Countercurrents, March 29
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.
Welcome at the border
When they brought the game to
Scene from 'Lagaan'
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.
Mukesh Ambani and daughter at an IPL match
The semi-final match at Mohali will showcase the power of
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 innocence.
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
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
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.