The divided nature of Indian politics is starting to impact the perception of distant observers of Indian democracy as well. Jacobin, a leftist American magazine based in New York has published an article in its latest edition that will leave a lot of Indians quite surprised.
This article, titled 'Cricket in Service of Hindu Nationalism,' argues that the Indian cricket team is being used as a tool by the incumbent BJP government to propagate its 'Hindu Nationalist ideology.' The two authors of this piece are Mike Meehall Wood, a journalist based in Amsterdam, and Nakul M Pande, London-based editorial director of Guerilla Cricket website.
The political leanings of the two writers are plainly visible from early on in the article. They claim that PM Modi "first came to international prominence in 2002 as chief minister of his home state of Gujarat in western India for his lack of response, bordering on complicity, to riots that killed thousands of Muslims."
Following this the article talks about India's domination of the cricket world due to the financial muscle of BCCI. But this has been the case for a long time, even before the arrival of PM Modi on the national scene.
Now comes the interesting part where the authors try to make the case that the Indian team is being used as a propaganda tool by BJP. The problem is that the article completely fails to establish the case it is making.
It mentions Mahendra Singh Dhoni taking a leave of two months from the Indian team and deciding to train with the battalion of Indian Army in which he is an honorary Lieutenant Colonel. To explain the significance of this move to American readers unfamiliar with the gentlemen's game, the writers say it is akin to "Tom Brady missing NFL games to join the National Guard."
Now to compare the three T20Is and ODIs that India have to play in West Indies with NFL is patently absurd and it would be seen as such by every cricket fan with even elementary knowledge of the game's current scenario. NFL is American Football's premier league whereas the series against West Indies would be regarded as one of the least important in the world of cricket.
Besides, the claim that this move of Dhoni is part of a trend wherein leading Indian cricketers "have lined up behind the prime minister" is equally illogical as serving the army is in no way lending support to the Prime Minister. The claim that the PM "has used the theoretically neutral Indian Army as a propaganda tool" is presented earlier. But by considering Dhoni's admiration and working with the army as support for Modi, the two authors are themselves guilty of the crime they accuse the BJP of – regarding the army as a 'propaganda tool.'
Wood and Pande even insinuate that the control of BCCI by the Supreme Court-appointed Committed of Administrators (CoA) is also a ploy of bringing the cricket board under the sway of the government.
"The Modi government has made it a priority to take firm control of this soft power. ...there have been concerted efforts to bring it under direct control of the Sports Ministry; a committee of administrators appointed by India's Supreme Court (a Supreme Court whose fiercely guarded judicial independence Modi has worked very hard to undermine) sits in some murky combination of oversight of and perpetual war with the BCCI's appointed officers," the article states.
They are forgetting that the stand-off between the apex court of the country and BCCI dates back to pre-Modi government days. They also forget that the original attempt to bring BCCI under some kind of governmental oversight was made by Congress sports minister Ajay Maken during UPA II administration.
The article also makes a big issue of India's T20I matches against West Indies being played in Florida, USA. The two authors present Florida's hosting of the matches as something the BCCI arm-twisted the West Indies Cricket Board into accepting. According to them, it is because Indians have more fan following in USA and because PM Modi wants to set the stage for his scheduled tour of USA later this year.
"What better way to start the party early than with a visit from Modi's biggest PR representatives?" the article concludes. Again, there is very little substance in all these statements. Firstly, West Indies playing their home T20Is in Florida started way back in 2012 when the Windies played New Zealand at the venue. The Indian team had played T20Is at this venue in 2016 also. So, how is their playing there this time in any way a drastic departure?
In short, it can be said with confidence that the article completely fails to prove its sensational allegation. The statement about Indian cricketers congratulating PM Modi in tweets "with nationalistic tropes like 'new India' and 'greater heights' is equally bizarre. If congratulating someone for winning an election is a big deal, then what about the slew of sportspersons in the USA who have publicly criticised President Donald Trump in public?
Cricket is a wonderful game and it brings Indians together like nothing else. For some people to use their ideological prejudice to colour the perception of Indian team and its players in foreign countries is downright stupid.