Tuesday 29 March 2011

Why cricket will never catch on in India (Or, the world's worst political prediction ever)

"Cricket can only thrive in the atmosphere of English culture, English language and English rule. It will never be able to survive the shock of the disappearance of British rule from our country. With the fall of British power, it is bound to lose its place of honour and slowly grow out of date".

Those wise words were proferred from B.V. Keskar, the General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee, in 1946, not far from the eve of Indian independence.

They are quoted in Ramachandra Guha's exceptional and rightly much feted 'A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport'. As the best book on cricket's role in Indian society Guha's book is also therefore an indispensable guide to an integral part of the political and social history of India as a whole.

Had cricket "any place in future India, a place where it can be useful to the public and the younger generation?". Congressman Keskar could "see no future in it" since cricket's existence in India was "but a sign of our utter slavery" and "tendency to copy blindly the habits of English civilisation, and ape the likes and preferences of the 'English gentleman'.

With half a billion people gearing up to watch tomorrow's Cricket World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan in the subcontinental heartland of the modern sport, the concerted attempt to strip the foreign and colonial influence of cricket from Indian society must have a good claim to be the least successful political project - and political prediction - of all time.

Guhu quotes too a perhaps more self-interested observer, Janaki Dass, Secretary of the Indian Cycling Federation, who complained that "only aristocrats who do not know the value of time and money can indulge in this game ... with the advent of the National Government in India, any blackspot stamped by British Imperialism on the face of India may be wiped off; and Games and Sports which build health and character and which cost little, like Athletics, Wrestling, Swimming, Cycling and the most important of all, Hu-Tu-Tu*, our national sport, should be encouraged to let one and all of India's teeming millions participate and this contribute to the health and culture of the nation".
[*another name for Kabbadi]

Futile attempts to wipe off this Imperial blackspot has been made again and again, especially by the fascistic end of the Hindu Nationalist movement. The intellectual leader of the RSS movement M.S. Golwalkar had a regrettably great influence on generations of Indians through the BJP, but at least he never succeeded in his purist insistence on expunging the alien intrusion of cricket from Indian soil.

Guha quotes Golwalkar's 1950s broadside:

The costly game of cricket, which has not only become a fashion in our country but something over which we are spending crotes of rupees only proves that the English are still dominating our mind and intellect. The cricket match that Pandit Nehru and other MPs played some years back was the very depth of this Anglicism. Why could they not play Kabaddi, our national game, which has been acclaimed by several countries as a great game?

Hindu Nationalist extremists have offered plenty of contemporary idiocy ahead of this world cup too. The Shiv Sena movement suggested Bal Thackeray would prevent Pakistan playing in Mumbai if they were to reach Saturday's final, while being perfectly confident that they could not. ("In the first place Pakistan will not enter the semi-finals. However, should this happen, Balasaheb will decide whether the Pak team can play on the Mumbai soil or not").

Err, that's really not cricket, chaps.

Now, Shiv Sena politicians have had a change of heart about their opposition to India playing cricket with Pakistan, and are organising screenings of the game, hoping to capitalise on the national mood.

Also from Guha, let us give the final word to the Madras critic N.S Ramaswami who noted that "opposition to cricket has never died: there has always been the parrot cry that it is too costly, that it is "foreign", that it consumes too much time ... [but] it will be nothing less than to mutilate the Indian spirit if cricket were to be banished from the land".

And may the best team win.


13eastie said...

Always enjoy your sporting asides, Sunder - you may have uncovered a Political Darwin Award winner with this one!

But any similar quotations from the WEST Indies around the time of their own independence might have been prophetic.

There will be many after Tendulkar et al. But Lara?

Sunder Katwala said...

thanks for nice comment ... perhaps if this blog kept away from politics more?! ...

Good point about the West Indies.

Have not read a big piece about it recently, but have got the impression the causes of the crisis are contested between it being about cultural Americanisation (and basketball), or about TV, DVDs and video games, or whether it is more contingent and a vicious downward spiral of the team being rubbish after Lara.

It would be good to have them back. When India beat the West Indies in a massive shock in the 1983 world cup final, India was still a somewhat emerging cricketing power and the W.Indies looked unbeatable for ever. Its odd to think of it falling out of their culture in just a decade or two.