India-Pakistan matches are always emotional affairs but should cheering for a sporting opponent be treated as a criminal act?
For: Cheering for Pak is an open display of disaffection. Nip it in the bud
Najmul Hoda, is an IPS officer
Is India-Pakistan cricket a proxy for a religious war between Hinduism and Islam? Despite the unseemly exultation of the Pakistani interior minister over Pakistan’s win against India in a cricket match recently, it is not. Neither is it a club match between the two cricket boards — the BCCI and PCB. It is a contest between two countries. Even if it were a club match, don’t people normally cheer for the home team? No matter how brilliant the other team might be, would they like to see them winning against their own team? If they do, they clearly identify with the other team for non-sporting reasons. So, is cheering for Pakistan an expression of appreciation of their sporting skills, or is it a political statement? If the latter, how does one understand it — venting out of a simmering resentment that a minority has been harbouring against systemic discrimination, or a religion-inspired secession from the national mainstream? If the former perception has gained ground, the State must act on its promise of equal rights and opportunities for all; but, if the latter be true, the State must stop such an ideological drift from reaching a point of no return.
Nationalism is not about civic ethos alone. It has a mystical dimension and an ideological character too. It has its own paraphernalia of sanctities and ceremonials, and its rituals are to be observed with religious solemnity. Its prestige is most at stake when faced with a challenge from another nation. Sports tournaments, being the humanised substitute of tribal warfare, are occasions when a nation reaffirms its identity and solidarity.
While governance must be put to strictest public scrutiny, the sanctity of a nation, often broadcast and disseminated through a calendar of events, ritualised protocols, high-visibility spectacles and other performatives must be honoured, preserved and celebrated by each of its constituents. Such unwritten precepts of citizenship should be non-negotiable and never be left open for nuanced discussions. In such matters, foreclosure and plainspeak have their own virtues and should be the guiding dictum. At times, dry algorithms should be preferred over polished dialectics.
In the specific context of Indo-Pak cricket matches, the sentiments which led to the Partition should not be allowed to be paraded naked in public. It hurts the nation, and corrodes both the idea and reality of India. It should have been nipped in the bud at its very incipience but it wasn’t because, post-Partition, ideologues of the two-nation theory had regrouped under the patronage of sarkari secularism. They paraphrased the politics of separatism as a quest for identity, and used the liberal and secular idiom to make communalism constitutionally kosher. They perpetuated a narrative of persecution and made the atmosphere conducive for bursting crackers and raising Islamic war cries in many a Muslim neighbourhood whenever Pakistan trounced India. How could they caution their constituency against a transgression caused by the ideology they preached? Such group behaviour had risen directly from the premises of separatism, and had no aim beside a separate share in power in the name of Muslims. If they identified with India, the prospects of identity politics would be jeopardised. And, as for their liberal patrons, they needed Muslims as foot soldiers in the fight against the right wing. So, they became so accommodative of Muslim communalism as to make it a byword for secularism. Earlier, they condoned the minority communalism, now they contrive quaint post-structuralist, post-modernist and multicultural rationalisations for it. They are yet to realise that minority communalism is not minor communalism. Eventually, liberalism and secularism had to suffer discredit.
Pakistan is more an ideological than a territorial state. It’s less a locale and more a mentality. It’s the negation of Indian nationhood, the polestar of separatism, and the symbol of Muslim political supremacy in India. This discourse is the biggest roadblock in the path of composite and unified nationalism. Cheering for Pakistan is a display of separatist instinct which is hardwired into the political theory of Islam in India. The discourse of dissociation with India makes the Muslim community live an inauthentic life of self-sabotage, false consciousness and bad faith.
This communal perversion should have been taken cognisance of, and set right, a long time ago. That it was allowed to fester is why it is yielding a bitter harvest now. It is an ideological issue, and should have been ideologically countered, but the liberal secular intelligentsia pushed it under the carpet. Should the State also abdicate its responsibility, or take reformatory action? Cheering for Pakistan is an open display of disaffection. It is a criminal act. But treating it as sedition or terrorism would entail not only a loss of proportion but perspective too.
Against: Is our patriotism so insecure that it will crumble if we root for a rival?
Avijit Pathak, is a professor of Sociology at JNU
What an ugly world we have created! With toxic nationalism, non-reflexive and irresponsible television channels and a proliferation of exhibitionist patriotism, we have reduced a game into a form of war or surgical strike. This is madness in the name of cricket.
The very idea of filing sedition charges against three Kashmiri students for allegedly supporting Pakistan’s victory; and the poison the troll army is never tired of spreading characterise a society that seems to have lost the spirit of real courage — the courage to see a game as a game, accept victory or defeat with the lightness of being, and appreciate the brilliant cricket skills of the opponent team. The violence or intolerance we see around is the manifestation of our collective decadence. And hence, as I wish to keep my sanity alive, I have no hesitation in saying that appreciating Pakistan — if its cricketers play well — can by no means be seen as a criminal act. Instead, it can only prove that our patriotism is not so insecure or hollow that it will crumble if we say something good about the Pakistan team.
Well, I am ready to accept that even if Benedict Anderson regards the nation as an ‘imagined community’, it continues to have its psychic and emotional hold over people. In the name of this ‘imagined community’, battles are fought, walls of separation are erected, spying is promoted, or war is legitimised. And throughout the world, hyper-competitive, market-driven and media-stimulated sports carnivals (imagine the interest in knowing whether it is the United States or China that would get more gold medals in the Olympics, or whether Brazil can defeat Argentina in the World Cup Soccer) arouse nationalist sentiments. In a way, these are like much-hyped modern rituals to consolidate the imagination of the nation. And hence, on our part — from a priest in Varanasi to a street vendor in Mumbai, or from a Bollywood actress to a software engineer in Bengaluru — the willingness to see India defeating Pakistan in cricket or hockey, as I will be reminded by many, is not unnatural. To think otherwise, as our self-proclaimed patriots would taunt me, is pure nonsense!
Yet, I differ, and object to the breakdown of reason. Why should it be difficult for us to accept that it is possible for Pakistan to play well, and there are moments when our players (neither are they immortal stars, nor are they endowed with any miraculous power to win every match) might not do well? Moreover, even if there are people who feel that it doesn’t look nice for an Indian to appreciate Pakistan’s performance and celebrate its victory, particularly when there is collective mourning all around, it can by no means be seen as a ‘criminal’ act. This is like trivialising the very meaning of criminality or sedition.
Furthermore, I object to this madness for yet another reason. For, this hysteria reinforces what the cult of toxic nationalism with its loud gestures and hyper-masculine aggression seeks to do — continually manufacturing conspiracy theories, and perpetually constructing or demonising the ‘enemies’ of the nation, from your Muslim neighbours to politically articulate students of JNU or Jamia Millia Islamia, or from the Dadis of Shaheen Bagh to the likes of Stan Swamy. As fear is manufactured in the name of ‘national security’, anybody who thinks, reflects and refuses to go by the crowd mentality is seen as potentially dangerous. Any creatively nuanced critical voice is stigmatised. No wonder, we are asked to see cricket only through the lens of toxic nationalism and war metaphors. This chronic intolerance or schizophrenic mindset seems to have become the new normal in contemporary India. Hence, this obsession with the compulsive demonstration of patriotism at the time of an India-Pakistan cricket match cannot be seen in isolation. In a way, it is not qualitatively different from what we are seeing these days — reducing Hinduism into the cacophony of Jai Shri Ram slogans, or promoting all sorts of lessons of ‘deshbhakti’.
And finally, I object to this madness because it takes us away from our noblest strivings and dreams — say, walking with Rabindranath Tagore, becoming aware of the violence of hyper-nationalism, and celebrating universalism or rooted cosmopolitanism; conversing with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and imagining the oceanic idea of India—compassionate and pluralist; and acquiring the courage to see beyond the confinement of a divided/fragmented/limited self in order to celebrate love rather than hatred, and overcome the oppressive binaries—Hindu vs Muslim, or India vs Pakistan.
After all, a society that loses its dreams in the name of totalitarian nationalism, I fear, begins to sow the seeds of violence in the minds of children. As a teacher, I cannot bear it.

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