IPL auction: Where privilege holds court

Suhana and Aryan Khan look so like their father that even somebody who has stopped following showbiz and news, shall know they are Shah Rukh Khan’s children the moment he/she sees them. But this Saturday afternoon, while watching the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction I was wondering who the other girl beside them was at the Kolkata Knight Riders table. Wonder does not last in the age of social media. Within a few minutes, I came to know that she is Juhi Chawla’s daughter Jhanvi. The revelation came through a Twitter thread where people were arguing over dynasty. Some were scandalised that Jhanvi, Suhana and Aryan were judging the ability of some hard-working professionals whilst being present at the auction just by privilege of birth. The other lot argued, it was not their fault that they were born to rich and famous parents. Some went to the extent of saying: their parents worked hard, yours didn’t. Deal with it.

I found the conversation more comical than caustic because it reminded me what Rahul Gandhi, India’s most hated dynast, had said in Parliament just ten days ago. “There are two Indias — one for the rich, one for the poor — and the gap between the two was widening,” he had said. “Today, the earnings of 84 percent of Indians have dwindled, pushing them towards poverty.” I couldn’t help laughing. The IPL auction was making people from this 84 percent argue for and against the privilege of the 16 per cent.

We came to know in 2019 that India’s unemployment rate is at a 45-year-old high. The pandemic has only worsened the situation. If Gautama Buddha were alive today and the mother of a jobless youth went to him asking for her son’s/daughter’s job, Buddha would have asked her to bring a handful of mustard from a home where joblessness or pay cuts have not hit. The lady’s only hope would be the hotel where the IPL auction was held. Even during this distress, 204 cricketers found themselves worth Rs. 550 crore.

I am not going to put you off by talking about migrant labourers. I don’t need to. Because even Indian cricketers outside the IPL fold are part of the 84 per cent. If you look around, you will find enough reports about domestic cricketers deep in debt running their family in absence of first-class cricket. But IPL, supposedly, is the fountain that feeds the stream of domestic cricket. That fountain kept flowing during the pandemic, even shifting countries in the midst of waves of crisis. Which all means that the Ranji Trophy not taking place should matter little financially to cricketers, groundsmen, umpires, scorers et al. But it did. The Board, busy keeping the fountain alive, did not care about the stream. Compensation (and a much-needed hike) was announced only in September 2021. One can clearly see the two Indias here. IPL’s India deals in hundreds of crores, the rest of Indian cricket has to suffer an agonising wait for a few lakhs.

Like the debate over dynasty, the point about hard work and talent will obviously rear its beautiful head here. Some will definitely say, “Those who have enough talent and work hard play IPL.” Of course, T20 is the best form of cricket to judge talent and hard work. Don’t let banal commentators and star cricketers doing lip service tell you otherwise. This is not the era where cricketers will be happy receiving Rs one lakh each from a Lata Mangeshkar-led fundraiser, after winning the World Cup. It is the age of Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard, who are comfortable not playing for their country as they can make a killing playing in T20 leagues all over the world. It is also the age of Liam Livingstone and Tim David, who may never stake a claim to cricketing immortality but are treasured more than World Cup-winning Eoin Morgan and the Bradmanesque Steve Smith. Talent and hard work are so key to IPL success that Paul Valthaty, Manvinder Bisla became footnotes soon after big success; Pravin Tambe succeeded at an age when life insurance policies mature, with a physique Virat Kohli still has nightmares about. There is also the story of hat-trick man Ajit Chandila, who like many others, shone only in IPL. But we shall not talk about these forgottens lest it opens a can of worms.

After every IPL auction, we invariably read some rags to riches stories. A player who has played only tennis ball cricket, someone who was not a professional cricketer even six months back or somebody who has never been selected for any first-class side. In short, you do not necessarily need to come through the dusty ranks of the domestic system to get into the IPL. It wholly depends on your marketability and ability (specifically in short format). A modern day, glorified slave market, the IPL auction is. Then you land on the biggest stage possible and rake in the moolah. Through a system that reduces a rigorous discipline into a TRP-driven melodrama. The other, and more problematic aspect of IPL is that nobody is sure of the logic with which and IPL auction plays out.

Obviously, it would be wrong to grudge young men of this poor, jobless country the chance to get rich. But we tend to forget, rags to riches stories hold charm only because there are more rags than riches. Today India has more billionaires than ever, along with unprecedented unemployment. Talent needs opportunity, to announce its presence and work, to work hard. Both are in short supply for us — the 84 per cent. Celebrating the pomp of IPL and arguing about the privilege of its elite is actually a nice way to laugh at ourselves. The joke actually is on us.

Published on https://newsclick.in

Cape Town highlights Indian cricket’s superhero complex

From the aggressive, expressive Kohli to the usually calm Ashwin, everyone now thinks this is acceptable on-field behaviour.

Virat Kohli at Cape Town. Photo from Twitter

No true Amitabh Bachchan fan can forget the scene from the movie Amar Akbar Anthony, where he (the character of Anthony) talks to the mirror and scolds himself for drinking, blames getting badly beaten up on being drunk, then pastes a band-aid on the mirror instead of his wounds. Likewise, no ardent Virat Kohli fan will be able to forget the scene from Cape Town, where he talks to the stump microphone and scolds the TV broadcaster for ‘siding’ with the home team. Intoxication made Anthony’s behaviour plausible in Prayag Raj’s screenplay, but the screenplay writer of Kohli’s biopic will find it hard to make this stump mic scene plausible for cinema-goers of the future, who may have not watched it live.

How would the screenplay writer show what was going through Kohli’s mind? Being the Indian captain and having spent 14 years in international cricket, it is not possible that he did not know how the Decision Review System (DRS) works, or that HawkEye is not owned by Cricket South Africa. Then what prompted the overreaction? Was he more angry with himself because of his failure with the bat despite spending a lot of time at the crease, and needed somebody to shout at? Was it the feeling that the final frontier is slipping away, despite South Africa having a less experienced, perhaps less talented team?

The role of Ravichandran Ashwin makes the scene more baffling. One can understand Ashwin’s frustration. His place in the playing XI for overseas Tests has been uncertain under Kohli, and he went wicketless in the first innings at Cape Town, the series decider. That after picking up just three wickets in the first two Tests. The wicket of Dean Elgar at that point could have turned the match on its head and proved to everyone how valuable Ashwin is even in conditions not conducive to spin bowling. But a thinker like Ashwin should have been able to contain his emotions instead of putting up a spectacle that would only convey a wrong message to young cricketers — that everyone in the world is conspiring against you. And whenever a decision goes in your opponent’s favour, you should cry “murder”.

But which invisible monster was KL Rahul fighting in that scene? When the umpire who raised the finger against Elgar is a South African himself, how did Rahul get the idea that the entire country is fighting against 11 Indians? Has watching too much Bollywood on OTT done this to the elegant batter?

Answers to those questions shall not lead us anywhere because what happened on January 13 shows it is not about individuals anymore. From the aggressive, expressive Kohli to the usually calm Ashwin, everyone now thinks this is acceptable on-field behaviour. Therefore, we need to ask how and why they arrived at this conclusion. In fact, using the word ‘they’ would be holier-than-thou because the reaction of most cricketers, ex-cricketers and fans on social media show that most of us have arrived at that conclusion. Only a handful have said this behaviour is unacceptable and have been trolled for that.

This is not the first time a DRS call has gone against India and raised eyebrows. Mayank Agarwal’s LBW in the first Test is fresh in everyone’s memory, but at least some remember the dismissal of Rahul Dravid on his last England tour. DRS declared him out caught while the truth is he had only hit his shoelaces. Why did he not scream afterwards, not allege conspiracy? Why has the sky fallen now? One can always say Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly et al were softer human beings; as opposed to the bold, new Indian team built by Kohli and Ravi Shastri.

But the former lot had had their share of bad boy moments, most memorably, the Mike Dennes moment in South Africa. That was the first time the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) showed its monetary might to oppose the punishment meted out to six of its cricketers. Call it bold or arrogant, the board at least had the decency to negotiate matters with the International Cricket Council (ICC) after the heat of the moment evaporated. While five Indian cricketers had their one-Test ban overturned, Virender Sehwag had to serve it. Reason why that generation knew, no matter how big a stars they were, over-the-top reactions shall have consequences.

That is not the case with the current lot. BCCI’s coffers have grown in leaps and bounds since the Dennes incident. Today, the BCCI, with its rich brethren from England and Australia, decides who and how much they will play. Moreover, the BCCI has the Indian Premier League — a league everyone wants a piece of. The likes of Kohli, Ashwin and Rahul know they can live on their own terms, even if that goes against all norms.

Hence Kohli’s proud post-match remarks: “We understood what happened on the field and people on the outside don’t know exact details of what goes on on the field.” On one hand, this is a back-handed compliment to the BCCI. As if Kohli knows whatever his differences with the board president, that chair is so powerful that ICC would not dare to punish his employees. On the other hand, this is a warning to everyone concerned: if a technological error goes against us again, we shall deal with it this way.

To be fair to Kohli, Ashwin and Rahul, it is Mahendra Singh Dhoni who first showed an Indian cricketer is above the game. During the 2019 IPL game between his franchise Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, he went straight into the ground to protest a no-ball decision reversed by the leg umpire. For such an unprecedented and uncouth behaviour, Captain Cool was only fined 50% of his match fee.

Like it or not, Indian cricketers are superheroes in the eyes of a lot of people, including themselves. Unfortunately, they do not have somebody like Spiderman’s uncle, who would pronounce “With great power, comes great responsibility.” So Cape Town can any day be repeated in Christchurch, Kanpur or Kandy. Endless whataboutery can be done to justify our superheroes. The problem is, superheroes can soar above rule of law but not laws of nature. What will happen if both teams on the pitch grow the superhero complex some day? Are we betting on the TRP of a Rashid Patel versus Raman Lamba rerun during an international match?

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One for the team: Logic behind Kohli’s sacking as ODI skipper

Sounds like a man who thinks the captain is not named by selectors but by the skipper himself. Such thoughts are always wrong in sports

Photo courtesy: Internet

During our college days in Bengal, there were some journalists whose articles we used to devour like a newly-wed man devouring luchi (Bengali version of puri) and mutton at in-laws’ place. Behind-the-scenes story of the Indian cricket team’s dressing room was their USP. Sourav Ganguly was the hero in those stories. Naturally, when captaincy was snatched away from him in 2005, Ganguly became a tragic hero — a man more sinned against than sinning.

While Greg Chappell was the villain, the “et tu Brute” dialogue was directed at Rahul Dravid. They made their debut together, Ganguly gave him the big gloves to keep him in the ODI side, didn’t he? How could he betray Dada and become Greg’s ally! This was the discourse we were fed, and we believed it.

It took many of us years to realise that the point to ponder in the Chappell-Ganguly saga was not personal rivalry but team cause. Ganguly was 33 in 2005 and his batting form was dipping. After winning the Natwest Trophy final in 2002, his team kept losing crunch matches, the most important one being the 2003 World Cup final. A fresh man at the helm could give the team a new direction.

The real conflict was between two cultures — one of hero worship, the other of putting the team before individuals. Chappell’s attempt to establish the latter in Indian cricket ended in failure with India’s shocking group-stage exit from the 2007 ICC World Cup. Those in the know say there were other reasons as well for that unmitigated disaster. Whatever it is, the man cannot be grudged today as the cricketers he had placed at two ends of that tug-of-war, have come together to do what he meant to.

No matter what we were made to believe back in the day, it is now clear that Ganguly does not think of himself as Julius Caesar and Dravid as Brutus. It is possible that he did when it all happened, but looking back with age on his side, he obviously realised team cause had to take precedence. And Dravid had the safest hands to hold that cause. Otherwise, he as the BCCI president, would not have put his old mate in charge of Team India’s supply line first, the team itself next.

There are people who would oppose this way of looking at Virat Kohli’s ODI captaincy being snatched away, saying Ganguly was a struggling batter back then, Kohli is not. But the parallels are too many to ignore. Kohli is also 33 and though he still averages a monumental 59.07 in ODIs, there has been a dip. His last ODI century came on August 14, 2019 in Port of Spain. After that match, he has averaged 43.26 in 15 matches till now. It is still good enough for most batters and that is why his place in the team is not in question, unlike Ganguly. But his repeated failure to drive the team towards trophies mirrors Ganguly’s difficulties in the last days of his captaincy. Unless one thinks winning trophies is not important, this warrants a change in leadership.

Much is being made of Kohli’s winning percentage as captain, ignoring the fact that bilateral ODI series have lost much of their significance. In the age of T20Is, even the numbers of ODIs are going down. More and more bilateral tours are being planned with more T20Is than ODIs. Even the bilateral T20Is are less important than franchise cricket. Nowadays, all teams look at bilateral white-ball series as a build-up to the world event. There is a World T20 every two years and a 50-over World Cup every four. In short, a team is playing four white-ball world events in five years. In fact, in the eight years between 2024 and 2031, this number will go up to eight, including the Champions Trophy. How do bilateral wins matter then?

One may pertinently ask, why sack him now? After all, the last ODI India played under Kohli was in March. What new failure has come his way in the meantime? The answer lies not in the recent past but in the near future. Kohli has given up on the T20I captaincy and Ravi Shastri has left, which allows a new management to shape a new vision for the 2022 World T20. After that, there will be less than a year left for the 50-over World Cup. It would be too late to change the captain, the need of which has been explained already. In case that does not satisfy you, there is the board president’s explanation of course: there cannot be two captains for two white-ball formats.

That brings us to the question, why did Kohli relinquish T20I captaincy? If Ganguly is to be believed, the board wanted him to stay, and nobody knew before the World T20 what a disaster it was going to be. Kohli’s own explanation, in his Instagram post, was “I feel I need to give myself space to be fully ready to lead the Indian team in Test and ODI cricket.”

That sounds like a man who thinks the captain is not named by selectors but by the skipper himself. Such thoughts are always wrong in sports. Steve Waugh realised it a year before the 2003 World Cup, despite leading Australia to the trophy in the previous edition of the tournament. Australia were looking at the future of the team, not the greatness of their captain.

Future! How can 34-year-old Rohit Sharma be the future? This rebuttal is more interesting than correct, because it helps us question the progress India’s ODI side has made under Kohli-Shastri combine. When Australia removed Waugh, the man to replace him was 29-year-old Ricky Ponting but we do not have an option other than Rohit. Because except him and Jasprit Bumrah, there is not one cricketer in the ODI side who is experienced enough for the job, and Bumrah has never even been the vice-captain. Shikhar Dhawan is out with lack of form, Hardik Pandya does not know how fit he is. Nobody else has been given a long uninterrupted run in the playing XI.

KL Rahul’s talent was never in question, and he made his debut in 2016. In spite of that he is only 38 ODIs old. Under Kohli, everyone from Ambati Rayudu to Vijay Shankar has played at No. 4 and failed, but Rahul has mostly warmed the bench. In the end, he had to don the big gloves for his chance. Shreyas Iyer was picked, dumped and has now been picked again. Better not talk about what happened to Manish Pandey after that match-winning century Down Under, or why past-his-prime Dinesh Karthik played the 2019 World Cup. Ravichandran Ashwin was never in the scheme of things under Kohli. Even Ravindra Jadeja was out of favour for some time as Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav were touted as the next big thing. First Yadav fell out of favour for a handful of bad shows, then the inexplicable axe fell on Chahal. So which team has captain Kohli built in so many years? What was the vision? Clearly, the team was going nowhere.

To come back to the parallels, Ganguly’s captaincy had also gone to a player his age. That did not produce desirable results in ODIs, but success is never guaranteed. Besides, Team India did not have a rich supply line back then. One hopes at least that is not a myth waiting to be busted. If it does turn out to be a myth, there will be ample scope to criticise the BCCI. Putting team cause over reputation cannot be faulted today.

Originally published here

https://www.newsclick.in/one-team-sound-logic-behind-virat-kohlis-sacking-odi-skipper

Troll comes full circle for Kohli and how

What is now happening to the Indian cricketers, is more or less, what happens to an army which has lost a war.

Photo courtesy: Internet

During his international career, Virat Kohli has mostly seen the bright side of fame. Only since last Saturday has the dark side started to make its presence felt. The brickbats he is receiving would be fine had the reason only been Team India’s abject failure in the ongoing ICC T20 World Cup. But he is being panned more because of his counter-attack in defence of teammate Mohammad Shami. In fact, brickbat would be a horrible euphemism for the abuses being hurled at Kohli, and shamefully, his 10 month daughter.

However, India is not made of right-wing trolls alone. Many on social media also hailed Kohli for his words. More importantly, the media wrote reams of praise. While doing that, some have even compared his statements with Sunil Gavaskar’s well-known heroic act of saving a family from a violent mob during the 1993 Mumbai riots. This comparison is symptomatic of our times. Virtual reality has so overwhelmed us that we think words are as good as, if not better than, actions. They are not. And that is a valid enough reason we need to look at Kohli’s outburst more critically.

There is not one word in that statement which a sane human being would disagree with. However, it would be naivete to dismiss so many people just as Rs. 2 trolls, especially because many of them were ardent Team India and Kohli lovers till the other day. Therefore, we need to ask why so many cricket fans in today’s India think losing a game of cricket is the end of the world.

Bitter truth is, those who run Indian cricket have themselves injected this idea into fans that cricket is a lot more than a game and the other team is not our opponent but enemy. Kohli, too, has played a big part in forming this idea.

The Kohlis and the Dhonis may not want it that way, but their life is their message for the fans. They not only copy the star’s batting stance, hair cut or mannerism, but also his behaviour on and off the field. They may not take a politician’s words seriously but shall trust every word the favourite cricketer says. In the age of 360-degrees, 24×7 sports coverage, they shall copy the pointed finger, the middle finger, the chest thump, the fist pump, the aggression, the frustration, the shout, the pout. Whether that is the right thing to do is a different question.

Three years back, the Virat Kohli Official App was launched. A video was released for its promotion where Kohli was answering questions sent by random people. One person had written in, saying he thought Kohli was an overrated batter and he enjoyed watching English and Australian batters more. Kohli’s reply was “OK, I don’t think you should live in India then… you should go and live somewhere else, no. Why are you living in our country and loving other countries? I don’t mind you not liking me but I don’t think you should live in our country and like other things. Get your priorities right.”

This remark, obviously, goes against the spirit of cricket which prompts the Caribbeans to write songs praising Gavaskar, Australians to name their children Sachin and Pakistani Umar Draz to hoist the Tricolour because he is a Kohli fan. But neither the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), nor any former cricketer told Kohli that his behaviour was unsporting. Naturally, that incident would prove to a common fan that praising cricketers from other countries is blasphemy.

There was more to that comment than absence of sporting spirit though. It was in line with and eerily similar to the “go to Pakistan” jibe critics of the central government have been targeted with since 2014. India’s otherwise liberal cricket writers somehow missed this point and are now aghast that people are being arrested for supporting a different team.

The not-just-a-game theme was taken up a notch in 2019, when Kohli and Co. played a One-Day International in Ranchi on March 8 wearing army camouflage caps. It was to honour the victims of the Pulwama terror attack. Interestingly, nobody in the army or the government found it disrespectful to the jawans who died that the caps not only had the BCCI logo on them but also the sponsor’s logo. The team went to town about their love for the army and how it was Mahendra Singh Dhoni, an honorary lieutenant colonel in the Indian territorial army, who came up with the idea. Thus, in popular imagination, the cricket team could acquire the same place as the army.

Once again, no ex-cricketer, no expert, not even the International Cricket Council (ICC) found anything objectionable in this. The ICC regarded it just “as part of a charity fundraising effort” because the Indian team also donated their match fees to the National Defence Fund. But it became too much even for them during the World Cup later that year when lieutenant colonel Dhoni sported the dagger logo of his regiment on his wicket-keeping gloves. When the ICC objected to it, who all spoke out for Dhoni? BCCI Committee of Administrator chief Vinod Rai and sports minister Kiren Rijiju. While Rai’s logic was that it is not an army symbol, the minister tweeted “… the issue is connected with the sentiments of the country, the interest of the nation has to be kept in mind.”

Clearly, even a logo on the gloves of a cricketer who is just an honorary member of a paramilitary force is connected to the sentiments of the country. So much so that even a minister intervenes if it is asked to be removed. One could rightfully ask, why did Dhoni need to place such a sensitive logo on his gloves? So many army men have represented India in different sports over the years, including Major Dhyan Chand and Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Neeraj Chopra. If none of them needed to sport any army insignia, why Dhoni? The only possible answer could be his wish to be something more than a cricketer. Or was the board trying to elevate cricketers to a different level? Nothing wrong with that if they can handle the pressure of being treated as army men by the fans.

What is now happening to the Indian cricketers, is more or less, what happens to an army which has lost a war. Soldiers of a defeated army hardly get any love or respect in their country and the choicest abuses are reserved for the general. For Kohli & Co., one can only hope the online trolling stays online. Millions of Indians know how bad things get when the hate produced online spills on to the streets. The street-fighting body language this Indian team has acquired under Kohli could work before Joe Root & Co, may not before mobs Delhi saw last year. One can possibly emulate Gavaskar’s courage on the field with talent and hardwork, emulating his courage before rioters is way more difficult.

Originally published here

https://www.newsclick.in/troll-comes-full-circle-virat-kohli-and-how

Falling from the sky: The insignificance of being human

Eric Cantona had once quoted Shakespeare to describe footballers as flies to wanton boys. Zaki Anwari proved it, almost literally.

Photo courtesy: Internet

We live in an era where an endless flow of images constantly assaults our imagination. Of late, there have been some that did much more. They made us realise how humans have made the lives of fellow humans insignificant. The image of human beings falling off a plane leaving Kabul is the latest in that series. It was almost a relief that the incident took place in the air, where there was no one like the late Danish Siddiqui to capture the cruellest of details. Relief was short-lived though. The impact of the image grew manifold the moment it became known that one of the men that died thus was a 19-year-old footballer from Afghanistan’s youth team. The French footballer Eric Cantona had once quoted Shakespeare to describe footballers as flies to wanton boys. Zaki Anwari proved it, almost literally. Some human beings behave like gods in our age and treat others as wanton boys treat flies. It is their wantonness that consumed Zaki and the others.

Nothing has portrayed the insignificance of human lives better in the recent past than the image of a dead Alan Kurdi. An adorable boy in red shirt and blue shorts, lying prostrate on the sand near the vast ocean. Six years on, this shot by Nilüfer Demir still makes one shudder at the truth captured in a frame: a child’s life in our world is as cheap as a plastic bottle thrown away in the sea. The sea washes both ashore. When this image ripped us apart in September 2015, artists poured their hearts out. Some gave Alan wings which would fly him to heaven, some placed him in the lap of god. In the mortal world it did force some European powers to take a more moderate view of the refugees, but by and large, that haunting image has neither made humans more compassionate to the less fortunate, nor less xenophobic.

Nilufer’s frame showed a small boy vis-a-vis a huge expanse of water. The next image that comes to mind did not have someone in the frame, such is the insignificance. The image only showed a few rotis lying on a railway track. It was May 8, 2020. Sixteen migrant workers were run over by a goods train near Aurangabad while they were asleep. These were people trying to walk home, all the way from Maharashtra to Madhya Pradesh, as the country went into lockdown at four hours’ notice. Their fault was that they figured no train would pass as passenger trains had stopped plying from midnight on March 25. What was responsible for those deaths? The apathy of the system, or the apathy of a nation? The Prime Minister did tweet his shock and sorrow when the news went public. But, perhaps he did not have such people in mind while announcing the lockdown. There is no dearth of images which captured the inhuman struggle of migrant workers during the nationwide lockdown.

However, this image showed what they really were for a number of their countrymen: non-existent. Sounds harsh? Maybe. But what is worse is that the family members of the 16 dead near Aurangabad had not receive their death certificates till March this year.

Similarly, the men falling off the plane that was leaving Kabul were mere dots in a frame owned by the flight and the blue sky. It is pictorial proof that human invention has outgrown human emotions. When a plane is to leave it shall leave, no matter how many cling on to its wheels. We could not be more insignificant to our own species.

Flying has been one of the oldest human fantasies. Myths in all parts of the world have something or the other on flying. Perhaps the most heart-breaking story is the one about Icarus, the son of Daedalus. Icarus’ wings were made of feather and wax. He flew too close to the sun and the wax melted. He fell into the sea and died. Insignificant humans might have to look for consolation, not in this Greek tale but in the Renaissance painting that this story inspired.

One may struggle to spot Icarus in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s ‘Fall of Icarus’ at first glance. You can see a man pushing his horse in the foreground and a shepherd with his dogs, his lambs grazing. You can see a man fishing, a bird sitting idly on the branch of a tree. In the background is the unmissable sea, with ships of different sizes. There is the sky, of course. You can even see mountains far away, and other islands. But where is Icarus? You can only see his legs as he drowns. The world around him does not even notice.

Neither will the world think too much of the Afghans falling from the sky. Countries, including our own, will keep turning away refugees. Nor will the Taliban change. We can only console ourselves thinking human beings must always have been this insignificant to other humans. An artist would not have drawn Icarus that way if that wasn’t so.

Originally published here

https://www.newsclick.in/Falling-From-Sky-The-Insignificance-Being-Human

Great Indian hypocrisy: Calling out racism abroad; ignoring filth at home

Nobody stood up for Wasim Jaffer. Photo courtesy: Twitter

Sport is often called art but not many works of art evoke emotions that are simultaneously personal and collective. The joy of seeing a Rembrandt painting does not increase if you see it with a gang of friends, the joy of watching a Messi goal does. That is why watching the clip of a Sachin Tendulkar masterpiece makes you want to share it with friends who were by your side when you watched it live. It happens to everyone and it happened to me this March, on the anniversary of his tragic 136 against Pakistan at Chepauk. Some archivist tweeted the video of that innings. I sent the link to two or three friends who had run away from our hostel with me that day to watch the match at a nearby club. The accompanying message was “Remember this?” Everyone did, but I never knew one of them had a memory which was much more bitter than India’s defeat that day.

“How can I forget?” was a Muslim friend’s reply. “Heart-breaking. It was also the day when one of my friends told me ‘Congrats, you won’.”

Let’s be honest enough to admit my friend’s experience was not singular or extraordinary. Doubting an Indian Muslim’s loyalty to the country is common today, but it always existed. And when India played Pakistan on the cricket field, it was time to say it loud. The doubt was not confined to the fans alone though.

During the glory days of cricket at Sharjah, when Pakistan regularly gave India a pasting, the popular target used to be Mohammed Azharuddin. Tendulkar could honestly score a duck, Manoj Prabhakar could go for runs by just bowling a bad spell, Kapil Dev could drop a catch because of lapse in concentration, but Azhar’s failure was suspect. So, it would be hypocritical of us, therefore, to sermonise racist England fans for the attack they have unleashed on Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho.

It is easy to say there was no Islamophobia involved in doubting Azhar as, subsequently, he was found guilty of malpractice. We insinuated because we knew, or so we would attempt to justify. But facts suggest otherwise.

Ramachandra Guha writes in his book A Corner of A Foreign Field: “Once, when Azhar scored a hundred and India won, Bal Thackeray announced that he was a ‘Nationalist Muslim’. While campaigning for votes before the 1998 General Elections, Lal Krishna Advani, the leader of the Ayodhya campaign, told an audience of Muslim youths that they should follow the example of Azhar and AR Rahman.”

Guha points out: “These compliments were poisonous in the extreme. They carried the insinuation that other Indian Muslims were not patriotic. And what if Azhar was bowled first ball for a duck? Did he then forfeit his status as a ‘Nationalist Muslim’?”

We know the answer. We also know fans never doubted Ajay Jadeja or Nayan Mongia, who were also implicated or accused in the match fixing scandal. More importantly, the doubting did not end with Azhar.

Team India under Sourav Ganguly reversed two trends in the new millennium: of losing to Pakistan often, and of being meek losers overseas. Muslim cricketers had crucial roles in both. Who can forget Irfan Pathan’s hattrick in the first Test in Karachi (2005-06) or Mohammed Kaif’s undefeated 71 (77 balls) in the fourth ODI in Lahore (2003-04)? India were five down for 162, chasing almost 300. Kaif’s partnership with Rahul Dravid (76 not out) took the team home. Kaif will forever be remembered for his innings in the Natwest Trophy final at Lord’s.

Meanwhile, Zaheer Khan was carving out a niche for himself as Javagal Srinath walked into the sunset and Ashish Nehra’s injuries got the better of him. Apart from being part of the trio that took India to the brink of glory in the 2003 ICC World Cup, Zaheer bowled India to memorable Test victories.

That did not change some things for Indian fans. Nowadays, we shudder when children complain about who eats meat in their class or discuss class friend’s caste. But during Kaif’s Gaddafi Stadium innings mentioned above, I saw a teen say “He won’t let Pakistan lose. It’s his team after all.”

Again, it can be dismissed as anecdotal evidence. Sadly, too many people have such anecdotes. Moreover, seeing social media ignoramuses tell Irfan to go to Pakistan for speaking out on the discrimination he has faced as a Muslim, leaves no doubt about the fact that there were enough such teens who have now become parents.

To be fair to cricket fans, they are not alone in blaming someone from the minority community when things go wrong. Had hockey fans been bigger-hearted liberals, Chak De! India could have done without the social ostracization of its protagonist Kabir Khan. As the film shows, the bitter truth about Indian society is that if a Muslim sportsperson is ever believed to be on the wrong foot, he has to do something doubly heroic like Kabir to redeem himself. That must be what those racist English fans are demanding of Saka, Rashford and Sancho — bring home the World Cup from Qatar perhaps.

The last resort of people in denial of the Indian reality could be: racism and communalism are two different things. Fair enough, but do we regard racism as a bad thing? Did the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) take any punitive action against Ishant Sharma when his racist comments were pointed out by Darren Sammy? The West Indies cricketer, at least, got an apology from Ishant. Did anyone from the establishment apologise to Abhinav Mukund or Dodda Ganesh for what they had gone through because of skin colour? Saka, Rashford, Sancho at least have the English FA by their side. They also have their captain Harry Kane tweeting he doesn’t want fans who are racist. Former greats like Gary Lineker have also spoken up for the trio.

Wish Wasim Jaffer had such support. Earlier this year, when a few officials of Uttarakhand Cricket Association tried to settle scores using his religion as an excuse, neither the Board nor his illustrious former teammates spoke up for Jaffer. Domestic greats like Amol Muzumdar condemned the act and denounced the troll army triggered by it. But the board, led by an iconic former cricketer, behaved like Mahatma Gandhi’s monkeys.

Nevertheless, the outrage of Indian sports enthusiasts about online racist abuse of the trio deserves praise. Because it is an improvement. They did see how the West Indies and England cricket teams took a knee against racism way back on July 8, 2020, when international cricket resumed amid the pandemic. But they did not outrage when the Indian Premier League (IPL) did not follow suit, long after it had become the norm in sporting events world over, including the Indian Super League. The 2020 IPL began on September 19 but only on October 26 did a cricketer take a knee. He was Hardik Pandya, out of personal choice, not by IPL governing body’s suggestion or instruction.

To now take the moral high ground in a case of racism feels like hypocrisy but why blame only the sports fanatic for it? The recently-released ‘Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation’ report by Pew Research Center does show that most Indians prefer to stay within their own community. Why bother about who is discriminated against? We are hardly a country of fairness, we are a country of fairness creams.

Originally published here

https://www.newsclick.in/great-indian-hypocrisy-calling-out-racism-english-football-fans-ignoring-filth-home

Meet Pakistani director who used Rabindrasangeet

Mehreen Jabbar. Photo from her website

Kolkata: About a week back, Bengalis on social media were pleasantly surprised by the emergence of a video clip where a beautiful girl is seen singing “amaro porano jaha chay”, one of Rabindranath Tagore’s most popular compositions, as an equally handsome young man listens with eyes wide open. This romantic situation is as common for Bengalis as mustard oil to cook hilsa, albeit these were Pakistani actors Yumna Zaidi and Feroze Khan. They were speaking in Urdu but the song was in impeccable Bangla, that too, a Rabindrasangeet! The clip soon went viral among Bengalis. Sure there were doubters who asked if it was a carefully done deep fake, but enterprising Bengalis soon found out that it was actually a scene from Geo TV’s 2019 serial Dil Kya Kare. They even found that director Mehreen Jabbar had herself posted another sequence on Instagram, where Yumna is seen singing the other part of the same song.

It was enough to make everyone in Bengal curious about Mehreen. How did a Pakistani lady like her come to know of a Rabindrasangeet? Who sang the song for her? Why did she decide to use a Bangla song in an Urdu serial? And, of course, that question every Bengali asks at the drop of a hat: is Mehreen somehow connected to Bengal?

She not only answered those, taking time out of her busy schedule, but also spoke about the subcontinent’s shared cultural heritage and how politics often makes us forget how similar we, the people of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, are. Excerpts from the exclusive interview to eNewsroom:

How did you find Rabindranath Tagore? I know you have worked with people like Debajyoti Mishra and Nandita Das but is there a bigger Bengal connection that led you to him?

I found this piece because my friend Sharvari Deshpande [Indian actor and singer], who sang it, was in New York some years back, and she had sung it at a gathering. I was immediately drawn to the song even though I didn’t understand the words. Later, I got her to send the translations to me and I totally fell in love with it, knew that I wanted to use it in the serial because it gelled well with the character of Yumna Zaidi. Therefore, I asked Sharvari to record it and send it to me.

Have you read Rabindranath in original or via translation? Has he become a habit for you or do you read him/listen to his songs occasionally?

I had never read him either in original or through translation, so it was a discovery for me as well. Going forward, I’m intrigued and curious because I simply fell in love with him. This is an education for me, which I hope to take farther.

What prompted you to use a Rabindrasangeet in an Urdu serial?

It was purely an emotional response. I loved the song so much and by pure luck, it was fitting in really well with two or three scenes I used the piece in. It wasn’t in the script to start with. I think that came about later, when I was going through the story [by Asma Nabeel], and felt at these places this would be the most appropriate piece to use.

Is it common among Pakistani youth to sing Rabindrasangeet? Do they really sing them among themselves as shown in the serial?

Unfortunately, it’s not that common unless people have family who are Bengali, or lived in Bangladesh, or know about West Bengal. I’m sure there are such people in Pakistan but I haven’t been part of any such gathering. So, this was a new situation that we depicted.

You were born the year Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan and became an independent country. The conflict started over the use of Urdu over Bangla in the then east Pakistan. There is still some antipathy towards Urdu at least in my part of Bengal because of that. This is partly why Bengalis in West Bengal are euphoric seeing these clips. Almost every media platform has done a story on this. People here want to know if Pakistan has got over its cultural opposition to Bangla. To be specific, was the use of Rabindrasangeet received well, or did you face problems for using a Bangla song in your work?

Unfortunately, the younger lot in Pakistan, including me, never heard much discussion about 1971. There wasn’t much examination of the incidents either. With the result that there is no opposition to using Bangla, or any preconceived notion about it. They (the youth) are very open. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough cultural exchange with Bangla as opposed to Bollywood cinema, which is very popular in Pakistan. Because people can easily understand Hindi. Having said that, I think there’s great scope for exploring this aspect. There was no problem using Bangla at all, and in future I really doubt there would be.

Dil Kya Kare was aired in 2019. After the “amaro porano jaha chay” clip, a few other clips have emerged of other Pakistani serials where Bangla songs, not Rabindrasangeet, have been used. Can you tell me how long has this been going on and what is the reason? I mean, is there a sizeable Bangla-speaking audience in Pakistan? Or is it done to attract spectators from Bangladesh or West Bengal, keeping in mind this is the age of OTT platforms?

I would love to see the other clips where Bangla songs have been used in Pakistani serials. I think that is fantastic. I’m not personally aware of it. It’s incredible if that’s happened. But when I used this song, there was no motive in mind. It was just a beautiful rendition by Sharvari, and it went well with the story. That was the main reason. I’m just very happy that so many years after the serial was aired, it has been noticed and appreciated. That is really heart-warming to realise that.

Last question. How difficult is it for today’s artists to proactively share the cultural legacy of the subcontinent? Are there social or political obstacles? If the answer is yes, then do you see a light at the end of the tunnel?

It’s a good question. It’s unfortunate that one of the first casualties of differences between governments are the artists. They should be the last ones affected. It’s funny that trade goes on, other exchanges go on but the artists on all three sides are always marginalised. That is unfortunate. However, there are people who are still trying to collaborate. As you know, I’ve done Ramchand Pakistani in 2008, I’ve done Ek Jhoothi Love Story for Zee5, hopefully I’ll be doing another one for them. I hope this exchange continues because that is the only way, I feel, for people to get to know each other. Because there is ignorance and lack of understanding but so many similarities, so many things we share: the love for the land, for food, for clothing. There’s so much that is similar, even though we are different. There’s a shared humanity that exists in all three countries. I don’t think enough has been done to highlight that in a positive way. I hope all the governments loosen the leash because artists and art are all about creating an understanding and respect for each other.

I also feel Pakistan is unfortunately under-represented in both India and Bangladesh, especially in India. Not enough Pakistani drama or music or books get shared in your country. Whereas there’s a lot more coming in from India. But one has to always hope and not be negative. We must always hope for a better future.

Published on https://enewsroom.in

Has the CPI(M) forgotten its strong federal roots?

Then state finance minister Ashok Mitra was his mainstay in this fight. It was as much a demand for more administrative rights as economic independence

Photos from internet

On May 30, the West Bengal state committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) came up with its assessment of the assembly election results, in which the party won no seats. The document explaining this disaster states that most of the 32 seats won by the Left Front in 2016 have gone to Trinamool Congress (TMC) – 23, to be precise.

At one point, the document says, in Bengali, “Because of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) aggressive words, Trinamool’s election rigging, corruption, anarchy in every sector, absence of democracy etc. could not become electoral issues. People chose Trinamool Congress as the main opposition to the BJP. In addition, Trinamool was able to use the welfare schemes to garner support. There was extreme polarisation between Trinamool Congress and BJP. That is probably the main reason behind this result.”

This is as candid an admission of being wrong as you would get from the CPI(M). The West Bengal leadership has been maintaining since 2011 that the BJP and TMC are two sides of the same coin, so they have often dismissed governor Jagdeep Dhankhar’s attempts to overstep his jurisdiction and Mamata Banerjee’s sharp reaction to these moves as ‘drama’. This document shows that the CPI(M) is ready to rethink the political line that regards both TMC and BJP equally harmful. The fact that the welfare schemes CPI(M) leaders called “doles” during the election campaign have been marked as reasons for TMC’s popular support is a significant shift.

One may have expected this document to impact the party’s behaviour, but this doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment. Case in point is the ongoing battle between Banerjee’s and Narendra Modi’s governments.

Senior CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty has termed the Centre’s decision to unilaterally transfer chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay as “vindictive”, but added that the chief secretary’s role has been reduced to that of a “ghatak (matchmaker)” under the TMC government. Earlier in May, ministers of the state were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in a case where the chargesheet had already been submitted. CPI(M)’s Rajya Sabha MP Bikash Bhattacharya, a lawyer, wasted no time in saying the arrests were fair. The Calcutta high court’s subsequent interim bail order, however, made it clear that it is not as straightforward as Bhattacharya made it sound. Even the CPI(M)’s official stance differed from his, but he has neither been censured for his comments nor asked to explain them.

This proves there is still no consensus in the party ranks about the ways to deal with the TMC, and the CPI(M) does not regard the BJP’s repeated attempts to destabilise the West Bengal government as a threat to federalism but as a usual political tussle between TMC and BJP. During the election campaign, the Left-Congress-Indian Secular Front combine had talked about the need to break the TMC-BJP binary. It looks like the CPI(M) itself is still stuck in that binary, and does not recognise the greater issues at play. It would not be out of context to delve into history at this point.

The party at the Centre trying to destabilise an opposition party’s state government is not new. The first party at the receiving end was the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI). The Kerala government led by its legendary leader E.M.S. Namboodiripad was toppled in 1959, and finding out how many times Indira Gandhi’s government used Article 356 of the Constitution could exhaust a seasoned statistician. But the BJP’s consistency and determination in breaking the back of federalism is unparalleled.

What is happening in Bengal is basically the logical progression of what began with the dilution of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. It continued with passing a law that makes the Arvind Kejriwal government subservient to the Lieutenant Governor. The arrests and the fight over the chief secretary are not attacks on the chief minister or the TMC. These are attacks on the rights of state governments and the political courtesies governing Centre-state relationship. This is about showing who’s boss.

This is exactly what the Jyoti Basu-led Left front government fought against in the 1980s. Basu maintained all along that the Centre was not in charge, and states should be on equal footing. His cry was not just for a bigger share of the Centre’s revenue; his was a principled stand for all states. Then state finance minister Ashok Mitra was his mainstay in this fight. It was as much a demand for more administrative rights as economic independence; that’s why they found other non-Congress chief ministers like Ramakrishna Hegde, M.G. Ramachandran, N.T. Rama Rao and Farooq Abdullah by their side. They held two meetings in 1983, in Srinagar and Kolkata, and a sub-committee was formed to draft a list of demands. Mitra led that sub-committee. Their commitment to the cause is best proved by the case of Jammu and Kashmir.

On July 2, 1984, governor Jagmohan dismissed the National Conference government led by Farooq. The then Karnataka chief minister, Hegde, chaired a meeting with non-Congress leaders at Karnataka Bhavan in New Delhi. The resolution release afterwards criticised the Centre for murdering democracy in Kashmir. A delegation reached Srinagar the next day to express solidarity with Abdullah and the people of J&K. Mitra recalls in his memoirs that Basu directed him to be present at the meeting in New Delhi and join the delegation to Srinagar. Delivering a speech to the public gathered in front of the National Conference office, he writes, was one of his fondest memories.

But senior CPI(M) leader Mohammad Salim, while speaking to this writer, confirmed that his party views the ongoing conflict purely as a partisan issue. “There’s no question of federalism here,” he declared. “This is just the governments using their agencies against each other. Only the leftists think about federalism. Our party has fought for it in the past, we wanted Sarkaria Commission’s recommendations implemented. Neither the TMC nor BJP has ever thought about federalism. The bickering over the Narada accused or the chief secretary is nothing but the failed state’s attempt to divert the headlines. Mamata has failed to provide relief to people after Cyclone Yaas, the Centre hasn’t done anything either. That’s why the chief secretary is being made an issue. Similarly, when people needed vaccines and they couldn’t provide it, they fought over the Narada-accused leaders.”

In reality, though, the fight for federalism was put on the back burner while the CPI(M) was still in power. Mitra writes in Apila Chapila (translation by the author), “After I left Writers’ Buildings [he resigned in 1987 for reasons not relevant to this article], I found the West Bengal government has suddenly become a good boy. There’s no overdraft, spending is well within the scope of earnings, so the budget is zero deficit. My unequivocal opinion is, this complete change of stance is highly incompatible with the state government’s approach. Fat overdraft indicated the states are struggling because of the one-sided relationship with the Centre. Doing away with it means announcing to the world that all problems have been solved, there’s no financial constraint. Now we can sleep peacefully.”

Mitra wrote this in the early 2000s. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) was not yet in existence. There is hardly any dispute today that the GST has further tilted the scales in favour of the Central government. And the chairman of the GST council that is credited with planning everything was Asim Dasgupta, Mitra’s successor in Basu’s cabinet. He resigned from the council in 2011, but by his own admission, 80% of the job had already been done. Dasgupta’s contribution was even acknowledged by then Union finance minister Arun Jaitley when the GST was launched in 2017.

The decay of the Left as an opposition has had huge implications for West Bengal, and the job of turning this seems to be getting harder by the day. A strong right-wing party has now become the only opposition in a state famous for its secular, socialist ethos. The CPI(M), still the biggest leftist party in terms of number of members, has no time to waste if they are to stay relevant. State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has already said he does not want to put up a candidate against Mamata Banerjee in the by-election at Bhowanipore. If Chowdhury’s party agrees with his proposal, it may mean curtains on the Left-Congress combine. In that case, comrades have a long fight ahead. What are they doing to ensure it is not a lonely one?

The state committee’s statement mentioned at the beginning of this article had said, “To turn this primary review into a comprehensive one, discussions will have to be held and opinions sought at the booth and branch level.” At the moment, the CP(M) is distributing a questionnaire among its workers and supporters via the district committees to do that. It has two sets of questions, under the heads ‘political’ and ‘organisational’. The first three questions in the first set are all about the party’s policy regarding the TMC:

  1. Is it really true that there was strong anti-incumbency against the TMC before the elections? Did we overestimate that sentiment? Did we underestimate Trinamool Congress?
  2. Did people reject our campaign about the understanding between the TMC and BJP? Which party was our main target across the election campaign? TMC or BJP? Or did we maintain equidistance?
  3. How have the welfare schemes and subsidies from the TMC government impacted the recipients? Have we assessed that?

The answers, and whether the leadership is willing to make changes according to them, could hold the key to the CPI(M)’s future in West Bengal.

A section of the party, however, feels where they stand vis-à-vis Banerjee or the BJP is irrelevant. What matters is whether they can still identify with the poor and have the stomach to fight for issues that affect them. This view is best articulated in an article written in Bengali by young trade union leader and Darjeeling district committee member Sudip Dutta, for party mouthpiece Ganashakti: “We have to go to the rural and urban poor, and get the strength for class struggle from them. The most promising strategy for modern revolution is hidden amongst this socio-economic populace divided into innumerable groups.”

Originally published here

https://thewire.in/politics/west-bengal-cpim-tmc-federalism

36 all out: Depressing present, ominous future

One can question neither the PM, nor the cricket captain or coach. They are always right

Photo courtesy: Internet

“Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship,” said BR Ambedkar. As we reel under the weight of India’s ignominious Adelaide defeat, it is worth exploring what bhakti leads to in team sport.

One could say comparing sports to politics is unfair as sports are more like the performing arts, thriving on the pleasure of the spectators, and that pleasure often comes from the performance of an individual. True. But the art form team sport most resembles is drama — live and performed by a team of individuals, not editable like films if you make a mistake. And a play cannot be successful unless even the best actor in the team follows the plan. Even a Shakespearean tragedy can make a theatre full of people laugh if an actor as legendary as Sir Laurence Olivier decides to act the way he likes, disregarding co-actors, or the lighting, or the dialogues. It is the same for team sport (unless you are Diego Maradona, in which case everyone else is a prop), only difference being here nobody knows what happens in the end. Any such enterprise involving so many human beings inevitably involves a lot of politics. Theatre groups have come apart because of internal politics, so have sporting teams. But we are talking about much more. When the enterprise has grown into a billion-dollar industry like Indian cricket, it cannot but be influenced by macro-politics, too, because it is part of macroeconomics.

Ramachandra Guha has already spoken out on how the Board of Control for Cricket in India is actually being run by the country’s ruling dispensation. Cricketers, journalists, analysts, even discerning fans understood much of it anyway because there is hardly any attempt to hide it. Hence, we are now aware of the hold national politics has on the administration of cricket. What we are perhaps not realizing is the impact of our politics on people directly involved with the action on the field.

To quote Sanjay Manjrekar, “It’s important to not look at 36 in isolation but at 165, 191, 242, 124, 244, and then at it. These are team totals in their last three Tests (two in New Zealand) when the ball moved. This is all India could muster, and they lost all three. So, 36 as a low score may be an aberration, but of late India have been incompetent as a batting unit when the ball has swung or seamed.” The string becomes longer if you count India’s totals on their last tour of England in 2018, where the team lost the series 1-4. It reads: 274, 162, 107, 130, 329, 352/7 declared, 273, 184, 292, 345. Just three 300-plus totals in ten innings. If we go back to the 2017-18 series in South Africa, where India could only win the dead rubber, the totals are: 209, 135, 307, 151, 187, 247. One 300-plus total in six innings. All this is technical information, but one needs to ask “why”. Why no improvement in the ability to play the moving ball despite this string of low totals? The answer is arrogant denial — typical of Team India’s management as well as the country’s management.

One can only rectify a mistake after admitting it. But Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli never admitted there was a problem. The huge wins in between against the West Indies, Sri Lanka, South Africa et al in calmer conditions, and the historic victory on their last tour Down Under helped in brushing the flaws under the carpet. After losing the five-Test series 1-4 in England, Shastri, instead of owning up to failure on two consecutive big foreign tours, remarked, “If you look at the last three years, we have won nine matches overseas and three series… I can’t see any other Indian team in the last 15-20 years that has had the same run in such a short time, and you have had some great players playing in those series.” He was conveniently forgetting India’s series wins in England and the West Indies in 2007; the 2008-09 win in New Zealand, apart from the heroic performances in England and Australia in 2002, 2003-04, 2007-08. He was also papering over the fact that his team’s overseas wins include teams which are hardly competitive today. It reminds one of the government’s convenient tweaking of methodology for calculating GDP to make the emaciated economy look robust. A journalist asked Kohli whether that tag suits his side. He hit back “What do you think?” When the journalist said he was not sure, the visibly angry captain said, “That’s your opinion.” The nonchalance in calling inconvenient truth just an opinion stunned many but not all, because we were already living in a country where economic distress due to demonetization was just an opinion as the ruling party had won elections even after that.

Kohli’s support for demonetization was overt, not covert. It is natural for him then to think truth is owned by the powerful, rest is an ignorable opinion. That approach may win elections but does not win matches. However, denying facts is acceptable as it is the age of post truth. So much so that after a disaster like 36-9, a captain can say “You can make a lot of team plans but in such important (pressure) situations the individuals have to keep the correct mindset…” Mindset is alright but not a word about repeated collective technical failure!

Who cares? Most will forget this Saturday, even this series, as soon as some T20 matches are won. Those who don’t, should remember what Kohli told somebody in 2018, when he said he likes English and Australian batsmen more than Indians. “I don’t think you should live in India then… you should go and live somewhere else no. Why are you living in our country and loving other countries?”

Fair enough. It has long been said that the captaincy of the Indian cricket team is the toughest job in India after the Prime Minister’s job. Don’t we ask people finding faults with our PM to go to Pakistan? If that kind of hero worship is fine in politics, it should be fine in cricket. One can question neither the PM, nor the cricket captain and/or coach. They are always right. Even when the team delivers the worst batting performance in our Test history.

This is where bhakti in cricket has brought us. To be fair to Kohli and Shastri, we have always been a country of hero-worshipers. We would not have called Sachin Tendulkar the god of cricket otherwise, but at least he had the sense to understand the game is still bigger than him. It would be a tragedy if the much-loved Indian cricket team were to suffer one shameful defeat after another because of the brazenness cricketers are picking up from contemporary Indian politics. In the last few years, Team India cricketers have shown more interest in getting disliked commentators removed than removing chinks in their own armour.

It would be an even bigger tragedy if Kohli, destined for cricketing greatness, loses the plot inebriated with power. By the time he hangs up his boots, representing the new India will cease to mean anything as it shall be old. Politicians have machinery and machinations to create history. Kohli only has his bat.

Originally published here

36-9: Depressing present, ominous future

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