spending on mega sports, in a country where as they say 'the schools are without teachers and hospitals are without doctors.' The thrust behind such allegations and protests are familiar to us in India: It is essentially the same phenomenon that we saw at the ill-famed Commonwealth Games in Delhi, a factor that contributed to the public anger against UPA II.

It is the same story of overambitious planning, deliberately delayed execution, rising costs and massive corruption. The debate on the scale of allocation for such sports projects as against meeting essential public needs is also familiar for us.

The public mood of sullenness spilling out on the streets in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro is a new feature in Brazil, a country of extraordinarily patient people. United above all by the love and commitment to their team, in the coming weeks, if Brazil does well in matches, all will be forgotten. If it does not, the mood will sour further.

Brazil will host the BRICS summit on July 15, two days after the finals of the World Cup. The event will be in Fortaleza, a town in the north-east of Brazil, more than 2,000 kms from Rio.

From the point of view of the evolution or substance of BRICS, the hosting of this event timed with the surcharged atmosphere of the World Cup finals is not propitious. It is believed that Chinese President Xi Jinping, a soccer fan, was keen to be in Brazil for the finals and his wishes are being accommodated.

Other factors too must have contributed to the choice of the date. Brazil had to wait till June for a new Indian PM to be in position. It could not wait beyond August since its President Dilma Rousseff herself will face elections in October. So the limited window of time has been utilised with the predictable consequence that at least in Brazil, the BRICS summit will be eclipsed with either the exultation or the disappointment of a World Cup victory or defeat for their team. It will be literally a side-show in a provincial resort city after the spectacle at Rio.

Be that as it may for BRICS as a grouping, for us in India, the summit will be significant. In addition to the BRICS agenda, a work in progress, the forum always provides a valuable opportunity for the five leaders to get to know each other and conduct bilateral discussions in a less hurried manner than at larger global events.

Apart from the multilateral debut for Prime Minister Modi, he will have his first one to one meetings with the Presidents of China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa, all important countries for us bilaterally. Having met all the neighbours during his swearing-in ceremony, Modi will be meeting leaders of the major emerging economies and will thus have an assessment of the potential for cooperation for India with many of our major 'South' partners.

A visit in September for the United Nations General Assembly should give him the opportunity to meet leaders from the 'North' -- Europe and North America. It may not be a particularly buoyant time for BRICS countries in terms of their economies, but the orientation on political issues of the day -- Ukraine, Syria, Control of the cyberspace -- will be watched with interest. How Brazil will shape this event remains to be seen.

The next event for Brazil will be domestic, the elections in October where the current President Dilma Rousseff will be contesting for her second and final term. When she came to office in 2011, Dilma was seen as former President Lula's protege. But in office she has proved to be different with a sharp focus on Brazil's economy, that has significantly slowed down like ours, and less of an interest in international engagement.

Dilma too has to come to terms with the disappointments of unfulfilled expectations of the populace and thus an anti-incumbency factor. But unlike UPA II, she has been tough on corruption and cronyism, endemic factors in Brazilian politics much like ours.

She is expected to win because of this stance and her approval ratings are much better than what the Congress party had. But again curiously it is believed that a Brazilian win at the World Cup will seal her victory while an organisational mess, were it to happen, may dent her prospects.

BRICS itself is a non-issue in national elections and it would seem is a peripheral issue for Dilma herself.

Finally, there is the spirit of Brazilians that is ebullient and is also indifferent to changing fortunes. A World Cup victory if that is to come will be different; it will be a moment frozen in time for all eternity; all else BRICS leaders visiting them or their own leader's fortunes will be secondary in 2014.

B S Prakash is a former Ambassador to Brazil and currently a visiting Professor at Jamia Milia University in Delhi.

You can read his previous columns on here.

Image: A Brazilian fan enjoys the pre-match atmosphere. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

B S Prakash