By Bilal Majid
The purpose of camouflage fatigues by the army across the world is to conceal their presence in any armed combat. However, the adornment of camouflage caps sponsored by Nike (US based multinational company making sports apparels and sports equipment) by Indian cricket team in the Ranchi ODI on 8 March 2019 against Australia was all about revealing: jingoism, hyper nationalism and bellicism which have clasped the whole nation since the Pulwama Attack. The choice of donning camouflage caps, as a tribute to the nation’s armed forces in the Ranchi ODI, was recklessly about magnifying the ongoing nationalistic anger in the country. The move got appreciation and support from Indian populace who celebrated and bolstered this idea. The Indian cricket governing body, BCCI, in their statement made it a point that the team would once in every ODI series played on Indian soil enrobe the army cap as a courtesy and gratitude to the Indian army. Parallels were drawn eccentrically by many Indian journalists, equating the move with the cricket teams of Australia, which play “The Pink Test”, each third day of a test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and South Africa which play “The Pink ODI” in every ODI series at Johannesburg. Both these “Pink matches” are played to raise awareness about breast cancer and providing monetary assistance to the organisations that work for the treatment of this menace. In Australia it is The Glenn McGrath Foundation and in South Africa it is the Breast Cancer Clinic at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital which are being supported through these pink matches. But the match played in Ranchi was not about cancer treatment, farmer suicides, AIDS awareness, climate change, annihilation of caste or the convalescing the lives of manual scavengers, who drown and succumb on a daily basis in the sewer pipes, nor was it for the poor miners of Meghalaya. This sudden steaming concern was for the Army.
Unlike any other country including its neighbours and rival Pakistan, which has a history of military dictatorships, India is determined in impelling the idea of military valour and its legacy into the mainstream. The politicisation, appropriation, and commercialisation of the army in India under the current dispensation is noteworthy. No other government in India has used its soldiers as an ensilage for its political gains as the Narendra Modi government has done. By invoking the soldiers, their valour and sacrifices, the systematic long-term plan is to garner political advantage for the BJP. In the 2014 elections, the induction of two well-known military faces – ex-army chief V.K Singh and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore – in the party paid a rich dividend to the BJP. The army is made sacrosanct and questioning the felonious behaviour of the Indian army is considered heresy. Anyone questioning the human rights violations by the army is demeaned and discerned as anti-national or seditious. The line between politicians and the army chief seems blurring as it is for the first time that the army chief is giving political speeches, pitching the ideas and programmes of the ruling dispensation. The press conferences of current army Chief Bipin Rawat testifies to this permutation. However, much of this is only clamour and brouhaha for ordinary soldiers and army personnel. There is no favourable improvement in their lives: the quality of food and the quality of their equipments and dresses was not elevated.
The appropriation of soldiers’ valour and sacrifices was merely a rhetoric meant to expunge reason and induce hyper-patriotic fervour among the masses to procure electoral gains. The appropriation of soldiers was not limited to the ruling dispensation and its megalomaniac Leviathan but everyone from Bollywood to Adani to Parle to Hyundai (South Korean multinational automotive manufacturer) who reap dividends on hyper-nationalism and jingoism by exploiting emotional sensitivities of common hordes by appropriating Indian army and its soldiers. The appropriation and commercialisation of the Indian army and its soldiers by the Indian cricket team in Ranchi ODI was a part of this jingoistic spectacle. Standing and feeling for any genuine cause is appreciable. But why did the BCCI and cricketers play a remunerative T20 International the same evening when the nation’s braveheart fighter-pilot was in the captivity of the enemy forces? Only hours after news of Wing Cdr Abhinandan’s incarceration by the Pakistan army had been made official by the government, Indian cricket team rolled themselves out to play against Australia in Bangalore on the evening of 27 February. Where was this compassion, support and solidarity for the Pulwama soldiers when India played four matches (two T20s and two ODIs) prior to the Ranchi ODI on 8 March. Was it a ‘pre-emptive action’ on the part of M.S. Dhoni who has a gapping fetish with army fatigues and holds the rank of a lieutenant colonel in the Territorial Army? There are reports that Dhoni is expected to contest 2019 Lok Sabha polls on BJP ticket. Was this jingoistic spectacle of appropriating nation’s army by donning camouflage caps, presented by M.S. Dhoni to his teammates, for ensuing electoral gains for him and the BJP? What could be a better place than Ranchi, the home town or may be future constituency of M.S. Dhoni? Moreover, the bonhomie of M.S. Dhoni with the BJP and the likes of Amit Shah, the president of the BJP, is not a concealed affair. The mainstreaming of the armed forces’ valour and sacrifices by the Indian cricket team in Ranchi ODI thereby needs a serious deliberation; a sane conscious mind must raise such questions.
This jingoistic euphoria by the Indian cricket team in Ranchi ODI however has drawn some denunciation from the decent corners of the world that voiced for the benign sprit of this sport and was edgy about politicising this beautiful game. Pakistan on the other hand has denounced BCCI and the Indian cricket team for politicising the game and has urged the International Cricket Council to take appropriate steps against the Indian Cricket team for wearing army caps. Fawad Hussain, the Information Minister of Pakistan who raised the objection against Indian Cricket team, tweeted: “It’s just not Cricket. I hope ICC will take action for politicising Gentleman’s game … if Indian Cricket team will not be stopped, Pak Cricket team should wear black bands to remind The World about Indian atrocities in Kashmir… I urge #PCB to lodge formal protest.” There is no doubt that this jingoistic spectacle by the Indian cricket team has set a dangerous precedent in the world of sport and would intensify in cleaving, antagonizing, and dehumanising the people rather than connecting them, which is averse to the idea of sportsmanship and humane philosophy of sports.
It is the ICC which should take the necessary steps in stopping such jingoistic intrusion and politicisation of this game. If England’s Moeen Ali was not allowed (rather warned) by world cricket chiefs to wear wristbands declaring his support for the people of Gaza during international matches, why should the Indian cricket team be spared for donning military caps and politicising the game. In its rulebook on Prohibitions under Clothing Code, the ICC states:
Any clothing or equipment that does not comply with the Regulations of ICC is strictly prohibited. In particular, no Logo shall be permitted to be displayed on Cricket Clothing or Cricket Equipment, other than a National Logo, a Commercial Logo, an Event Logo, a Manufacturer’s Logo, a Player’s Bat Logo, a Charity Logo or a Non-Commercial Logo as provided in these Regulations. In addition, where any Match Official becomes aware of any clothing or equipment that does not comply with these Regulations, he shall be authorised to prevent the offending person from taking the field of play (or to order them from the field of play, if appropriate) until the non-compliant clothing or equipment is removed or appropriately covered up.
Enrobing army caps by the Indian cricket team is certainly a breach of this Code. The BCCI, along with the Indian cricket team, should be penalized or warned for setting such a dangerous precedent which could be fatal for the humane spirit of cricket.
Bilal Majid, Researcher at Hyderabad Central University, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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