India vs England: Failing the ‘Tebbit test’ again and again
When England play India, which team do Britons of Indian-origin who were born and grew up here support, or should support?
That is the challenge known as the “Tebbit test”, credited to the veteran Tory politician Norman Tebbit, who proposed it in 1990 as a test of loyalty of immigrants, suggesting they should support England and not India or the countries from where their parents migrated.
But thousands of such Britons happily fail the test, witnessed again during the Edgbaston Test, where they have been celebrating their new hero, Virat Kohli, to the accompaniment of dhol and proudly wearing the Indian tricolour, even if some of them have never been to India.
Colonial history, race and identity politics have always mixed with passion when India play England, but cricket encounters become occasions to rehearse the Indian roots of generations that mostly celebrate their dual British and Indian identities, even if some are not always at ease with the tension.
“It shows more confidence in the Indian community of their roots. When I came here nearly 50 years ago, India was a country of poverty, it needed British aid, there was a colonial hangover and memories of the Raj lingered,” says sports writer Mihir Bose.
“It is a more confident India now, and this gets reflected in the increasingly vocal and visual support for the Indian team whenever it tours or plays England. Mind you, India is not a great sporting nation, so it celebrates achievements in cricket all the more,” he added.
As Kohli frustrated England with the bat, a new ditty arose across the Edgbaston stands: “We’ve got Kohli, Virat Kohli; I just don’t think you understand; He’s MS Dhoni’s man, he smashes Pakistan; We’ve got Virat Kohli.”
It was in April 1990 that the Los Angeles Times published an interview with Tebbit, who questioned the loyalties of Asian immigrants. Using the example of cricket, he declared: “A large proportion of Britain's Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It's an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?”
His comments led to some furore as Asian leaders declared them hurtful and disgraceful. Labour MP Jeff Rooker called for Tebbit to be prosecuted for inciting racial hatred, while Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown wanted Margaret Thatcher to condemn the remarks.
Tebbit was not really censured by the Conservative Party, but his test has since become a benchmark to talk – even if lightheartedly – about race and identity politics in multicultural Britain. On many courses in UK universities, the test is cited as an example of identity politics.
As globalisation of the media – most Indian television channels are available in Britain – ensures that identities are reinforced and sustained, subcontinental rivalry in cricket and much else is replicated in the large South Asian diaspora here.
The situation becomes complex when cricketers of Indian-origin such as Ravi Bopara and Monty Panesar turn out for England against India. For example, Bopara was barracked as a ‘gaddar’ (traitor) during the 2013 India-England Champions Trophy final in Edgbaston.
In 2012, when Spain won the European Football championship, then deputy prime minister Nick Clegg admitted his children would fail the Tebbit test, because their mother Miriam is Spanish: “I'm not sure if my children who were wearing their Spanish football kit, given to them by Miriam, would have passed the Norman Tebbit cricket test.”
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