World Cup Semi-Finals: What is truly at stake for Team India

In terms of cricketing history, Team India will be guarding Asia's legacy in the match against Australia on Thursday. Since 1992, there has not been a single World Cup final without an Asian team. And with Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh out of the picture, Team India will representing the whole of Asia. (Image: Getty Images)

In terms of cricketing history, Team India will be guarding Asia’s legacy in the match against Australia on Thursday. Since 1992, there has not been a single World Cup final without an Asian team. And with Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh out of the picture, Team India will representing the whole of Asia. (Image: Getty Images)

The one feeling which dominates India as a nation is cynical pessimism. And why shouldn’t it be so? The country has been repeatedly let down by its political leaders, whether it’s the anti-minority speeches made by members of the BJP, or the infighting in the Aam Aadmi Party.

But there is one thing that defuses the negativity that permeates us most of the time. This colossal force is called cricket. When Team India won the ICC World Cup in 2011, the streets of Mumbai came to a standstill as the world conquerors celebrated from the top of a bus. This time too we are witnessing a similar feeling, even if only in anticipation.

The World Cup semi-final against Australia offers Team India the opportunity to accomplish far more than just another win for the country.

The mood of a nation

Team India’s performance during the last one month has brought a smile on the face of Indians. It has altered the mood of the nation. For a moment we seem to have forgotten the outrageous comments made by two Indian lawyers in a BBC documentary about sexual assault. For a moment we seem to have chosen to ignore everything that is going wrong, and all of this is because we are expecting to see our country emerge victorious at an international sports tournament. If Team India manages to win yet another World Cup, it will certainly create a shift towards optimism and positivity.

Team Asia

In terms of cricketing history, Team India will be guarding Asia’s legacy in the match against Australia on Thursday. Since 1992, there has not been a single World Cup final without an Asian team. And with Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh out of the picture, Team India will representing the whole of Asia.

An old rivalry

Another thing which we cannot overlook is that India and Australia share a nail-biting rivalry on the cricket field. Can any Indian forget the humiliation that India faced at the finals of the 2003 ICC World Cup when Australia posted a mammoth total of 359 in Johannesburg? Can any Indian forget the manner in which India edged past Australia in the quarterfinals of the previous World Cup with five wickets to spare and ended Australia’s 12-year reign at the top of the cricketing world? The cricketing history between these two great sides is too immense and intense to be ignored. Hence, the match at Sydney is bound to be a cracker of a contest.

The overseas factor

However, the principle reason why this match is being projected as the ultimate opportunity for Team India to prove its ability is because of the overseas factor. Remember that Asian teams are known for roaring as lions while playing at home but they fail to make an impact when they travel abroad. India for one has never won a test match series in South Africa.

Besides India, the other three contenders are Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The Proteas and Kiwis, despite not making it to a single World Cup final, have always been forces to reckon with. This is because these two teams have produced world-class seam bowlers like Shane Bond and Dale Steyn who never failed to make an impact on the fast pitches outside of the Indian subcontinent. Surely these teams do not possess the mental conditioning to break past the semi-final barrier. Lack of mental preparation is the only reason why somebody like Lance Klusener failed to score that winning run against Australia during the semi-final in 1999. But this time around, things have changed. New Zealand topped their group and convincingly marched past West Indies. South Africa also commands one of its strongest sides ever and very soon, one of these teams will be playing in their first World Cup final.

India has an opportunity to prove that they are no minnows or pushovers when it comes to playing overseas. During the last World Cup, India had the home advantage against Australia. This time the Kangaroos have it. Team India is bound to reach the pinnacle of cricketing glory if they are able to best the “baggy green” in their own backyard.

If India wins, it would pave the way for a truly unexpected final, with the reigning world champions pitted against World Cup finals rookies and in a venue neutral to both.

(This article was originally published in The Huffington Post.)

The other side of Narendra Modi’s Sri Lanka visit

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Srisena with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Colombo. (Image: Quartz)

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Srisena with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Colombo. (Image: Quartz)

Ever since becoming the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, Narendra Modi has concentrated on building strong diplomatic ties with foreign nations. The process began with the swearing-in ceremony of the new Indian Prime Minister when Modi extended a formal invite to the heads of state of neighbouring countries which included Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

There were two principle intentions behind the move. The first was obviously to attempt a geo-political re-alignment in the region aimed at containing China’s influence in South Asia. The second one was slightly personal. When Modi was serving as the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, communal riots in the region led to large scale death of Muslims. The incident hit his reputation badly as he was turned into a “pariah”. The United States refused him a visa while the European Union also remained suspicious of his role in the anti-Muslim riots.

However, Modi started becoming diplomatically acceptable to the West as he emerged the frontrunner in the 2014 Indian General Elections. Therefore, the invitation extended to foreign leaders on the occasion of Modi’s swearing-in ceremony was the Indian Prime Minister’s way of announcing his arrival at the global stage and putting an end to the political isolation or untouchability associated with him internationally.

On 13th March, 2015, Narendra Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Sri Lanka following a gap of 28 years. The last Prime Minister to do so was Rajiv Gandhi who sent peacekeeping forces to Sri Lanka in the battle against LTTE. Rajiv’s involvement in the Sri Lankan civil war cost him his own life as he was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber on 21st May, 1991 in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

By ending a near three-decade long absence of an Indian premier in the island nation, Modi made it well known that Sri Lanka happens to be in his priority list. His trip to Sri Lanka was as well planned as his previous foreign visits. In USA, Modi addressed a jam packed public meeting of Indian Americans at the Madison Square Garden in New York. He addressed a similar public meeting in Brisbane, Australia when he visited down under for the G-20 summit.

In Sri Lanka, Modi met President Maithripala Srisena and batted for better ties by stating, “The future I dream for India is also a future that I want for our neighbours.” He stressed on the need for Tamils to be able to lead “a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a unified Sri Lanka.” But Modi’s symbolic visit to the war-torn region of Jaffna was the most crucial event.

Modi became the only second international leader after British Prime Minister David Cameroon to visit Jaffna where he handed over 27,000 homes to Tamil families who became homeless as a result of the civil war.

This move of Modi was indeed strategically carried out as it had a significant domestic importance. The plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka has been a subject of high political relevance in India. Tamil Nadu based parties, namely Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam, have strongly supported the Tamil cause in the past.

During the 2014 General Elections, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept through nearly all regions except for places which had strong regional leaders. These included Mamata Banerjee ruled West Bengal, Naveen Patnaik’s Odisha and Jayalalitha’s Tamil Nadu.

Jayalalitha’s hold on Tamil Nadu has slipped since then as she was convicted in a disproportionate assets case. As a result, Jayalalitha was disqualified from being Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. However, she continues to exert political influence in Tamil Nadu through proxy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam. AIADMK also has 37 Member of Parliaments (MPs) in Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament, and 11 MPs in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house.

While Modi’s BJP has a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha, it is clearly short of numbers in the Rajya Sabha. Considering the arithmetic, AIADMK can be a crucial player in helping the Modi government pass key reforms in the Union Parliament. In January this year, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had paid a visit to Jayalalitha’s residence in Chennai. Though the meeting was labelled as a “courtesy call”, its political ramifications cannot be overlooked.

Narendra Modi’s BJP is in search of an aide inside the Union Parliament. As Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka indicates, the ally which they are seeking is definitely Jayalalitha’s AIADMK. By reaching out to the oppressed Tamils in Sri Lanka, Modi intends to not merely position himself as a statesman but also capture the imagination of Tamil-sympathizers in India, a large section of whom reside in Tamil Nadu and support Jayalalitha’s AIADMK.

The move is set to catapult Modi’s popularity in the region. It would ensure that AIADMK extends support to the government at the Centre because the Dravidian party would not wish to be seen as being opposed to a pro-Tamil government. Considering BJP’s expansion programmes and the recent inroads which it has made into West Bengal, AIADMK would remain wary of allowing a national party like the BJP to eat up its vote-bank and it is most likely to compliment BJP’s initiatives at the Centre to keep them in good humour.

However, it would be interesting to see as to what extent Modi will go to win the trust of Tamil sympathizers in South India. Tamil politics in the region has often attracted controversy as demands have been raised to grant clemency to the killers of Rajiv Gandhi. The state assembly in Tamil Nadu had unanimously passed a resolution on 30th August, 2011 seeking clemency for the three persons who are on death row for assassinating Rajiv Gandhi. The resolution was moved by none other than the former Chief Minister Jayalalitha herself.

The BJP’s trump-card has been its supposedly uncompromising approach towards terrorism.

Will Modi cave into any such pressures which might be exerted by Jayalalitha in exchange for her support? Another interesting development to watch out for would be to see which way India would vote when it comes to the 28thSession of the UNHRC where a US-sponsored probe report is to be tabled documenting the human rights abuses carried out by the Sri Lankan army and LTTE between 2002 and 2011.

In case a resolution is initiated against Sri Lanka, Jayalalitha would surely pressurize the Modi government into voting against Sri Lanka but such a measure would only alienate the Lankans more from India as they continue to drift towards China. India cannot afford to be isolated any further in the region as neighbouring Pakistan is already seen as close to Beijing. A hostile Sri Lanka would mean a volatile neighbourhood which is tantamount to speedy economic growth which Modi’s government is desperately eyeing.

In an interview given to Hong-Kong based South China Morning Post, Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa accused India, US and other European countries for having played a key role in his defeat in the Sri Lankan Presidential Elections held in January 2015. Though Modi did meet Rajapaksa before concluding his visit to Sri Lanka, the fact is that the former president is visibly miffed with India.

With his visit to Sri Lanka, Modi has certainly tried to build a rapport with Srisena which was obviously lacking in the case of Rajapaksa as his recent comments indicate. But how long will Modi-Srisena camaraderie last will depend largely on Modi’s relationship with Jayalalitha and the political concessions which she would seek to extract from Modi.

(This article was originally published in Groundviews.)

Bangladesh continue Asian nations’ proud World Cup record

Bangladeshi players celebrate after knocking England out of the 2015 Cricket World Cup. (Image: Getty Images)

Bangladeshi players celebrate after knocking England out of the 2015 Cricket World Cup. (Image: Getty Images)

The 1992 ICC Cricket World Cup is best remembered for two things: the emergence of Imran Khan-led Pakistan as world conquerors and the introduction of coloured clothing on the cricketing world’s biggest stage.

But the ‘Benson and Hedges World Cup’ also started a trend which has so far lasted over two decades and six different editions of the World Cup.

Beginning 1992, every World Cup final has witnessed an Asian team in action.

In 1992 Pakistan took on England at the MCG, in 1996 Sri Lanka’s claimed their first World Cup title by defeating Australia in the final held at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore.

Australia then won three consecutive world titles, starting in 1999, under the leadership of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. During those days the Aussies were an unstoppable lot comprising an ably balanced squad with Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Michael Bevan, Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee.

As the ICC World Cup travelled across three continents between 1999 and 2007, two things remained constant. The first one was obviously the Aussies’ winning streak, the second was Asian opposition in the final.

At Lord’s in 1999, Australia registered a convincing eight-wicket victory over Pakistan. India were defeated by 125 runs in the final at Wanderers in Johannesburg in 2003, and Sri Lanka lost in 2007 by 35 runs, enabling Australia to grab the first World Cup held in the West Indies.

These victories will forever remind us of the greatness of the Australian players of that era. Their legacy stands as strong as those who brought pride to the Caribbean by bagging the two inaugural World Cup trophies in 1975 and 1979.

What went unnoticed amidst these triumphs was the manner in which the Asians continued to challenge Australian hegemony despite the three continental giants failing to even put forth a fierce contest in the finals.

But when the World Cup came to the Indian sub-continent in 2011, it was truly Asia’s time. The final, held at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, not only led to the fulfilment of the boyhood dream of cricketing great Sachin Tendulkar but for the first time ever, the cricket world saw an All-Asian final – India versus Sri Lanka!

The previous six World Cups are testimony to the fact that cricket has become an Asian sport, so it does not come as a surprise that an Asian team knocked out the very pioneers of the ‘gentleman’s game’.

By defeating England in the crucial World Cup tie at Adelaide, Bangladesh proved that cricket has truly emerged as an egalitarian sport. A game which is viewed by many as a colonial legacy of the imperial times is being dominated not by the colonialists but by the colonies – Australia included.

Three Asian teams have already booked their place in the quarter-finals, but what remains to be seen is whether another Asian team will make the final.

More importantly, will an Asian squad lift the trophy as India did four years? Will Australia register a record-breaking fifth title, or will the Kiwis or Proteas get a shot at their first?

(This article was originally published in The Roar.) 

Narendra Modi’s double standards on terrorism

Narendra Modi tends to demonise Muslims by lionising the usage of terms like "Islamic terrorism" but is enraged when he comes across the term "saffron terrorism." Isn't such a position overtly against minorities whom the RSS loathes? (Image: Associated Press)

Narendra Modi tends to demonise Muslims by lionising the usage of terms like “Islamic terrorism” but is enraged when he comes across the term “saffron terrorism.” Isn’t such a position overtly against minorities whom the RSS loathes? (Image: Associated Press)

Terrorism has no religion. It has no colour. It is neither Islamic nor Hindu. It cannot even be classified into green and saffron. But yes, terrorism by Muslims and Hindus does exist, and can be more appropriately referred to as “Islamist terror” and “Hindutva terror”. The former being representative of political Islam while the latter being that of political Hinduism.

But how does Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi view terrorism? Does he approve of linking the name of a particular religion to terrorism?

Shortly after 9/11, Rajdeep Sardesai hosted a television debate on The Big Fight to discuss the repercussions of the tragedy which had claimed thousands of lives in the USA.

Narendra Modi was present on the occasion representing the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) point of the view on the subject. As the debate began, Modi delivered a shocking remark stating that despite the activities which had been going on, the Indian media was so caught up in “pseudo-secularism” that they were afraid of using the term “Islamic terrorism”. He argued that after the downing of the Twin Towers, the global media had started identifying the core problem and he would like to “congratulate” Rajdeep for being courageous enough to bring this topic to the table.

“Somwaar tak, last Monday tak, Hindustan ka media, anek kargujari ke bawajood bhi Islamic terrorism yeh shabd upyog karne ka sahas nahi karta tha kyunki unka pseudo-secularism unpar itna haawi tha ki satya bolne ki inki himmat nahi thi. Kal mangalwaar ko, last mangalwaar ko, jab duniya ke akhbaar yeh likhne lage, America ki ghatna ke baad, tab pehli baar aur main Rajdeep ke iss initiative ka main abhinandan karta hoon ki sach ko sach ke roop mein pesh karne ka unhone sahas dikhaya hai. Jahan tak Islam ka sawaal hai, uske bahut ache pehlu hai, aaj jo log hai woh Islam ka kis roop se upyog kar rahe hai yeh sawaal hai.”- Narendra Modi after 9/11

Modi’s compliments were immediately brushed off by Sardesai, who said that they did not use the term “Islamic terrorism”. They also invited a rebuke from Rafiq Zakaria (who has since passed away) who asked what terrorism had “got to do with Islam.”

In his opening remarks, Modi did say that Islam has good and bad aspects and the real question pertains to how it is being used in today’s time. But his happiness over the usage of the term “Islamic terrorism” was undoubtedly immature and incorrect.

Contrast this with Modi’s response to the Congress when Sushil Kumar Shinde made the infamous “bhagwa” or “saffron” terror charge. In a speech delivered in typical Modi rage, he asked how saffron terror can exist when the same colour was a part of the “tiranga” or the national tri-colour.

He argued that the tricolour was saluted by soldiers of the Indian army and they were not terrorists. He spoke of Swami Vivekananda and Swami Dayanand Saraswati stating that monks who sacrifice everything in search of salvation wear saffron robes.

He angrily asked the crowd, “Was Swami Vivekananda a terrorist? Was Swami Dayanand Saraswati a terrorist?” Lastly, Modi said that Hindu temples hoist saffron flags and threw yet another question at the crowd, “Are our temples centres of terrorism?”

Modi’s hypocrisy and double standards on terrorism are evident when one listens to his views on “Islamic” and “saffron” terrorism, respectively. If terrorism has no religion then how can it be termed as “Islamic” when it cannot be branded as “Hindu” or “saffron”?

In a recent speech delivered before a gathering of Christians, Prime Minister Modi said, “My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.”

He added, “My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions.”

This is precisely what Modi hasn’t done in his previous utterances. He tends to demonise Muslims by lionising the usage of terms like “Islamic terrorism” but is enraged when he comes across the term “saffron terrorism.” Isn’t such a position overtly against minorities whom the RSS loathes?

It’s time for us to go beyond symbolism. Modi remained quiet when members of the Sangh Parivar were hogging the limelight day in and day out courtesy their incendiary remarks. Following US President Barack Obama’s criticism of religious intolerance in India and the debacle in the Delhi Assembly elections, Modi seems to have given a politically crucial message reassuring the Christian community of their safety. But this surely isn’t enough.

Modi has to outgrow his own prejudices. If extremism by a bunch of Hindus cannot be described as saffron terrorism then neither can one label the activities of al-Qaeda and ISIS as Islamic terrorism. The process of racial profiling has to be halted and the first person who needs to change his mentality is Narendra Modi.

(This article was originally published in The Huffington Post.)