Don’t hold India to Pakistan sports ransom


The problem is that we are too much of a spectator nation. And like everyone is a ‘cricket expert’, everybody these days is a foreign policy wonk too. Since the tragic Pulwama terrorist attack, Twitter and TV warriors have been ‘baying boycott’ for Pakistan from world cricket, in particular, and all sporting events, in general. But what will a boycott of Pakistan serve?

Apart from social media zeal, nothing really. On the contrary, for a rising sporting power like India – and last heard, in the International Cricket Council (ICC) ranking, we are the No. 1Test (Pakistan No. 7) and No. 2 One-Day International (ODI) side after England (Pakistan No. 5) – do we really want to re-hyphenate India and Pakistan? Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), despite its noises, decides the world cricketing calendar — and gains from it. In other sports, compared to Pakistan, the same logic holds.

By not playing Pakistan, we are also denying Indian sportspersons their legitimate right to win against every other country. A section of ‘weekend patriots’ are comparing a terrorist-sponsoring Pakistani State with the apartheid regime of South Africa that faced an almost unanimous global sporting boycott. They miss one vital point: a sporting boycott only works in league with (near-)universal sanctions. With the US, China, not to mention Saudi Arabia – countries not really known for their cricketing prowess – unable to ‘unfix’ their relations with Pakistan, for India to forfeit sporting fixtures, or seek a ban on Pakistani sports, amounts to being seen as a ‘spoilsport’. Better to reap rewards – through telecast revenues and, hopefully, through bragging rights on the sporting field – than to run the risk of being seen as forfeiters. Which is why sports is indeed war by other means. Otherwise, it would have been so simple to stop play and win quarrels.

For many people gathered on the second day of the Global Business Summit last Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s key address could well have been a political stump speech. Listing his government’s economic achievements, especially the key one of keeping fiscal discipline while powering growth – 2014-2019 registering an average growth of 7.4% while the average inflation was less than 4.5% – the PM was keen to underline not only what has been achieved under his administration, but also to reiterate what was not achieved prior to 2014. By extension, he was also being unambiguous about who would be the right person to steer the Indian economy over the next five years – and who would be not.

But context and chronology matter. The context of Modi’s speech was the audience comprising captains of industry, policymakers and key ‘engineers of reform’ he was addressing. The chronology was a couple of months, at best, before national elections. Which is what makes his Saturday morning address more than a stump speech, and a veritable statement of intent. Modi also outlined a new culture that his government has indeed ushered – of competition. Rhetoric regarding prior ‘competition of corruption’ apart, GoI has indeed, since 2014, installed and instilled “a competition between ministries, a competition between states, a competition on development, a competition on achieving targets”. In other words, the replacement of crony capitalism as the engine of the Indian economy with competitive capitalism.

In the iconic 1977 film, ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony’, director Manmohan Desai welded the following lines into our collective memory, ‘Anhoni ko honi karde, honi ko anhoni’ – Make the impossible possible, the possible impossible. Echoing this sentiment, Modi articulated his government’s crie de guerre, ‘Namunkin ab mumkin hain’ (The impossible is now possible), and hinting at the legacy he inherited from Desai’s namesake, and how the possibility of ‘policy paralysis’ and corruption has been made impossible. Whether the PM’s address last Saturday convinced the people at GBS — and those well beyond — about India’s recent past, so inextricably linked to its future, can only be gauged this summer. But undeniably, he articulated India’s optimism, its impatience, its many possibilities staring at us, confronting which may well nigh be now, thankfully, impossible.