The hysterical reactions triggered by the surgical strikes along/across the LoC have subsided at long last, and one can, thank god, move on to other more substantial concerns. It, however, seems that we have no dearth of sideshows to keep us distracted. The tug of war between the Supreme Court and the BCCI continues and it would be too much to expect that the outcome will be anything other than a boring draw. In the meantime, the men in blue keep providing relief to distressed viewers from bouncers and beamers of ‘breaking news’.
Such is the power of the opiate called cricket that even the explosive issue of rebuilding the Ram Temple at the disputed spot in Ayodhya loses out in sub or super prime time coverage. If this were not enough, we have the Dhoni biopic pushing the Anna Hazare biopic off the screen. The question that has long bothered us is whether the Indians are really crazy about cricket or is it that the crooked fixers keep pushing the ‘drug’ to feed the addicts, constantly conspiring to add to this number by sinisterly seducing the innocent. The fundamental right to the freedom of expression, we understand, now includes (as has been explained by the honourable courts time and again) the right to entertain and the right to entertainment, and as long as reasonable restrictions aren’t violated, one can’t complain. But, surely citizen are within their rights to raise questions about a sports administering body that appears to claim nothing less than sovereignty in its ‘realm’.
Many of us have forgotten that long years ago, Parliament had approved a National Policy for Sports that prioritised transparency and professionalism. It also enjoined the State to strive for raising the standards and recognised the close relationship between sports and human resource development. Performance in sports, as is well known, also impacts the international image of a nation. The tally of medals won at the Olympics is taken as an indicator of many things, from nutrition to inclusion, gender justice to democracy. But we must hasten to add that this applies much less to the game regulated by the BCCI and ICC that is played by hardly a dozen nations out of some 200.
Out of the handful of countries, it is only in the subcontinent that cricket enjoys such mad patronage. Players are treated like gods and questioning the ‘priests’ who create and manipulate them is considered sacrilege. Thank god, blasphemy laws aren’t in place yet, otherwise some of us would be in deep trouble.
BCCI President Anurag Thakur is a young leader of the BJP. He may at the moment be understandably reticent about ‘resuming’ (or revitalising?) cricket matches with our belligerent neighbour to enhance people-to-people ties, but this hasn’t inhibited other ‘celebrities’ and assorted loud-mouth busy bodies from exchanging unfriendly fire on the issue of Pakistani film stars working in Indian (read Mumbai/Hindi) films. This matter also has hogged too many headlines and prime time on the small screen. To our mind, here too the issue is not simply separating arts (like sports) from politics and letting the ‘show go on’, but dispassionately pondering the detrimental effect of mindless blabbering on rule of law.
When ultra-patriots snort with flared nostrils that ‘they’ will not allow the screening of films in which Pakistani artistes have played a role, they are blatantly subverting the rule of law. If the government has issued the required certificate to the films for unrestricted screening, the producers can’t be held to ransom by vigilante censors. Maintaining law and order is the government’s duty and responsibility. This can’t be abdicated. If various trade organisations meekly surrender before the threats of hooligans and voluntarily join the unofficial ban, surely the majesty of law is greatly, and perhaps irreparably, diminished.
It is cricket and Bollywood that have for years provided the Great Indian Circus to keep the young and the old alike on a high or in a stupor to divert attention from politics. What can be more ironical than to be sermonised to keep politics out of sports and arts? Isn’t everything in a democracy political? Why should politics be considered dirty or violent to be avoided by decent folk? Also, why does everyone—sportspersons and film stars included—aspire for a second career in politics?
Politicians—dynastic/aristocratic as well as muscular/rowdies—in turn have found the parasitical alliance with cricketers and film stars mutually beneficial. Can one hope that the courts will rise to the occasion and justice will be done this time?
The writer is former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University