More dangerous than we think
When the Indian cricket team donned military caps in the 3rd ODI against Australia as a sign of solidarity with the 40 troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) killed in Pulwama, it immediately sparked controversy. Their blatant display of jingoism was immediately called out by the Pakistan Cricket Board arguing that sport should not be used for politics.
If we delve further into the Indian cricket team’s gesture, it goes far beyond ‘politicizing’ cricket. What this does is poison the mindset of the younger generation on both sides of the border, which is the most dangerous part of this conflict. I’ll explain through my personal experience.
I grew up watching cricket in 1990s and early 2000s. I would watch ESPN and Star Sports India every day after school. Through that, I developed great admiration for the way India promoted their cricket. I also remember wanting to be a cricket commentator like Harsha Bhogle, mainly because he is a non-cricketer like myself with a passion for the game. What I enjoyed most about Indian cricket was Rahul Dravid. At that time Dravid was my favourite batsmen. When India toured Pakistan in 2004, Dravid was unstoppable. Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami, the fastest bowlers at that time had no answer to Dravid’s impeccable technique. Now, as a cricket analyst on PTV World (English), nothing gives me greater satisfaction than analyzing Virat Kohli’s genius. His hard work, passion, and cricketing nous is incredibly unique. His commitment and dedication to his craft is inspiring for not just Indians, but everybody across the world.
One of the reasons why young Indians and Pakistanis do not carry hatred for each other is because of our mutual appreciation for our cricketers.
When I went to University in England in 2007, I immediately bonded with the Indians I met over cricket. The way they would talk about players like Saeed Anwar, Wasim Akram, and Waqar Younis made me understand the deep appreciation they had for our cricketers too. We became and remain close friends, and it was cricket that brought us together.
I write this to show just how important sport and entertainment is to win the hearts and minds of people. Cast your mind back to Chennai 1999, when Pakistan were given a standing ovation during their lap of honour. Or in Lahore, when the crowd cheered for the Indian team after they beat Pakistan in 2004. Those were powerful moments, civilized moments. One of the reasons why young Indians and Pakistanis do not carry hatred for each other is because of our mutual appreciation for our cricketers. Unfortunately, the BCCI seems set to destroy one of the few things that connects us.
There is no doubt that the Indian team was cajoled into wearing the military caps due to the fever pitch anti-Pakistan sentiment constantly being peddled from all Indian quarters as well the heated political scenario with the upcoming elections. To use cricket as a platform to embolden this nationalist narrative reveals the toxic nature of those at the helm. The fact that the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) sought special permission from the International Cricket Council (ICC) to wear those caps shows how desperate they are to display their ‘patriotism.’ Insecure much? Rather than pandering to the unhinged nationalism that seems to have consumed the country, perhaps it would have been a better idea to wear a symbol in support of Women’s Day. The fact that the match was played on the 8th of March was the perfect opportunity for the team to do that, especially since the maltreatment of women in India has come under the scanner in recent years.
By asking their players to wear military caps and threatening not to play Pakistan in the World Cup, the BCCI is sending a terrible message. Young Indians will start believing that Pakistan is the enemy, and young Pakistanis will see how their country is perceived by Indian’s and naturally develop hatred towards them. It is a vicious cycle, which can only be broken by the next generation. However, through these toxic actions, it seems as if the Indian leadership is hellbent on making sure that the mistrust and animosity lives on.
The level of anger is not going away anytime soon. Conflicts like this will continue for now. The only way forward is when the coming generation are in positions of authority, and hopefully they will find a way to ward off irrational sentiments of past and current leaderships.