Thank Gambhir, At Least We Will Not Lose To Pakistan

Gautam Gambhir's stand shouldn't surprise us: he openly identifies himself with a political party that espouses hostility towards Pakistan, and has been an outspoken supporter of the current finance minister.

Gautam Gambhir, 2012. Credit: vijay_chennupati/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Gautam Gambhir, 2012. Credit: vijay_chennupati/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

New Delhi: It will be a glorious moment for every patriotic Indian when Gautam Gambhir refuses to play in the Indian Premier League next season. Wasim Akram is the Kolkata Knight Riders’ mentor and he should not be allowed to participate. The former fast bowler is obviously at fault for holding a Pakistani passport. But what if he continues in the role? Of course, in that scenario, skipper Gambhir will protect his honour and walk out on the team. Country comes first, after all. Did you not hear Karan Johar’s emotional statement on October 19?

It also goes without saying that Gambhir will not entertain any Pakistani commentators during the IPL if he plays. There needs to be a purge. Gambhir told us on Tuesday, “We can say this sitting in an AC room that cricket or Bollywood should not be compared to politics as long as we don’t think of ourselves as Indians, or think for our own countrymen. So I totally endorse that until the time we don’t secure our own Indians, our own countrymen, all other things can be kept aside.”

The report in DNA carrying this quote overwhelmingly approved the batsman’s view. Apparently, he gave us the most valid reason for not playing cricket with Pakistan. But of course, the headline does not do justice to Gambhir’s views. Let alone cricket, all ties need to be snapped with Pakistan. And yes, if it came to just cricket, Gambhir will stick resolutely to his stand. “I would not even think of playing cricket with Pakistan. Indian lives are more important than sports.”

Thanks for clearing that up. The selectors, one suspects, are heaving a sigh of relief. They will no longer have to consider Gambhir for selection when India goes to England next summer for the ICC Champions Trophy. The Indian team will begin its campaign against Pakistan, in a match which will be bereft of the left-handed batsman’s company. Of course, it is a minor detail that Gambhir has not been selected for the Indian ODI team in nearly four years.

But let us rest easy. Sourav Ganguly does not approve the idea of a bilateral series either until there is peace on the border. Why stop at cricket? That’s his pertinent question. A complete shutdown is apparently the answer. There’s a patriot, you see. Don’t you remember him wielding his jersey on the balcony of the Lord’s cricket ground in 2002? A sight to gladden the heart of every true nationalist.

That is what true nationalists do, as we have seen over the past year. They do not wear their patriotism lightly. Rather, they take it in their arms and wave it in your face until you accept it. Shoot a video and promise you will not interact with anybody from Pakistan. Or they will keep waving their nationalism in your face.

There is, of course, much to be gained from not playing Pakistan. Before India achieved the number one spot in the ICC Test rankings earlier this month, it was the arch-rival that had the honour. If a series were to take place, there is a possibility that the Indian national team could succumb to the high-quality Pakistan side. In a period when India is playing 13 Tests at home, none of them will be against Misbah-ul-Haq’s formidable eleven. In fact, the neighbouring countries have not played each other in a bilateral Test series for nine years now.

But let us forget cricket for a moment, shall we? For India will play Pakistan in a sporting encounter this Sunday. At the Asian Champions Trophy in Kuantan, Malaysia, the men’s national hockey teams from both countries will face off in a match that is likely to generate significant attention. Indian team’s skipper P.R. Sreejesh has already laid down the agenda for the clash. “We don’t want to disappoint our soldiers by losing, especially when they sacrifice their lives in the exchange of fire at the borders.”

Sreejesh must feel burdened by the enormity of the task that awaits him. Or maybe he is just overstating the situation. Does a loss in hockey really matter as much as it does in cricket? That was certainly not the case when the previous iteration of a BJP-led alliance was in power at the centre. The then-External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, in 2001, saw India-Pakistan matches as “less cricket and more gladiatorial contests.” Since the government of the day thought cricket to be representative of the national sentiment, bilateral encounters were permitted only in other sports like hockey. Sreejesh has now offered a course correction. Bollywood is another playground that can feel a part of the special club now.

But when cricket seemed to be the only contentious site, there were some dissenting voices. Like some people in India now, they would have been accused of not being true nationalists. In fact, one of them did not even belong to the boundaries of this state. Ramachandra Guha, in his book A Corner of a Foreign Field, quotes the Sri Lankan journal Pravada, which sounded an alarmed tone in a 1999 editorial. Discussing the media coverage of cricket contests in both India and Pakistan, it expressed its disapproval of “the crudely militaristic metaphors and imagery used so freely to describe what happens on the playground.”

One can only wonder what the journal would make of the stridently jingoistic assertions that seem to be a part of the daily news coverage on both sides of the border. In fact, the news studios have become playgrounds for the ‘crudely militaristic metaphors and imagery’ to be employed. It is this wave of jingoism that has enabled the likes of Gambhir to brandish their brand of nationalism.

The batsman’s stand, however, should not surprise us. He openly identifies himself with a political party that espouses hostility towards Pakistan. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Gambhir campaigned in Amritsar for BJP’s Arun Jaitley. Although the opener’s contribution to the campaign proved futile, he has been an able ally to the incumbent Union finance minister. When the Delhi government accused Jaitley of corruption during his 13-year tenure as Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA), Gambhir was quick to jump to his defence last year.

DDCA, of course, is the hallowed institution for those who believe in maladministration. It achieved the ultimate honour when the Delhi High Court put Justice Mukul Mudgal in charge for ensuring that the 2015 India-South Africa Test goes ahead smoothly. He has held the position ever since. However, Justice Mudgal recently expressed his unwillingness to continue but the absence of an alternative means that he will have to suffer the adhocism that has come to characterise DDCA for some more time.

The association is a member of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which has had its run-ins with the Supreme Court lately. The hearing of the BCCI’s review petition – filed in response to the apex court’s judgment that ordered the implementation of the Lodha Committee’s recommendations – was adjourned on October 19. It may take another fortnight before one learns whether the current dispensation will be replaced by a court-appointed group of administrators.

If that possibility comes to be, then BCCI President and BJP MP Anurag Thakur will need to vacate the office. The politician has stayed true to his colours by launching a media offensive against the Lodha Committee and the SC’s judgment. By portraying the BCCI as victim, he continues to argue that he cannot force the member associations to accept the July 18 judgment.

Thakur, in recent weeks, has seemed a troubled man. He feels the board has been unfairly targeted. Let us not look for the veracity of his arguments now. That will be a story for another day. At the moment, what should worry us is the worried state that Thakur finds himself in. Then again, we need not preoccupy ourselves with Thakur’s well-being for, on Wednesday, he had a ‘special’ evening.

Lest we forget, Anurag Thakur is a lieutenant of the territorial army. Therefore, it was only natural for him to take four members of the Indian ODI team to the Sikh Battalion headquarters in the capital. In the current climate, it is an obvious political statement to make. Sport has had a long-running relationship with militaristic metaphors (remember George Orwell’s ‘war minus the shooting’?) but this was an explicit alignment of one national institution with another.

Cricket, of course, holds a special place for a huge section of the Indian population. BCCI President and Lieutenant Thakur organised the meeting in a time when respect for the military is being publicly demanded. Another Indian cricketer speaks out for the respect of the armed forces. Gambhir also blew the old trumpet that produced the strained note named Pakistan. Full marks for trying but this is not a novel idea. There are countless examples from history that demonstrate how sport and military are exploited in conjunction. Nazi Germany comes to mind.

This is not to say that the aforementioned incidents are a consequence of a carefully designed exercise. Rather, in the current climate marked by narrow-minded nationalism, moves are afoot for political expedience. Criticise Gambhir and you are maligning a national hero. Criticise Thakur or the BCCI and you will be charged with disrespecting an institution that has brought pride to the country. Ask questions of the military and you are not a patriot.

Instead, we are told that the possibilities for humanising exchanges on the sporting field need to be rejected. The answer is to end all ties, to not allow the screening of a classic film, force a disabled man to stand up from his wheelchair during the national anthem and resort to violence if he does not oblige. This is the kind of patriotism Gambhir seemingly endorses. A patriotism so prickly that it will bleed India. But hey, at least we will not lose to Pakistan.

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