They are sewing the Indian and
Pakistani flags even as troops of army personnel are getting ready
to protect the players and the spectators. As if the sheer
disparateness of these two aspects of the cricket World Cup
semi-finals was not farcical enough, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
invited Pakistan’s PM Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali
Zardari for the March 30 match, a day after secretary-level talks
between the two countries. While the Indian premier mentioned the
great match that will be a “victory for sport”, the underlying
business is another game.
There is a naïve belief that cricket can act as peace-maker; 6500
visas have been issued to Pakistanis to watch the match. Such moves
have been made earlier by both countries. This is a subterfuge to
deal with political atrophy. It is interesting that three South
Asians are in the running for the cup but there is no such attempt
to woo Sri Lanka, and India has a huge stake there with large
numbers of its Tamil population being in refugee camps and tortured.
The Pakistan issue is important due to emotional reasons. The
separated-at-birth theory would work only if we use Independence
from the British as the time-frame. If that is the case, then
cricket is paying obeisance to our colonial heritage. The political
dimensions ought not to be lost. Indians did play a rudimentary form
of sticks and stones in gulli-danda; the Raj introduced cricket, the
sophisticated version with bat and ball. As a nation with the
largest areas under its control and the industrial revolution giving
it the aura of a true renaissance, Britain luxuriated in clubs and a
game that was more epicurean than pugnacious. There wasn’t any goal
to be scored; there was the stratum of runs, a set number of innings
and strategic field placements. The men were dressed as gentlemen in
When they brought the game to India, unlike the chess-playing nawabs
who were too consumed by their passion to bother about the extending
British rule, they tried to act as the traders they came in as.
Cricket became political machination and the hierarchy inherent in
the game helped bring in the maharajahs and the minions. The
imperialists, convinced they were the superior race, made it their
business to tame the tribal societies with animalistic passions and
over-the-top emotions. The score card revealed less what was
happening on the field than off it – a price was being extracted for
such ‘friendly’ gestures.
In the film Lagaan, the poor take up the challenge to play a game
they do not know only to avoid paying the unfair taxes. They learn
by watching from behind the fence, a bunch of illiterate and in
different ways incapacitated men. However, and this is the huge
flaw, it is the Englishwoman who helps them, a sort of Mountbatten
idea that divided the villagers. Her attraction towards the rustic
protagonist is a political manoeuvre. Grains as tax to be replaced
by affection as tax.
Using the peace principle serves a similar context. The masters, in
this case the establishment, cannot deal with diplomatic issues. The
gathering of defence forces at the borders when seen from the
cricketing vision would be defensive play, where the batsman goes
slow in scoring to stay at the crease long. It serves to tire the
opposition and also to chalk up a personal score. The Indo-Pak
political stasis is precisely this with subsequent governments
trying to make and break records. Peace is outsourced to other areas
– like cricket and the entertainment industries. That both are
commercial enterprises also adds to the trade as diplomacy element.
The semi-final match at Mohali will showcase the power of India’s
corporate sector. Eight heads of business houses have sought to park
their private jets at the airstrip and it is the defence ministry
that is helping them. High profile politicians will be around. In
keeping with India’s secular polity, there will be applause for the
Pakistanis. Trivia will not fail to mention how the faithful among
the opposite team offered prayers and the Indians stood by
Sport as religion is the most political aspect of the game. It
expects blind belief and the painted faces become maps of
nationalistic religiosity. God is in the geography. Like religion,
the State’s appeal lies in it being imposed benignly in the games
sector. However, like all faiths, its identity gets more leverage
with expansion. The seers propagate spiritual salvation by appearing
before you on high-definition screens. Icons replace deities and
rituals are easy to mimic, whether in joy or sorrow or penitence.
The Confession box of the studios serves to purge guilt and clarify
Ball tampering, dope tests, kickback deals are the ugly faces of
sport, but that has been made possible due to institutionalisation.
Sports lend themselves to politicisation precisely because they are
organised. Even the evolution in cricket has been possible because
of this. Team India has the name of a business group, just as labels
appear on other sports star’s costumes. The positive aspect is that
games are not restricted to the arena or the gladiatorial ring and
most certainly not about man against beast, as in a bull-fight. In
cricket, the knee pads and helmets have made the game less bloody.
It has taken survival instinct to another level that has to co-exist
with the killer instinct. The latter’s role is essentially to
display the country’s wares, much like nuclear weapons. And as with
nuclear arms, this too is for global consumption.
In Mumbai, the supposedly most cosmopolitan place in India, a
pugilistic regional party like the Shiv Sena had once dug up the
pitch at the Wankhede Stadium and still holds the country captive to
its threat that it will not permit Pakistan to play in the city.
What does it reveal? Is it a limited viewpoint? Or is the central
government letting a lesser source be in the line of fire and carry
forward its own ideology and that has been reciprocated by
Pakistan’s own rigid stance? Projecting a soft-focus image only
hides the blemishes; it does not make them vanish.
Making a statement is an old concept. However, is it as idealistic
as when teams boycott games, including the Olympics, to protest
against policies of the host government or take up specific causes?
Sport by its very nature is a means of getting people together. To
superimpose peace over it denudes the very intent of sports and
shows it up for the battle it has become.
Two-in-one flags, soppy songs and hospitality are like tinsel. They
aren’t the real metal.
Farzana Versey is a
Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at http://farzana-versey.blogspot.com