Mangta Hai: The ‘Rahanefication’ of India

The young cricket team has shown that there are always alternatives, whether in sport, business or politics.

Many things have been written by many people on India’s remarkable series victory in Australia, particularly on the last Test match at the Gabba, in which what might be described provocatively (or even proudly) as “India C” defeated a full-strength XI of evil marsupials.

Commentators have focused on India’s resilience, on the democratic and meritocratic (and even secular) nature of Indian cricket, and on the fearlessness of youth. All true, and demonstrable, in the results at Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. Much less convincingly, extrapolations have been made from cricket to the broader Indian sphere, as if to suggest somehow that what went right on the cricket field is but a sporting manifestation of everything that’s right with modern India.

Unremarked on, however, has been the one clear lesson that this Indian cricket team can teach Real India—the India of politics and business, in particular.

It is that no one is indispensable.

More than people from other cultures, Indians are convinced that their heroes – their leaders – are irreplaceable. The man or woman in charge is venerated – adulated – and comes to believe that the pedestal on which he or she is placed is a birthright. And so it comes to pass that all concerned are united in a consensus that the party/business/team/institution will grind to a halt if the “aadarniya” Leader is absent.

Dynasticism is an unlovely byproduct of this belief in irreplaceability. If the leader dies, surely the next best thing is a replacement who has sprung from the late leader’s loins or womb. Le netaji est mort! Vive le netaji!    

‘Twas no surprise, then, that India fell into an almighty funk when Virat Kohli left Australia, followed by other mini-glooms that ensued when player after player became injured. Yet what happened? Humble, humane Rahane stepped into the seemingly unfillable breach left by Leader Kohli. Siraj took Shami’s place, Sundar took Ashwin’s, Nattu from Chinnappampatti took Umesh Yadav’s. And callow Shubman Gill wielded his unsponsored bat as if it were a kirpan.

No one was irreplaceable.

Also read: India’s Greatest Cricketing Triumph, Bar Absolutely None

Indian cricket will never be the same again. Remember the days when a pall descended on the nation if Gavaskar was injured, or Chandra, or Kapil, or later, Sachin? We treated Tests as lost even before they’d begun if key players were absent. This belief suffused the team, too, and Tests were lost.

No more.

So why can’t cricket’s moral message – if a titan has gone, someone just as capable will take his place – find its way into Indian politics and business, where leaders sit unbudgeable for decades, infantilising their parties and management, insulting their voters and consumers (or shareholders)?

The Congress Party is the prime example of this syndrome of indispensability. If India can beat the Aussies without Virat, surely the nation’s most venerable party can function without a Nehru-Gandhi at the helm. The drafting of a half-cooked Rahul to lead the party was the equivalent of selecting a 13-year-old Rohan Gavaskar to replace his dad in the team when the latter retired in 1987 – and just as absurd.

Other parties suffer from this problem, too, none more so than the ruling BJP, which holds that “there is no alternative” – in any party – to the prime minister. Regional parties aren’t far behind, albeit with consequences that are only regionally destructive. Think of the grotesque Amma-fixation in sections of Tamil Nadu, when an entire party and its supporters went into Oedipal overdrive. As for Indian businesses, think of how liberating it would be for us if they were to shrug off, and move past, their “iconic” leaders. Oh to be able to say “OK, Tata,” in the manner of a speeding Indian truck, to the limpets at the corporate helm, kept in place by a reverence that knows no bounds.

Let the country conduct its affairs as its cricket team plays its cricket. Let there be a “Rahanefication” of India.

Tunku Varadarajan is a fellow at the New York University Law School’s Classical Liberal Institute.