Only in India, a cricket match between India and Pakistan acquires the dimensions of war minus the shooting. Only in India does the prime minister, the deputy prime minister and the army chief send congratulations to the cricket team for winning a match against Pakistan. The excess of the joy being expressed leads one to suspect that a little more than cricket is involved here. Whatever be the driving force behind the excess of emotion being displayed, very few genuine cricket lovers will approve of this kind of jingoism being mixed up with the game of cricket. For one thing, it makes cricketers into gladiators and completes the iconization set in motion by advertisements and sponsorships. The fact that cricket is only a game in which, as in all games, there is bound to be winners and losers is always lost sight of. What is ominous is that this kind of emotion is never displayed when India wins over any other team. It is reserved for a victory against Pakistan. Underlying the display is the sense of participation in a phoney war. The undercurrent of hostility towards Pakistan in Indian public life and in the pronouncements of Indian politicians finds expression in the outcome of a cricket match.
From the reactions of ordinary people as evident on the joyous scenes in the streets of Indian cities on Saturday evening, and from those articulated by the political and military leadership, it would seem that something more than winning the World Cup had been achieved by the Indian team. All that had been registered was a win against Pakistan in a qualifying round match. It will not be an exaggeration to see in such scenes and in the sentiments expressed by the revellers an anti-Muslim as well as an anti-Pakistan feeling. What is grave is that, thanks to an insidious propaganda by the sangh parivar, Muslims and Pakistan have virtually become synonymous. Cricket has thus come to be imbricated with politics, religion and with a certain brand of lumpenization. There was a distinct and disturbing similarity between those who shouted slogans after the match on Saturday and the gestures and looks of the rioters in Gujarat one year ago. In one show of excess, violence was just below the surface and in another the excess was the violence. It is not hard to imagine that the same mobs that danced and screamed after the home team won would have turned violent had the Indian team lost. Saturday night’s heroes would have become objects of ridicule, abuse and attack. It is easy to read all this as a sign of endemic immaturity. But in India today, the immaturity is being overlaid by the basest possible emotions.