Lessons of unity, democracy to be learnt from cricket

Lessons of unity and democracy to be learnt from cricket

Kohli's frank admission of having been outplayed by a vastly superior team on that day should have let matters rest but that was not to be

Virat Kohli (L) with Pakistan opener Mohammad Rizwan after India's 10-wicket loss in their T20 World Cup match. Credit: AP/PTI File Photo

What is it that unites all Indians across caste, creed, religion, language and region? The spontaneous answer will be the two Cs — Cricket and Cinema, both of which have been hitting headlines the last few days, perhaps for the wrong reasons, raising some disturbing questions.

The national game of cricket in its varied formats that had been entertaining people for the last few months created a dramatic impact after the long-awaited India-Pakistan match. With emotions running high on both sides, some kind of drama was inevitable but the kind of a totally unexpected result led to excessive celebrations in one country and a shocking experience in the other. To the credit of the players of both teams, it must be said that they behaved with dignity and captain Virat Kohli’s gesture of complimenting the Pakistan captain and embracing their star opening batsman was grace personified. His frank admission of having been outplayed by a vastly superior team on that day should have let matters rest but that was not to be. Communal passions were fanned with uncivilised statements across the border, including by a minister, and a Muslim cricketer being unfairly targeted in India.

The unhappy aftermath of this particular match should not, however, be allowed to mar the otherwise highly positive contribution of cricket to national unity and fostering the democratic spirit. In India, cricket is not just a game but a force that kindles a kind of religious passion among the youth and serves as a common bond between people of all ages and groups. Identities are forgotten and a common prayer goes up for India’s victory. I recall that in the 2003 World Cup tournament, India put up a pathetic show in its initial matches, including the one against minnows Holland. Indians rose as one man in condemning the poor performance, some fans burning the effigies of their heroes and virtually instigating them to show some nerve. And no less a person than Tendulkar apologised to the whole nation and promised to play their best in the remaining matches.

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And what a turnaround it was! India went from victory to victory and reached the finals with Tendulkar becoming the highest run-getter of the tournament. They could not win the finals against the mighty Australians, the strongest team at that time. But for India, what really triumphed was the will of the people that inspired and triggered the team to the finals. It was democracy at its best, the people holding the players to account and the team responding splendidly.

There are valuable lessons to be learnt from cricket. First, in a democracy, people’s power is supreme and ultimately, that’s what counts. Where they unite and decide to fight for a cause, they are bound to succeed. A shining example of this in the field of politics was the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign and the relentless battle waged by Anna Hazare and his team resulting in the mighty central government conceding to the demand for setting up a Lok Ayukta. It might not have ended corruption, which is too strong and thick-skinned an animal, but it demonstrated that the government has to bow to the will of the people where the fight is for a just cause.

Secondly, cricket or any other sport for that matter, exhibits complete transparency. The entire game can be watched on the small screen and the performance of each player — the way he plays, his body language and his behaviour — is visible all too clearly. Added to this is the commentary of the experts during and after the game, analysing and dissecting each and every action of the players and the team. Excellence is amply rewarded while failure is subject to a critical appraisal. By and large, the comments are objective and impartial and all are conscious that millions are watching.

A third and a very significant aspect of any match is total compliance with the rules of the game. All the players and the teams implicitly follow the rules and accept the decision of the umpire, even in case of an error on rare occasions. One may protest if he is aggrieved but these days technology comes to the aid and seems to have the last word. This is indeed the rule of law in practice!

At times, questions are raised about the huge amounts of money paid to cricketers, as in the case of cinema actors; they may be valid especially in a country like India with widespread poverty and deepening inequalities. This phenomenon is, however, common to several other games like football, golf and tennis, across countries. Somehow, people at large do not seem to mind, maybe because they love their heroes and heroines in sport, as in cinema, even as they may pry into their personal lives with curiosity. They accept them with all their foibles — be it rash driving, consuming drugs or alcohol overdose or seducing the opposite sex — after all, who is free from human weaknesses?

Some of us who rationalise too much must realise that what binds people and makes them work for a common cause is the human heart more than the head. Charismatic leaders appeal to the emotions of the people for good or bad, a Gandhi calling upon his countrymen to sacrifice for a national cause and a Hitler apparently for a similar cause but in reality, to achieve his personal ends. Both succeeded but led to contrasting results, one inspiring his nation to freedom, the other to destruction. And herein lies the benefits and dangers of emotional appeal. When it is used to arouse negative feelings of hatred and vengeance, particularly against certain communities, it leads to violence and bloodshed.

Peace is too important a matter to be left to politicians. The hope lies in those who can play a unifying role. The brand ambassadors of marketing products must turn into ambassadors of peace and harmony. Can cricketers and actors, artists and musicians in India and Pakistan come together to lead a campaign to speak the language of love and friendship amongst the people of both countries and help contain the flames of communal hatred and violence? If the people, a vast majority of whom desire peace and harmony, can unite in raising their voice to express their collective will for peace, political leaders cannot but submit to popular wisdom.

This may sound like an impractical ideal but an ideal devoutly to be wished for and strive for.

(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Karnataka)