India winning against Pakistan is a slap in the face of those who boycotted the match

Not just trolls, even media groups blacked out the match to register their nationalist credentials.

 |  5-minute read |   05-06-2017
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The ICC Champions Trophy tournament may have only begun, but for the subcontinent’s cricket lovers, the defining match is already over.

The India-Pakistan face-off, which was boycotted by hyperventilating trolls on social media, even as they surreptitiously kept glued to the scorecard, ended with a comprehensive victory for Virat Kohli’s team, and gave ammunition to those who had erstwhile dissed the match in order to prop up their nationalism score, to drive home more desi drivel.

Not just silly trolls, entire media groups went ahead and blacked out the match to register their nationalist credentials. That channels belonging to such media groups have longed profited from showcasing Pakistani television shows, even though they were abruptly stopped amid rising levels of alarmism, is of course a minor footnote in this chapter of media-driven jingoism.

While Indian and Pakistani cricketers have displayed ample virtuosity and steered clear of the political rivalries – especially Team India captain Virat Kohli, who has always batted for sportsmanship trumping politics, that cannot be said of other sporting stars, who issue establishment-friendly tweets and sound-bytes to egg on a troll army asking for India to stop playing cricket with Pakistan.

Babita Phogat, the Olympian wrestler and a heroine for many an aspiring woman sportsperson, nevertheless displayed rank hypocrisy in first advocating a #WalkOutFromPakMatch, while later proudly tweeting out the results with the trending hashtag, #INDvsPAK.

It’s convenient to first call for the closing of one of the few remaining channels for peace diplomacy in the subcontinent – that is cricket, and then when the results are in line with the Indian version of ultra-nationalism, to dangle them and reaffirm the sickening stereotypes to beat Muslims, Kashmiris, seculars with.

It’s with laudable solidarity that the respective ODI cricket teams braved the terror attacks in UK, as they were restricted to their hotels in Birmingham while London grappled with the fresh tragedy.

The bonhomie of sporting stars was reflected in an image much shared on social media, that showed a man and a woman wearing respective jerseys of India and Pakistan, siting side by side, with the man’s hand around the woman’s shoulder.

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Whether or not they were a couple, that was the true spirit of love, solidarity and competitive sporting that could be found in the cheering crowd.

There were moments of camaraderie among the bitter rivals even in the field, as this image, also much shared, conveys effectively.

Cricket nationalism serves its purpose when it’s duly accompanied by a sense of autonomy of the field, the beauty of its undecidedness, the surprise element with every ball, and the great flourishes of batsmanship.

We must learn to leave the political quotient behind when watching a match, whether on TV, or in the theatre of the action itself. Subjecting fellow Indians to patriotism tests and asking them to either boycott India-Pakistan cricket or be branded a traitor, an anti-national, is hardly mature or even civilised behaviour.

Moreover, it’s usually accompanied by rank double-standards, as an India win in the field is immediately construed as “teaching the Pakistanis” a lesson, an extension of the proxy war on the border. In addition, Indian Muslims are forced to declare their proclivities in advance, particularly those who are vocal critics of the government and its hypernational Hindutva.

Or, equating a victory in cricket to eliminating militants in Kashmir.

A game that was invented by the British and which South Asians have aced together, is now being used to divide a secular India and rule over its fragmented citizenry. A JNU student from Iran was allegedly harassed by ABVP members, after the India-Pakistan match on Sunday, as a matter of “sending a message across”. Is this nationalism?

Interestingly, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had earlier said, “The basic challenge to 'normal' cricketing relations lies in the nature of partition, which carved a Muslim state out of India. In Pakistan, cricket is expected to bear a particularly heavy burden as the embodiment of national pride against the larger (and more powerful) neighbour from which it seceded. The instrumentalisation of cricket in the service of a militarised nationalism, especially against India, is a feature of Pakistani cricket. So are explicit evocations of a religious mission (as when Pakistan's then captain, Shoaib Malik, publicly thanked 'Muslims all over the world' for their presumed support for his team in the 2007 World Twenty20). The contrast with India's multi-religious, multi-ethnic and commercially-driven cricketing culture is striking, and significant.”

Unfortunately, that contrast in getting lost in the din of India’s own homegrown hypernationalism.

Just like declaring Pakistan a “terror state” flies in the face of the ample trade that the two border-sharing countries take part in, targeting avenues of soft diplomacy, such as cricket and filmmaking, reeks of rank hypocrisy.

The “soldiers are dying at the border” argument is not a one-size-fit-all answer to any of the pressing questions staring us in the face.

For one, we need to minimise the chances of armed confrontation and exhaust all the resources for a diplomatic solution to the thorny issues in India-Pakistan bilateral ties, before we ask for cultural boycotts of cricket and films once again.

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

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