Even if Gautam Gambhir was to choose playing for his IPL team over Team India, so what?
What’s it about us Indians that still makes us look at multiple loyalties as something unnatural? Anything less than overtly nationalistic — of the old ‘Jai Hind!’ variety that has been morphed into the new ‘Chak de India!’ — is seen, at best, as parochial and, at worst, as unpatriotic.
And nowhere has this dodgy debate about multiple identities become suddenly more of a babble than in the ‘Indian Premier League (IPL) team vs Team India’ tussle. The curious case of cricketer Gautam Gambhir has suddenly highlighted this ‘problem.’
Gambhir, suffering from a shoulder injury, may not be fit enough to play for the national side during its tour to the West Indies that starts next week. Cricketers get injured and drop out. So what? The hullabaloo is over the fact that Gambhir, the stand-in captain for the one-dayers in the West Indies after skipper MS Dhoni was ‘rested’, may have suffered his injury at Wednesday’s IPL match while leading Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) against Mumbai Indians. The verdict from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and other supari-chomping patriots? Why, Gambhir has put his lucrative IPL career over and above the honour of playing for his country!
While Gambhir has flatly denied choosing a league team over the national team — apart from pointing out that he was harbouring a niggling injury well before Wednesday’s match — we ask two questions: one, what would the reaction be if he had hurt himself at the nets while practising for a Test match? And two, what is so diabolically wrong even if he chose his IPL team over the national team? Yes, we can hear the collective gasp.
The notion of nationhood emanates from a strong sense of belonging and sharing of common traits, cultures and memories. No doubt the nation has been providing a very powerful glue to people since a while now and nowhere is this perhaps more visible and raucous than on the battlefields of sports. And yet, as we have seen in international football, parallel identities — sub-nationalities, if you will — have developed.
So a Lionel Messi playing for Spanish team Barcelona can be the bigger force (and greater player) than the same Messi playing for his home country Argentina. The frisson of Sourav Ganguly playing for Pune Warriors against KKR attests to the different sets of identity markers. But while many would ‘blame’ such a ‘conflict of interest’ in modern globalising forces, we’d rather see it in terms of ‘competing identities’ that have coexisted since Shivaji was a Maratha leader as well as an Indian icon. And if someone does pick one identity over another, so be it. As a national (and dare we say nationalist) publication with many editions, we have spoken.