DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed by the author in this article are personal. News Nation does not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the organisation or its members. The attacks on the jawans in Pulwama are condemnable and the author urges sensible decisions by all stakeholders.
Before the start of the Ranchi ODI between India and Australia, there was an event that was not witnessed in a long time by Indian cricket team fans. MS Dhoni, who is the honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the Parachute regiment and the former India captain, handed out army-style like caps to all the Indian team players. The official Twitter handle of BCCI said it was a mark of tribute to the loss of lives in Pulwama terror attack and it was to encourage countrymen to donate to the National Defence Fund for taking care of the education of the children of the jawans killed.
The Pulwama terror attack, which killed 40 CRPF jawans on February 14, is still an emotional issue. In the aftermath, India’s sportspersons have called for tough action to tackle terror. Cricket Associations have removed photos of Pakistan cricketers while many players have advocated strict action against Pakistan. The CEO of the BCCI, Rahul Johri, wrote a letter to the ICC advocating suspending ties with nations that support terror. Vinod Rai, the head of the Committee of Administrators, has said Pakistan should be isolated for their support on terrorism. There are many sections of the Indian population that have advocated that India should boycott the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 encounter on June 16 against Pakistan to send a message.
The army-style tribute by the Indian team has brought in a different dimension to the issue. Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry asked the International Cricket Council (ICC) to take action against the Indian team for "politicising" the game by donning army caps. On social media, the verdict was split. Many hailed MS Dhoni and the Indian cricket team’s gesture, many criticised the ‘politicisation’ saying that sports was above politics. Many Pakistan Twitter users said the country should wear black armbands when playing against India for the ‘atrocities’ of the Indian soldiers in Kashmir. Some pointed out the vagaries of commercialization, with Indian cricket team players donning army-style caps but wearing uniforms which were sponsored by a Chinese company called Oppo.
Genuine or short-sighted gesture?
The reactions on the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack show how the state of the nation is. Gone are those days when Indians would seethe in anger silently. Now, in a climate of hyper-nationalism, there are open calls for retribution against Pakistan. The BCCI has chosen to tiptoe on this issue, leaving it to the Narendra Modi government for the final decision on whether to play Pakistan in the World Cup.
In this situation, what if India play Pakistan in Manchester on June 16? Will all the bluster shown after Pulwama and before the World Cup go up in smoke? If India do play Pakistan in the World Cup, then all this ‘tribute’ will seem misplaced. All the talk will be dismissed as sabre-rattling, with many accusing India’s cricketers of being conveniently ignorant in their own bubble and not wanting to take a stand.
Too much politicisation?
When one looks at the comments and actions of the Indian cricket team in the aftermath of Pulwama, this is unprecedented. During the heights of the Kargil War in June 1999, India and Pakistan still played a super six World Cup encounter in Manchester. At that time, there was no calls to boycott the clash. Even when the Mumbai Terror attacks which killed 166 people in 2008, there was only suspension of bilateral cricket ties until 2012 when Pakistan visited the country for three ODIs and two T20Is. There were no calls for total boycott even when they played the 2011 World Cup semi-final.
Even when there were tensions in the 80s between India and Pakistan, NKP Salve, who was a Congress minister and president of the BCCI from 1982 to 1985, managed to bring the World Cup to India and co-host it with Pakistan. In the time when the BCCI was run by ministers like Sharad Pawar, the heights of politicisation were behind the scenes but never played out on a big scale.
In this hyper-charged environment of nationalism, any action is deemed politically and ideologically motivated. Virat Kohli and the Indian cricket team have been accused of being stooges of the Modi government while those who are siding with the army-style cap tribute are being hailed as nationalists by people who agree and are labelled war-mongers who differ.
The current situation is worrisome for Indian society and thinking at large. Sports is being mixed with politics. The nation does not know how to pay tributes to the soldiers who are in the firing line. The nation’s politicians are playing their brand of politics on the dead bodies of the Pulwama soldiers.