The year was 1999 when the Kargil conflict was on. The World Cup Cricket was being played in England. I happened to be there with my family during the summer break. We travelled from stadium to stadium watching cricket matches. The Indian team got eliminated prior to the semi finals.
A key Indian match against Pakistani Cricket team was played at Old Trafford in Manchester. With the Kargil hostilities on, the Indo-Pak cricket match acquired significance. There was tension at the stadium. Most of the audience was dressed either in Indian colours or Pakistani T-Shirts. The national flags of these two countries were being waved in hundreds. A group of youngsters of Indian origin recognized me and got into enthusiastic conversation about the possibility of Indian team’s victory. Most of them told me they had British passports and were British citizens. Some of them were Gujaratis whose families had migrated from Uganda and Kenya. I asked them a question as to who they cheered in a cricket match. In one voice they would say ‘obviously India’. But if England plays any other country we cheer for England, they maintained. I remember Lord Swaraj Paul telling me that he always cheers for India but if England and India are playing he has the privilege of being on the winning side.
I have mentioned the above because sporting nationalism or cricketing nationalism is an integral aspect of a person’s national identity. As a sports lover one can always admire the qualities of a great sportsman irrespective of his nationality. Some of them are a delight to observe. But in a competitive cricket the nationalistic spirit inevitably pulls you to your national team. I have seen fans in the World Cup Soccer travel with their national teams across the world to cheer them.
In the context of India-Pakistan cricket, there is nothing wrong in admiring the sporting qualities of a great cricketer irrespective of national boundaries. However, when an identified group of persons in a structured manner celebrate the Pakistani victory, it is not an innocent appreciation of the sporting qualities of Pakistan. There is a political statement in-built in such an act. The issue is not as to whether such young men can be prosecuted or not and if so under what section of the law. The issue is what is the political message that such a deliberate gesture is attempting to send.
Obviously such a gesture creates a sense of suspicion in the minds of a very large number of people. It creates a psychological barrier where some people arouse an uncalled for suspicion about themselves. Have they realized the extent of damage they do to millions of well meaning members of their own community who may not share their perception. The argument that this reflects a sense of alienation of a certain category of people fails to convince me. On the contrary it alienates them from the national mainstream. All well-meaning Indians and in particular community members should prevail upon such misguiding young men that what they have done is to hurt themselves, hurt their community and hurt the country. It is a lose-lose game.