The Big Story: Nationalism gone wrong

When India and Pakistan clash in cricket, the battle rarely stays within the boundaries of the cricket ground. Hypernationalists on both sides try to convert a mere game into a sort of a do-or-die situation. A loss is projected as a great setback to the whole nation and players of the losing side are treated as villains for denting the pride of the country.

Sunday’s clash between the two neighbours in the International Cricket Council’s champion’s trophy final, which Pakistan won comprehensively, was no different. Even a section of the media joined the chorus trying to project the match as a litmus test of patriotism. Republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami declared on his primetime show that he would be “watching” people who support the Pakistan cricket team in India. Everyone, he asserted, should “declare” their support for India or esle move to Pakistan. This “warning” was primarily targeted at separatists in Kashmir. Such theatrics are, of course, not restricted to India. Last year, Pakistan jailed a 22-year-old fan of Indian captain Virat Kohli after the media reported that he had waved the Indian flag during a cricket match.

While it is one thing for television anchors to use nationalism to whip up TRPs, the matter becomes serious when the state machinery adopts a similar position and decides to prosecute people who do not follow to these dictates. On Tuesday, the Madhya Pradesh police arrested 15 Muslim men for sedition for allegedly shouting “pro-Pakistan” and “anti-India” slogans after the cricket match. They hailed from Burhapur, the home district of the State Bharatiya Janata Party chief Nandkumar Singh Chauhan.

Such state actions go against the spirit of a number of judicial orders that have defined the scope of the term sedition. As early as in 1962, the Supreme Court in Kedarnath vs State of Bihar categorically said that mere speeches or slogans cannot come under such a grave offence, which is considered just short of treason. There had to be concrete proof that an action led to some sort of disturbance to peace and the authority of the government. In the current case, the police had swiftly acted on a mere complaint from a fellow villager, raising suspicion on the political motives behind the move.

Unfortunately, supporting Indian teams in cricket and other sports has become a test for the patriotism of Indian Muslims. Driving this is an ideology that views India as a Hindu country and everything Indian as Hindu. Anyone outside the Hindu ambit is seen with suspicion and is called upon constantly to extravagantly declare their loyalty to the nation. While such rhetoric might suit fringe elements, to use the state machinery to aid this will cause more damage to the nation than the innocuous sloganeering of cricket fans.

The Big Scroll


  1. Karan Thapar in the Indian Express on what it means for the BJP to not select LK Advani as the presidential nominee. 
  2. In this interview to The Hindu, Pakistan High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, stresses on the need for continuous engagement between the two countries. 
  3. In the New York Times, David Leonhardt argues that liberals need to bridge the gap between passion and action and come out in large numbers to vote. 


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