The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The elections in Jammu and Kashmir and India’s win over Pakistan in hockey unintentionally underline the association of sports and nationalism

Sports, George Orwell famously said, is war minus the shooting. In the context of India-Pakistan relations and the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, one could also say the same thing about elections even though the hustings in Jammu and Kashmir did see some violence. The success of the polls in India’s most violence-prone state and India’s victory over Pakistan in hockey in the Asian Games, coming coincidentally on the same day, seem to bear a message. The beam of the message is directed towards Islamabad. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the prime minister, has correctly described the election results as a victory for democracy. It is, in fact, much more than that. It is a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of violence and terrorism. It is a clear message to the Pakistan government that its policy of sponsoring cross-border terrorism to disrupt normal life in Kashmir has failed to dissolve the faith in democracy among the people of Kashmir. The people of Pakistan, as distinct from the dictatorial government which rules that country, can take heart from this especially now when elections are on in their own country. India has thus won over Pakistan in the maturity of the political system and the level of commitment to the democratic ethos.

The win over Pakistan in hockey provides satisfaction on a different register. In the world of sports, hockey, in the past, has been India’s game. It was the game in which India first established world dominance. Stick work, speed and quick short passes — the hallmarks of good hockey till the rules were changed — suited Indian skills, and till 1947, India hardly had a challenger in the field of hockey. A few years after the formation of Pakistan, the same skills were on display when the Pakistan hockey team played. India, at last, had a challenger, and a hockey match between India and Pakistan in the Olympic games or the Asian games became a clash of the titans. The teams seemed to be mirror images of each other. Then came the change in the rules. This was, whether actually intended or not, the beginning of the end of Indo-Pak dominance in hockey. The economically advanced countries changed the rules so that the emphasis shifted from the traditional skills to stamina and speed, with long passes predominating. Artificial turf became the chosen surface and this hindered stick work and playing barefoot, at which players from the subcontinent were adept. The sun set on south Asian hockey but not on the rivalry between India and Pakistan in the domain of converting short corners to goals.

Pakistan’s defeat in politics and hockey will warm the cockles of Indian hearts. It will also underline how closely achievements on the playing fields have come to be associated with nationalism. Sports in the subcontinent has come to represent nationalism minus martyrs, but with icons.

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