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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 22 New Delhi May 21, 2016

When Cricket Determines Our Nationalism

Monday 23 May 2016

by Sandeep Pandey

The defeat of India by West Indies in the T-20 World Cup triggered a controversy at the National Institute of Technology at Srinagar between Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri students. Some Kashmiri students have been alleged to have raised anti-India slogans and burst firecrackers upon India’s defeat. The Kashmiri students allege that the violence was started by non-Kashmiri students the next day when a group waving the tricolour and chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ attacked a group of Kashmiri students returning from Friday prayers. Police lathi-charged to control the students in which some non-Kashmiri students were hurt and subse-quently the Central Reserve Police Force, actually a paramilitary entity, has replaced the Jammu & Kashmir Police on the campus. The NIT has been shut down and students asked to vacate the hostels.

Since the BJP-RSS has come to power, the academic atmosphere of one more campus has been disturbed. It is really a pity that people associate their nationalistic ideals with cricket teams and are ready to clash over victory or loss in their matches. The Board of Control for Cricket in India itself claims to be a private body in spite of its pompous name. How could a team constituted by it be considered a national team? The Supreme Court has recently reprimanded the BCCI for its arbitrary functioning and refusing to implement the Lodha Committee’s recommendations. That the BCCI refuses to have a representative of the Comptroller and Auditor General on its Governing Council shows that it doesn’t want to be held accountable to the people at large, who are contributors to its funds. There are States like Gujarat and Goa which received preferential treatment by the BCCI in the form of disproportionate funds while on the other hand States like Bihar don’t receive any funds. It is not surprising that Bihar doesn’t have a single player in the BCCI-constituted Indian team. How could then the BCCI claim to represent the country? Imagine if more such private bodies came into existence and fielded their separate teams. Then which team would be considered to represent India?

Students from both sides, whether they raised pro- or anti-India slogans, have demonstrated immaturity in asserting their nationalistic prefe-rence based on the outcome of a game of cricket. It is even astonishing that pro- or anti-Pakistan slogans were raised at the NIT, Srinagar when Pakistan was not even one of the sides in the particular match in question. It shows how people can easily get carried away when jingoistic slogans are raised. There are much more serious anti-national activities going on within the country, for example, corruption, about which we need to be worried. Similarly, there is a lot of good work going on within the country about which we can feel proud. It is a pity that rather than concerning ourselves with real issues on the ground, we let our emotions fire based on the results of the game of cricket and get carried away in sloganeering to the point where it can turn into violence. Probably the intention of the government is precisely to divert the people’s attention from real issues, like price rise, to emotional issues like nationalism.

The Indian Premier League has to some extent done the job of dissociating the feeling of nationalism from cricket teams by making players from different nationalities play as part of a team. The IPL has also highlighted that these are professional players who can be bought and sold, which implies that they play for money. In the IPL they can switch teams depending on who pays them more. Similarly, even when they play in national teams the prime motivating factor for the players is money. It is unthinkable that any player would play for his national team merely out of a feeling of patriotism without any payment in exchange. In fact, if players had any nationalistic feelings they would not indulge in match-fixing, sometimes deliberately, causing their teams to lose the match.

When the game of cricket and its management are so highly commercialised, does it make any sense to associate nationalistic feelings with these teams? In fact, the commercial interests exploit our nationalistic feelings. If we agree that sports is to be played with sportsman-like or sportswoman-like spirit then we should appreciate whoever plays the better game irrespective of their nationality. When Arun-dhati Roy was once asked to convey her best wishes to the Indian team before an inter-national event, she said her favourite team was Sri Lanka. Why should every Indian be expected to endorse the Indian team in a sporting event and worse why should this determine our commitment to nationalism?

Now the Bombay High Court has also reprimanded the Cricket Associations for using huge volumes of water to maintain their pitches while the State of Maharashtra is suffering from drought. People and cattle are dying because of water shortage. In the context of the recent debate on nationalism it may be interesting to ask what is more nationalistic—to play cricket or to save people and cattle?

BJP leader and BCCI Secretary Anurag Thakur has said that Maharashtra will lose Rs 100 crores if the IPL was to be moved out of Maharashtra. He suggested that this money could be used for tackling the drought situation and for relief for the affected people. It has also been emphasised by the Cricket Associations and the government that potable water is not used for maintenance of pitches, which is estimated to require 60 lakh litres of water this season. What people like Thakur don’t realise is that money cannot be a substitute for water or food. If you’ve money but there is no potable water left, how would you quench your thirst? The situation is gradually becoming worse and we cannot adopt a complacent attitude. We need to save even the non-potable water which can be used for other necessary activities like irrigation, in toilets, washing of clothes, etc.

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey was recently sacked this year from the IIT-BHU where he was a Visiting Professor on the charge of being a “Naxalite” engaging in “anti-national” activities. He was elected along with Prof Keshav Jadhav the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India) at its founding conference at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.