Indo-Pak schizophrenia over IPL

By Rajdeep Sardesai
30 January 2010 00:22 IST

Indo-Pak cricket, like diplomatic relations between the two countries, suffers from acute schizophrenia. Rewind to January 1999 when a Chennai crowd gave a standing ovation to Wasim Akram's men after they had just beaten India. Six months later, the two countries met again in a world cup match against the backdrop of the Kargil war and fans of both sides abused each other. In 2004, we were treated to a Pakistani crowd singing, "Balaji, zara dheere chalo" every time the Tamil Nadu fast bowler ran in to bowl. Eight years earlier, I had watched a Karachi crowd hurl bottles on the field when their team lost to India in a dramatic last over. Two years ago, Sohail Tanveer was the toast of the inaugural IPL after starring in Rajasthan Royals surprise triumph. Today, Tanveer and his other Pakistani teammates find themselves unwanted by their IPL owners.

Predictably, the latest controversy over the exclusion of the Pakistani players has set us off on another emotional roller-coaster. When two countries are separated at birth, when love sometimes expresses itself as hate and vice-versa, then it is easy to get melodramatic at every twist and turn. The Pakistanis say they are 'outraged' at what they perceive as a 'humiliation' of their national pride. Perhaps, justifiably. If the star Pakistani players were considered good enough to be listed for an auction on January 6th, what suddenly changed within a fortnight for them to be seen as a risky proposition? How can Pakistani cricketers with official visas become virtually persona non grata?

There are equally indignant questions though that we in India could ask. Where, for example, was the collective 'outrage' in Pakistan in the aftermath of 26/11? Why has the Pakistani establishment been reluctant to prosecute Lashkar chief, Hafiz Saeed? If Pakistani civilians were murdered by terrorists with Indian passports would there not have been a vociferous demand on the streets of Lahore to punish the guilty?

Since both sides claim to have legitimate grievances, nurtured though a litany of historical disputes, competitive rage is easy to manufacture in the Indo-Pak context. There are enough hate-mongers in both countries who thrive on conspiracy theories. Any attempt to try and bridge the divide and ease tensions is viewed with mistrust, even hostility. Which is why any criticism of the IPL franchisees should be tempered by the reality that they are only taking their cue from the Indian state, which has been equally inconsistent in its approach to dealing with Pakistan.

Remember Sharm-el-Sheikh barely six months ago? An Indo-Pak summit was held against mounting criticism of Islamabad's failure to act against the masterminds of the Mumbai terror attack. In the very week that the home minister charged Pakistan with 'sheltering' Hafiz Saeed, the prime minister was reaching out to Islamabad and offering to 'delink' terror from talks. The seemingly contradictory stands taken by the government was enough for the prime minister to find himself being accused of having 'capitulated' to the Pakistanis. While the drafting of the joint statement left enough scope for anxiety, to accuse Manmohan Singh of a 'sell-out' is typical of the exaggerated responses that have prevented any rationality from creeping into the relationship.

Rationality would tell us that the Indo-Pak engagement cannot be a one night stand. It requires a sustained dialogue, carefully crafted one step at a time. High profile summits like Agra or a Sharm-el-Sheikh or made for tv events like the Lahore bus yatra are doomed for failure because they attempt to compress years of conflict into a 30 second photo-op. What is needed is a calendar of 'routine' meetings at different levels of government that eventually help break the walls of suspicion on both sides.

To draw from the cricketing experience again. Perhaps, the calmest period in Indo-Pak cricket was between 2004 and 2007 when the two countries played each other in a series of one day and test matches over an extended length of time. By the end, we had almost miraculously reached a stage where matches were no longer a war without weapons, where a defeat was not seen as a national catastrophe. Because both sides knew that there was always another match to be played, the next series to be won. It wasn't as if there were no terror attacks in this period - the Mumbai train blasts occurred in 2007 - but there seemed a genuine desire to engage each other on the cricket pitch, almost as a riposte to the terrorists.

Mumbai 26/11 has, however, seen us return to an earlier era where we appear confused as to how to deal with Pakistan. Perhaps the anger that followed the terror attack has so rattled the Indian state that it simply doesn't know just how far it can go in reaching out to Pakistan without attracting public criticism. Even the prime minister, who had shown the willingness to stay the course, appears uncertain in his approach, perhaps unnerved by the fact that even his own party refused to back him after Sharm-el-Sheikh. And, of course, there remains the eternal fear of what if there is another Mumbai-style attack.

And yet, a diplomatic vacuum is just as dangerous as a cricketing apartheid. By not choosing Pakistani players in the IPL, we have only alienated those voices across the borders who are desperately seeking some 'normalcy' in an environment of daily violence and terror. At the same time, by refusing to resume any kind of dialogue with Islamabad, we run the risk of further weakening the political authority in that country, thereby making it even more difficult to ensure that tangible action is taken against Pak-based terror groups. This is not a time for 'jhappis', but neither is it a period for jingoism to get the better of common sense.

Post-script: the schizophrenia extends to us in the media too. While newspaper campaigns advocates "aman kee asha", some news channels are calling for war with Pakistan. You can't have it both ways.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Rajdeep Sardesai

One of India’s most respected journalists, Rajdeep Sardesai, has nearly three decades of journalistic experience in print and tv. He has been the founder- editor of chief of IBN 18 network, which included CNN IBN. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the managing editor of NDTV 24 x 7 and NDTV India. Rajdeep has won more than 100 national and international awards for journalism, including the Padma Shri in 2008. He is currently consulting editor at the India Today group.

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Previous Comments

It is unfortunate to leave out the Pak playes from the IPL. auctions and the whole affair looks manipulated, or at least that is the impression that a common man gets! In fact in a Country where thousands of farmers are committing suicides every year, many people like me wonder as to why due Taxes should not be levied on the huge money earned through such Carnivals/extravaganza? The life and property of a common man on the streets is not secure and there appear few reasons to spend huge public funds on deploying security for the players and officials and doing other arrangements, during matches!

- Vishwas Prabhudesai, Loliem | 02 nd February 2010 17:33


Most of this schizophrenia originates from opposing social climate we in India and Pakistan are exposed to. On one side we have politicians beating the drums on talks-no talk duality of national policy, which dances to the tune of US dictates. On the other side, we have cultural affinity shared with Pakistan, the lost brotherhood and a silent common sense that real picture is different from what politicians and media portray.

Worst extreme is provided by hijacking; if as George Bush said, in Pakistan terrorists have hijacked the religion. Political outfits in India have done so with not just religion, but terrorism itself.

Finally, we Indians are brought up to act on emotional cues; not rational grounds. Otherwise, scores of people would not commit suicide when an actor, a chief minister or a combination of both dies.

- Kalidas Sawkar, Goa-India | 30 th January 2010 12:11


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