In the late 1980s, the then Editor of The Times of India, Girilal Jain, wrote that in India, politics sets the pace and everything else follows in its wake. In other words, every sphere of Indian life picks up its cue from politics and its practitioners.
In the fifth year since the fresh dawn of civilisation, it can be safely said that the frenzied fans, followers and fanatics of ‘Team India’—the accent being on frenzied, mind you, not on the sane and sober—have a great many similarities with the BJP’s frenzied ‘bhakts’.
Indeed, if you look at this hypothesis with sufficiently jaundiced eyes, you will find plenty in common in the way ‘Team India’ conducts its affairs and the way ‘Team Modi’ does—and not just by wearing an Indian Oil uniform dunked in saffron.
Like ‘bhakts’ and WhatsApp uncles, Indian cricket fanatics believe that only their team deserves to win, that the other team/s are in the race merely to enable their captain to stand at the match presentation. And they mindlessly shout and scream “India, India, India” just like they mindlessly shout and scream “Modi, Modi, Modi” even when there is not much or nothing to crow about.
Like Pakistan has become the all-consuming obsession of BJP’s domestic and international politics, Pakistan is the only team in an Indian fanatic’s field of vision. Beating Pakistan is the only thing that matters, not winning the World Cup. Witness Gujarat Cricket Association president Amit Shah’s silence on India’s loss to New Zealand in the semis after saluting “another strike” against Pakistan.
Like “Team Modi” has put all its (vegetarian) eggs in the ‘Pradhan Sevak’ and a couple of smaller baskets, “Team India” is also largely about “two-and-a-half” players. All the rest are mere appendages, making up the XI. It looks good when the team succeeds, not so when it crashes out. How else do you explain a side going into World Cup matches with four wicket-keepers?
Like the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo mercilessly chop and change MPs, or pension them off to the Margdarshak Mandal, captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri believe they can drop and pick players and they owe no explanation to the paying public. Over 47 players have donned “blue” since Kohli took charge, leaving many on tenterhooks, or sending them home to fetch ‘ma ki biryani’, a la Ambati Rayudu.
Like the BJP, which believes Indian civilisation began in May 2014, “Team India” struts around as if the past didn’t exist or doesn’t matter. Good thing, therefore, that Ravi Shastri had said six months before the 2019 World Cup that India’s first Test series win on Australian soil in 71 years was “as big if not bigger” than the 1983 World Cup win. Because, surely, 2019 was not.
Like mainstream media has been turned into a lapdog by “Team Modi”, the cricket team loves the media being an unquestioning cheer-leader singing in its praise all the time. Which is why Kohli thinks he owes no answers to the media when Kegiso Rabada calls him “immature”. Which is why the team management thinks it can send net bowlers to meet the press on match-eve.
Like the BJP and its attack dogs who threaten to send anybody who disagrees with their bacterial worldview to “Pakistan”, Virat Kohli, with desh bhakti coursing through his West Delhi veins, also cannot fathom anybody loving any side other than india. Witness his suggestion to a fan that he “should leave India” when the latter said he preferred Australian and England players.
Like corporate India is a vital cog in the BJP wheel to rewire India, corporate India is a key amplifier of “Team India”. In fact, during this World Cup telecast, the Ek Aur Baar tagline of Kamla Pasand pan masala bore an uncanny resemblance to BJP’s Phir Ek Baar campaign. And, for years now, the Bolo zubaan mein Kesari campaign has often left one wondering what product is being sold.
The late cricket writer Mike Marqusee wrote in his 1996 portrait of the subcontinent in ‘War minus the shooting’ that globalisation had turned into an orgy of nationalism: “As globalisation strides forward, the search for national identity becomes ever more desperate and ever more dominated by the hostility to perceived national enemies, both within and without the country’s borders.”
There may be millions of cricket supporters not affiliated to BJP and Modi, and thank god for that. But suffice to say that Team India’s matches have been become a force-multiplier, fusing sport and nationalism.
As loud, obnoxious NRIs turned Norman Tebbit in his grave, by rooting for India in the clash against English, shouting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ’Vande Mataram’ like they would at a Narendra Modi rally, a friend, who has stopped watching white-ball cricket in stadiums, wrote in from London: “I am really seeing the New India. Money, bling, flash, betel nut and tobacco smell.”
And as brave soldiers of the TRPF (television rating point force) kept repeating the lie of a “billion hopes”, a TV exec’s line from a 2013 profile in Wisden struck home: “Indians do not love cricket. There is little or no interest in games that do not feature India. So you might say they love Indian cricket. But there is also very little interest in a game India is losing.”