Sport, occasionally, can be divorced from the sporting spirit. India may have defeated Pakistan comprehensively in their World Cup match but the behaviour — incivility — of a segment of the fans in Ahmedabad towards the visitors did not meet the standards that are expected from the host of a prestigious tournament. There are reports of a Pakistan cricketer being heckled with a religious slogan by the crowd; the captain of the visiting team was also subjected to toxic remarks during the toss. The Pakistan Cricket Board is apparently contemplating lodging a complaint with the International Cricket Council about the boorish conduct. Down the ages, India has been renowned for its warm treatment of guests that is best encapsulated by the spirit of Atithi Devo Bhava. The principle is the bedrock of Indian culture and is also crucial to its political establishment in terms of soft power. Steps should be taken to ensure that the blot in Ahmedabad remains an exception rather than being the norm. This is especially important for a nation whose prime minister is intent on bidding to host the Olympics.
It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that large parts of India are not immune to the bloom in polarising sentiments that were on display in Ahmedabad. Recently, a mall in Kerala had been targeted by the right-wing ecosystem that insinuated — falsely — that the shopping centre had hung a flag of Pakistan that was larger than the flags of the other participating nations. The other manifestations of the deepening religious fault lines — lynchings, hate speeches, communal fires, among other phenomena — are numerous and more dangerous. The evidence implicating India’s ruling regime in the spread of this poison is irrefutable since the divisive strain has coincided with the political ascendancy of the Hindutva project. Apart from putting India’s inclusive social fabric under strain, this majoritarian ethos can extract costs in terms of diplomacy: international censure of India’s faltering secular credentials is not uncommon these days. It is a pity that cricket between India and Pakistan remains, to paraphrase George Orwell, the proverbial war minus the shooting.