By Sandeep Bamzai*
It defies all laws of logic and gravity. Ostensibly it is unfathomable. Agreed that an India-Pakistan cricket contest anywhere in the world will gobble up television oxygen, but with heightened anti-Pakistan sentiment prevailing given their almost daily border transgressions and renewed upsurge in proxy war killings in Kashmir, I am amazed that India has gone ahead to play a limited over series at a neutral venue.
It can’t only be pressure fro the ICC, after all India is the ICC? Is it due to political pressure then? Does the Modi administration want to take a stab at fixing ties with Pakistan and perhaps cricket is a building block in the long and exacting process. As long as Pakistan remains a rogue state with an agenda to pursue its agenda of death by a thousands cuts in Kashmir to destabilise India, then India should not have anything to do with Toxicistan. India needs to be firm in this regard. It is not about doves and hawks, it is about genuine national interest and a sporting embargo against Pakistan has to be uppermost on our policy radar. India cannot speak in dual tones, it simply should not have anything to do with Pakistan.
War minus the shooting is how author Mike Marqusee painted the complex portrait of a sub-continent in ferment, set against the backdrop of the 1996 cricket World Cup, the most extravagant and controversial event in the history of the game. The title is most apt for India-Pakistan cricket jousts. Undoubtedly, a gladiatorial contest between the two nations on the playing field – irrespective of whether the sport is hockey or cricket, it gives the viewer a strange sort of adrenaline rush, pumping up emotions and transporting them into a different zone – it is also a synonym for a proxy war. Eminently similar to the Cold War era when the USA was pitted against the Eastern Bloc nations led by the Soviet Union.
No sporting rivalry can replace this feeling, this level of intensity, this junoon and khans. I know that every time sporting relations between the two nations are normalised, the fires are stoked in this debate. It gets ugly, people get nasty and words are exchanged. The reality sadly is that while sport transcends political barriers, impediments and imponderables, India and Pakistan are a completely different kettle of fish. So, am I one of the faithful who are going to argue for restoration of sporting ties? Far from it. Bah! This is not akin to anything, anywhere else in the world.
The Ashes don’t compare. For sheer continuity, sheer magnetism and as a spectator sport, it is singular.
The contests have an edge, the players raise the level of their game, the ridiculous and the sublime are all part of the tamasha.
At the same time, all this hype and hoopla notwithstanding, India should not play Pakistan, certainly not now and not till something like 26/11 receives closure. Which will never happen, you cannot expect that response from Janus faced Pakistan. India wants the perps of 26/11 to be brought to book, we sound as if we have a bellyache, but a recalcitrant Pakistan couldn’t care two hoots for our pain and suffering.
India’s history with Pakistan, recent and otherwise, is too violent to be recounted here. They are two conjoined twins, inseparable since birth, their fates and destinies in one way or the other intertwined forever. Pakistan’s bloody and turbulent history doesn’t end within its own boundaries, more often than not it spills over into India.
This is the scary part; while wars have been fought repeatedly, Pakistan’s naked obsession with Kashmir pushes the jihadi element to make repeated attempts to destabilise India by using the terror factory.
As I said, Pakistan is duplicitous, Janus faced, it heaps scorn on us, obfuscates, lies and twists facts to suit its own ends.
On another anniversary of the 26/11 attacks, India has nothing to show in terms of naming and convicting the perpetrators of that bloody interlude? Nothing very much. Pakistan is like Teflon, nothing sticks to it. They make bloody sure that it doesn’t stick.
They are glib talkers. Dossiers, transcripts, tapes, pictures are all meaningless as they laugh off their involvement in the vicious attack. Non-state actors, they say, oblivious and yet impervious to our hurt.
The Taj and Oberoi in Mumbai were symbols of a new India, a rising India that Pakistan is extremely unhappy about. Pakistan continues to target Mumbai, in many ways the face of the same emerging India.
The March 12, 1993, serial blasts and the 26/11 terror attack have assumed iconic proportions in the history of the terror network that targets the megalopolis. Pakistan’s eyes are fixated on India’s financial nerve centre. Fortunately they have failed to cripple it. The travesty is that it is not about India preventing an attack, but the ability of Pakistan and its jihad factory to willfully target India.
Their psyche brutalised by the vivisection in 1971. Despite all this we want to play Pakistan in India. Why? Yes, it is a marvellous spectacle, crowds gather in the coliseums and decibel levels and passions run high, and jingoism gets a free run on both sides. But nationalism should prevail and India should step forward to take the lead in ostracising Pakistan from international sport. Sporting segregation on the lines of the sporting boycott of South Africa during the apartheid years is the only way forward instead of falling over ourselves to play with them. The rules of engagement should be delineated and strict enforceability should be ensured.
And it is not that it hasn’t happened in the past. Let me recount the best example.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) withdrew its invitation to South Africa for the 1964 Summer Games because it realised that the team would not be racially integrated. In 1968, there was a move to readmit South Africa, but the threat of a boycott by African nations loomed large and the IOC changed its mind. In 1970, IOC formally expelled SA from the Olympics.
Flashpoint was reached in the Montreal Games in 1976, when African nations raised Cain over the repression in South Africa and threatened a boycott if New Zealand was allowed to compete. Mind you, the Kiwi All Blacks rugby team had continued contact with South Africa. IOC didn’t relent, and the African nations pulled out of the Games.
This brought matters to a head. Commonwealth nations signed on the dotted line ushering in the Gleneagles Agreement in 1977.
The charter held that as part of their support for the international campaign against apartheid, they were uniting to discourage contact and competition between their sportsmen and sporting organisations with teams or individuals from South Africa.
The Commonwealth was seen as a relevant body to impose a sporting ban on South Africa because several of the sports most popular among white South Africans were dominated by Commonwealth member-states – for example, cricket and rugby.
This was a defining moment in South Africa’s history for it began the process of sporting isolation of the white supremacists in the country. The next big step came when the IOC adopted a declaration against ‘apartheid in sport’ on June 21, 1988, for the total isolation of apartheid sport. The ICC had imposed a moratorium on cricket tours to South Africa back in 1970.
But lure of the krugerrand meant that cricketers trooped into South Africa, ban or no ban. From ‘private teams’ replete with mercenaries under the banner of Derrick Robbins XI bankrolled by a millionaire of the same name, essentially made up of English cricketers, followed by the International Wanderers led by Greg Chappell, the embargo was breached repeatedly and with disdain. Till the Soweto Uprising and civil strife in South Africa. In the early 1980s, the rand once again became the flavour of the season. South African rebel tours, as many as seven of them, came at a rapid pace between 1982 and 1990.
The first tour saw Graham Gooch captain a strong English contingent. In a veritable coup, a Sri Lankan XI was cobbled up under the leadership of Bandula Waranapura only to be summarily thrashed by the South Africans. But to bring a Sri Lankan team to SA in those tumultuous days was a staggering achievement. What followed was mayhem.
Top-of-the-line West Indian cricketers rebelled and toured South Africa for anything between $100,000-120,000 each. Star cricketers such Lawrence Rowe, Collis King, Sylvester Clarke, Colin Croft and Bernard Julien showed SA spectators their prowess, matching their star cricketers punch for punch. The first series, again organised in secret and conducted on the hoof, set up a fierce battle when the West Indians returned for a full tour the following season. Clarke was by now the dominant player on either side, claiming four five-wicket hauls in the 2-1 ‘Test’ series win.
The West Indian XI also won the one-day series 4- 2 with the Springboks looking ragged and on the run. Such was the intensity of battle that the South African batsmen had to wear helmets for the first time as the Windies pacers pounded them with short pitched bowling. This wasn’t all. Two tours by Australian teams followed under the leadership of Kim Hughes.
Top Oz cricketers such as Terry Alderman, Rodney Hogg and Carl Rackemaan were present on these tours. England under Mike Gatting became the last team to tour South Africa before their return to international cricket in 1991. One can argue that the power of pelf triumphed over the moratorium. Cricket too triumphed, particularly during the tough, unrelenting series against the West Indian rebels. But the message had gone home loud and clear to sport-loving South Africans. They were dried out, krugerrand or no rand. The BCCI’s love for lucre is well-known.
That it is an autonomous body is also known, but to give in to pressure from PCB or ICCis not the right thing to do. Mumbaikars, nay Indians, cannot remove the embedded images of the 26/11 carnage being played out in the corridors of their mind.
The masterminds of the attack, the handlers, the assailants are all Pakistani and this is an inescapable fact. Sweat them out, play them only on international platforms. Isolate them, that is the only language they understand. Don’t give in. Be consistent.
*The writer is a Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi