- The Inside Line
Passage to IndiaKate Walker August 4, 2013
Years ago I worked as a sub-editor for a news wire service, and the timing of the shifts I worked meant I mostly seemed to spend my days subbing the copy of the Indian journalists.
It took a while to get used to the differences in language, despite the similarities of the words. As George Bernard Shaw once said about England and America, England and India are two countries divided by a common language. I quickly came to know my lakhs from my crores, but it took me a while to get my head around the concept of 'Central', a standalone word used by our stringers to describe India's national government.
So vast is the country that individual regions do much of their own governance, and hold great power. But much like the federal system in the United States, regional interests often find themselves butting heads with national interests.
Such is the case with the current fandango over the Indian Grand Prix, which is popular in Uttar Pradesh but irrelevant to Central.
This Indian tax row is not new - it has been a sticking point since 2011, when the central government decided that Formula One was a form of entertainment, and therefore not subject to the same tax breaks as a sporting event such as the Commonwealth Games. The local government in Uttar Pradesh wants F1 to be reclassified as a sport, and Central isn't particularly interested in F1 as the only benefit it feels from the sport - sorry, 'entertainment' - is the income tax it generates.
While F1 has a passionate Indian fanbase, when compared to cricket we simply don't register on the national consciousness.
In my opinion, that's why we're skipping the Delhi race in 2014. Sure, talk about not running two races within six months of each other makes sense, but earlier this summer all the chatter was about a China-India back-to-back in April 2014. And speaking of China, that race was run twice in six months when it moved from October in 2008 to April in 2009. So why not do the same for India, which has proven itself rather more effective at attracting spectators?
By taking India off the calendar for a year, Formula One has the hope of shocking Central into paying attention. While the subcontinent represents one of F1's greatest untapped markets - and, based on demographics and projected future growth, its most important future market - India is not currently so vital to the sport's fortunes that Bernie Ecclestone can't afford to play a little hard ball.
By removing the race from the calendar for a year, the race's private investors will be forced to use any influence they have to try and get Formula One on the central government's agenda. The local government in Uttar Pradesh will also be putting pressure on Central, as they will be feeling the loss of the race's financial impact.
Should F1 return to Greater Noida as promised in early 2015, I would be very surprised to see the sport still classed as a tax-paying form of entertainment.