How would Gandhi feel about Pakistanis playing in IPL?

[Book excerpt] The Mahatma might have been overwhelmed by the unifying spirit of cricket.

 |  3-minute read |   01-10-2017
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Had Gandhi been alive, would he approve of the Indian Premier League (IPL)? The answer could be both no and yes. Let us examine first why it could be a no. As Mario Rodrigues argued, "Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of austerity, social justice and abstinence may be anathema to today’s post-liberalised generation of Indians and its ideologues. He would have surely disapproved of the crass materialism of the Indian Premier League."

Big money, Bollywood and cheerleaders would certainly be agents of impurity for an avidly ascetic Gandhi, diluting, or rather, destroying the spirit of the game. Gandhi would also certainly disapprove strongly of the IPL’s decision to ban Pakistani players and commentators from the tournament since 2008 after the alleged "Pakistan-sponsored" terrorist attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

As some elements from Pakistan come to India with cricket bats and balls while others visit with AK47 and bombs, Gandhi would have emphasised on the good intention of the former. But, make no mistake about it — his brand of non-violence would have encouraged the latter to multiply their action to disturb the tranquility of the Indian nation!

Interestingly, the IPL provides the perfect platform for promoting international amity through non-violent cricket. In the first edition of the IPL, the same violent Kolkatans who had made a villain of Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar for his "duplicitous" involvement in Sachin Tendulkar’s run out in an Indo-Pakistan Asia Test Championship match held at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, in early 1999, cheered for him when he played for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at the same venue in 2008 — an intriguing example of how hatred and aggression are overcome by love and passion for the game. Gandhi would have loved to see such transformation on the cricket field.

mahatma-on-the-pitch_100117084839.jpgMahatma on the Pitch; Kausik Bandyopadhyay; Rupa Publications

In fact, Gandhi would have been in deep strife given the choice of favouring or stopping the IPL. It was a much better choice for him in 1940 to declare the Bombay Pentangular unwelcome. But in the 21st-first century when hatred and violence have generated so much aggression and terrorism across the world, it would have been difficult for Gandhi to denounce the IPL straightaway, simply because it provides an ideal space for transnational brotherhood where not only cricketers of otherwise opposing nations rub shoulders for a common cause, but fans, commentators and people of diverse nationalities come together to support the imagery of an Indian city or regions like Kolkata, Delhi, Punjab, or Gujarat. Gandhi might have been overwhelmed by such unifying spirit of cricket.

Mahatma and the game

Gandhi is arguably the most globalised icon of India, as is cricket among Indian sports. Yet, given his distinctive life, religion, ideas and actions, the Gandhian world is far removed from the world of Indian cricket which has come to imply commerce, politics, religion and life to more than a billion Indians, albeit in a completely different sense. The divine image of Gandhi has almost had a replication in the deification of Sachin Tendulkar as a cricketing God. Whatever be the connections between the Mahatma and the game during his lifetime or after, both are integral to reimagining the Indian nation in the new century.

Had Gandhi been alive, he might have been the happiest person on this planet to see cricket’s becoming of a great unifier of hearts in independent India, irrespective of class, caste, religion, language, ethnicity or region, albeit with an Indian revolution fundamentally transforming the world of cricket in the new century.

Gandhi and cricket, thus, remain globally, two of India’s most enduring images, phenomena and legacies that bind the nation strongly. And they are here to stay for years to come.

(Excerpted with permission from Rupa Publications.)

Also read - Bal Thackeray's 1952 cartoon predicted the future of India-Pakistan cricket


Kausik Bandyopadhyay Kausik Bandyopadhyay @kbanjee

Social historian. Follows sport and popular culture.

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