19-25 July 2013 #665

Cricket gets a political spin

Congratulate the Kashmiri cricketer Parvez Rasool, but pity him, too
Ajaz Ashraf
Parvez Rasool was selected to represent Team India on the tour of Zimbabwe, his spinning abilities will now get spun to promote contesting political projects.

Indeed, the Indian cricketer’s Kashmiri identity gives him a special resonance. He isn’t a Kashmiri migrant but was born and raised in the northern Indian state where he honed his bowling skills even as bombs went off all around. Despite the lack of proper cricket infrastructure, Rasool overcame the terrifying odds to get into the Indian team.

For Kashmiris, Rasool’s selection represents their state’s fortitude and ability to keep its sanity intact in the chaos. For the rest of India, the emergence of Rasool symbolises the return of relative normalcy to the Kashmir Valley.

All these arguments, however, are forgotten in debates over the need to withdraw the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). In fact, in an astonishing example of circular reasoning, its continued application is justified on grounds of preserving the gains from normalcy.

For Delhi, therefore, the inclusion of Rasool in the national team will be projected as evidence of the fairness of the Indian system, in cricket as well as in other sectors. But it at once becomes an argument against those who describe New Delhi’s policy in the Valley as callous.

His selection will be articulated in the public sphere as a symbol of hope to Kashmiri youth, an invitation to them to acquire marketable skills and enter what is called the ‘Indian mainstream’, which essentially comprises individuals in the race for grabbing opportunities in teeming metros.

Kashmiri Muslims, however, will still find it difficult to rent a place as their boys will be periodically picked up and interrogated every time a terrorist attack takes place. Rasool himself was detained in 2009 on suspicion of transporting explosives in his cricket bag. What must have been an ignominy for him will now get spun into a story of inspiration for others who may have encountered such treatment.

Rasool will also become an argument against the Pakistani state. He will represent India’s regional and religious plurality; many wouldn’t miss the irony in his bowling or batting against Pakistan should such a match involving him occur.

A Hindustan Times report claimed in February that the government was pushing for his selection in the Indian team to ‘win hearts in J&K’. It is irrelevant whether or not the news was correct. What was pertinent was the perception and hope that his presence in the Indian team could have a salutatory impact on Kashmir.

Kashmiris perhaps will feel disappointed at the thought that Rasool was selected because of politics and not his cricketing talent. And Kashmiris who are known not to support the Indian cricket team will be in a dilemma. Will they now pray for a stellar performance from Rasool and a defeat for India? Many will find it delicious to imagine him bowling the last over against Pakistan in an ODI clincher. In such a situation, how would the Kashmiri react?

Or imagine a situation in which Rasool is declared man of the match. Considering his penchant to lace his statements with the Arabic equivalent of ‘In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful’ rest assured he will, in his acceptance speech, echo the lexicon of Pakistanis who erroneously perceive themselves as representing the Muslim cricket world. For many, Rasool will become a counter-argument against the idea of Pakistan.

You can’t but imagine the flip side of these imagined situations. Suppose Rasool bowls a poor last over and loses the match, disappointed voices are likely to hark to his Kashmiri identity and drop innuendos about his betrayal.

The 24-year-old bears a heavy burden, in cricket and otherwise because of his Kashmiri Muslim identity.


comments powered by Disqus