¿We for victory¿

BY chattarji| IN Media Practice | 03/05/2004
The Friendship Series in Pakistan spawned coverage in the categories of ‘brotherhood/goodwill’ hype, and the political mileage sought to be derived by the BJP.

Pakistani cricketer Rashid Latif’s constant harping on match fixing notwithstanding (and perhaps the jury is still out on his allegations despite being quashed by the Anti-Corruption Unit of the ICC), the one-day and Test series between India and Pakistan produced some superb cricket, played in an atmosphere of competitive passion and sportsmanship. That India won a test series in Pakistan for the first time along with the one dayers makes the victory both remarkable and worth savouring. The realms of newspaper columns dedicated to the series is indicative of its importance and also the extent to which the media contributes to the mass following that cricket has in the subcontinent.


The reportage concentrated on the cultural, political, and cricketing aspects of the India-Pakistan tussle. Dispatches on the cricket itself were fairly ordinary and banal, as cricket writing has not attained the stature of the Tony Coziers of the world in India. The reports on the Tests concentrated solely on the positives omitting, for instance, India’s miserable fielding on the day it won the final Test. That Pakistani batsmen failed to capitalise on at least seven dropped catches and that India generally played better over the series does not make the omission less glaring. I suppose the emphasis would have been different if India had lost the rubber. 

 Broadly, the spin-off articles can be divided into ‘brotherhood/goodwill’ ones (the cultural aspect) and the political mileage sought to be derived by the BJP. M.K. Razdan’s ‘Lahore becomes a melting pot where identities merge’ (Hindustan Times, 24 March 2004) is typical of the hype of brotherhood generated by the series. Razdan begins by describing the Indian ‘invasion’ of Lahore: ‘Never since India was partitioned 57 years ago have so many Indians been on the Pakistani soil at the same time. And that has created a kind of identity crisis in this bustling Pakistani city as it plays host to some 10,000 cricket-crazy fans from across the border […]’ The Indian presence is a benign one and greeted with joy and a melding together of identities carefully constructed and bitterly contested on both sides of the border. In the unique food market Anarkali ‘it is indeed difficult to figure out who is an Indian and who is a Pakistani’. Food and cricket are conjoined to create the new ‘melting pot’. The phrase is of course taken from the US experiment in multiculturalism and has connotations of immigrant identity that are not quite appropriate here.  

Nevertheless Razdan soldiers on for his aim is to show that two enemies in the political arena are indeed brothers in sport. ‘Two thousand six hundred (2,600) policeman and commandos were deployed at the Gadaffi Stadium for Sunday’s game, but in the stands the Indians and Pakistanis, men and women, sat together, cheered together and jointly carried the flags of the two countries stitched together.’ This fantastic bonhomie is backed up by a photograph of the crowd with the caption: ‘LOOKS HOMOGENOUS: Such has been the mingling between the Indian and Pakistani cricket fans, the word rivalry is almost banal in Lahore.’ Two cheers for homogeneity where rivalry is banished to the realm of banality.  

Razdan, in keeping with dominant US discourses on multiculturalism equates the melting pot with homogenous spaces where politics, history, and identity can be sufficiently blurred to create a dewy eyed notion of oneness. The rest of the article gives examples of Pakistani generosity, graciousness, and courtesy and these stories were repeated elsewhere in the media.  

Avirook Sen, ‘They lose series, we lose goodwill’ (Hindustan Times, 26 March 2004) attempts to look behind and beyond the goodwill hype celebrated in dominant media reports. He provides a Pakistani perspective or at least cites Pakistani reactions after the loss to India. ‘In a country that has had the will of a few men imposed upon it for most of its history, the imposition of "goodwill" is a novelty.’ Pakistan’s history of military dictatorships punctuated by fragile periods of democracy adds weight to the idea that ‘goodwill’ too can be imposed. Undoubtedly there was an element of orchestration in the Hindi-Paki bhai bhai scenario but to attribute it primarily to coercion seems excessive just as a spontaneous outpouring of pure generosity celebrated in the media is simplistic. 

 The truth probably lies somewhere in between but Sen’s thesis is to present the resentment that Pakistanis felt and that the repression is directly linked to lack of democracy. "If this was Calcutta," said an official involved with the teams, speaking only as a fan, "they’d be burning the stands." The thought had crossed the fans in Lahore, but all you saw were smiles, congratulations, jhappian, shappian. That’s the role the average Pakistan cricket fan has been cast in this series. And truth be told, he hates it. "In a country without democracy, all you’ll see is hypocrisy," says another fan.’ The nationality of the official who speaks of Calcutta is unmarked but it is unlikely that he would be Indian.[1]  

The polarity here is between free expression of atavistic passion and repression, between barbarous crowd behaviour in Calcutta (or at other centres in India) and forced sportsmanship in Lahore. While the latter is at least politically correct it is also associated here with hypocrisy. The problems with this formulation are that it is socially deterministic implying that fabulous cricket cannot be appreciated by ‘enemy’ audiences because ‘cricket has become the prime vehicle for nationalist sentiment in the subcontinent’.[2] Ramachandra Guha’s analysis is of course true, but even within this hijacking of cricket by politicians (of which more anon) there are probably spaces for cricket mania that are neither atavistic nor hypocritical. 

 In positing an absolute dichotomy Sen implies that Indian crowds are not hypocritical and that their type of free expression is a natural corollary of India’s vibrant democracy. Sen also buys the theory ‘of a prescripted series. As if this was a film starring Musharraf and Vajpayee’s version of Lagaan with Bush as a consultant and the cricketers in supporting roles - despite the brilliant cricket on display’.  

Nina Martyris, ‘Brothers Across the Border’ (Times of India, 25 March 2004) celebrates the goodwill without going completely overboard. ‘There are very few countries in the world where an Indian is made to feel special. Strangely enough, Pakistan, the only one that has done battle with four times already, is one of them. In the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the expatriate pastures that the middle class Indian seeks out so assiduously, the welcome mat rolled out is only too often woven with the nettle of snobbery. […] Indians remain inescapably brown.’ ‘Snobbery’ is a mild term for the racism that immigrants are subjected to but this awareness of racism is significant since it is not reflected in Times of India articles celebrating the global Indian. In significant ways Indians enter Pakistan as racially invisible but politically and economically ‘superior’ entities.  

As Martyris observes, ‘Indians are treated here [Peshawar] like the dollar-wielding American is treated in most countries - you are the ‘mehman from the padosi muluk’. Indian tourists in relatively poorer subcontinental countries are able to fulfil this fantasy of being treated like Americans and there is a sense of big brotherly pride and snobbery here. There is no self-referentiality, as Martyris does not dwell on the fact that Pakistani visitors are not treated half as well in India. Exceptions such as the Madras crowd applauding the Pakistani team indicate possibilities but the larger cultural and political frame of reference is in terms of denigration and demonisation. 

Martyris outlines the generosity reported by other Indian journalists: ‘Faces break into smiles, doors fly open, rickshaw drivers ask you home, cyber cafés wave away hours of use, tea is called for, Pepsi bottles are uncorked, invitations to lunch and dinner are proffered.’ She is aware that these gestures have implications other than the apparent ones: ‘Perhaps there is a naivete to this goodwill, and undoubtedly if one scratches the surface and embarks on a debate on Kashmir, terrorism and Kargil, positions will harden and sparks will fly. The ghosts of Partition cannot be laid to rest so easily.’ In retrieving some political contexts Martyris is right on target for she exposes the fallacy that sporting jamborees exist in ahistorical vacuums. However, the contexts she chooses - Partition, Kashmir, terrorism, Kargil - all have particular resonances in India, especially within the current political scene. That goodwill is seriously compromised by India’s treatment of and attitude towards its Muslim minority is never mentioned.  

Having noted this it is necessary to point out that perhaps for the first time Indian media used the cricket tour as a means of conveying a sense of Pakistani realities that are not framed solely within self righteous discourses of terrorism, a rogue state, or the blatant jingoism of Kargil coverage.  

This brings me to the second group of articles on the series which deals with the political mileage that parties in India sought to gain. The Times of India, ‘BJP milks Lahore victory’ (26 March 2004) reported on a 30 second film made by the party. ‘The film is a collage of Wednesday’s match, juxtaposed with Vajpayee’s image and a few inspirational words. "Hamari cricket team ko badhai. Hamare gyaraha bharatiyon ne match bhi jeeta, dil bhi." This is followed by the punchline: "Gyaraha bharatiyon ne croro ka dil jeeta. Sau karor mil jayen to hamein kaun hara sakta hein."’ The eleven players are metonymically transformed into icons of the nation and the invocation to unity blandly ignores the heterogeneity that drives India. The desire toward homogenisation is evident in the body politic and its insistence on a majoritarian cultural nationalism.  

At the same time the fact that Mohammad Kaif, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan are members of the Indian squad adds to the veneer of a composite culture coexisting, playing, and winning in harmony. Vajpayee’s punchline is a veiled threat combining sport with war and the emphasis on nationality gives the lie to all the hype about brotherhood. Goodwill is fine over the border but in India we are united as ‘sau karor’ bharatiyon. It is interesting that in the imagination, language, and action of Narendra Modi and Praveen Togadia (among others) the traitors, the divisive feature of India, the always suspect ‘other’ is the Muslim. Would Kaif, Pathan, and Khan be pilloried in terms of their religion if India lost?  

A second report in the Times, ‘Another BJP ad features cricket’ (27 March 2004) describes yet another advertisement. This was made by a BJP front to counter the Congress allegation that Vajpayee was a police informer during the Quit India Movement. The image of Ganguly lifting the Samsung Cup with the tricolour fluttering is juxtaposed with a voiceover by Vajpayee: ‘"Bharatiye Kaptan Bharat ka Jhanda videshon mein lehra sakta hein to apne desh mein jhanda lehrane ke liye videshi haat kyon?" (If the Indian captain can unfurl the Indian flag in foreign land [sic], why do we need a foreigner to unfurl it here in India?)’ This is the clearest case of the cricket win being hijacked by the Prime Minister to fulfil purely political objectives. The BJP’s appropriation of India’s victory in the ODIs gives the lie to any notion of goodwill and friendship. While there may have been manipulation and imposition in Pakistan (Avirook Sen’s point) there isn’t even a pretence to goodwill amongst the political class in India. 

Ramachandra Guha writes in the article cited earlier: ‘Some might say that the use of sport by politicians is a worldwide trend. […] Still, in India the process has gone further and deeper. Politicians have used sport more energetically, and malevolently, than their counterparts elsewhere. The process has reached its nadir with the current general elections, whose rhetoric has been powerfully shaped by the India-Pakistan cricket matches.’[3]  This use of sport is particularly evident in cricket where politicians of various hues head the state cricket boards. Guha goes on to write: ‘In both India and Pakistan, success at the sport helps redeem the failures of the economy and the sectarian conflicts of an increasingly uncivil society. It does the same for political corruption, which is why politicians try to piggy-back on a cricket win, hoping that the electorate will overlook their own failures.’  

The politics of the Indo-Pak cricket encounter has a more sinister and disturbing implication for the Indian polity. Anuradha M. Chenoy highlights this in her article ‘Pakistan & Indian Muslims: My Religion is not My Nation’ (Times of India, 27 March 2004). ‘Prime minister Vajpayee has projected friendship with Pakistan as a sop for Indian Muslims. Deputy prime minister Advani has stated that Hindu-Muslim relations in India will improve if relations with Pakistan improve and that Pakistan-India cricket matches could play a role in improving relations with Indian Muslims. These are dangerous and divisive formulations. In such a discourse citizens are divided purely on the basis of their religious identity represented as two different communities in constant opposition to each other. Further, one group is being shown as tied to another hostile state that influences its collective opinion. All three implications of such statements are typically disruptive and sectarian.’  

One Gujarati, however, seems to provide a glimmer of hope and reconciliation even if it is a naïve one. Amberish  K. Diwanji ‘Irfan Pathan brings Hindus, Muslims closer’ articulates this hope. ‘Vadodara is the city of the horrible Best Bakery case that has now been shifted out of Gujarat. It is a city where Hindu-Muslim riots are always a possibility. But for now, all the residents here are brimming with pride that it was one of their own who played a key role in ensuring a thumping victory over Pakistan in the one-day and Test series.’[4] Diwanji points out how right-wing parties tarnished the entire Muslim community as ‘traitors’ because a few celebrated Pakistan winning.  

Pathan seems to have succeeded in temporarily silencing these fundamentalists on both sides and it is interesting that he lives in the Jumma Masjid, a site of religious contestation. Pathan himself is reluctant to discuss the fraught state of Hindu-Muslim relations in Gujarat and is probably overwhelmed by the representative nature of his role. After all a Tendulkar or Ganguly are not seen in terms of religious affiliation. Thus while Pathan may be a beacon for inter-communal amity it is too much to expect him or any other individual to heal the scars of Gujarat. The ‘WE’ in the triumphant headline in the Times of India ‘WE FOR VICTORY’ is a dangerously fractured collective and political appropriations have not helped. One can only hope that neither Pathan nor the Men in Blue will collapse under the burden of expectation and representation, that they will continue to play scintillating cricket.

[1] See Subarno Chattarji, ‘"KARACHI CAPTURED": Cricketing wars on the subcontinent,’ www.thehoot.org for the ways in which Indian media reportage on the security threat in Pakistan conveniently ignored similar problems in India.

[2] Ramachandra Guha, ‘Wicket Politics,’ New York Times op-ed, March 29, 2004.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Amberish K. Diwanji, ‘Irfan Pathan brings Hindus, Muslims closer,’ www.rediff.com, downloaded April 20, 2004.




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