Charging through the gates of the BCCI headquarters last month, Shiv-Sena activists unraveled into a cacophony of anti-Pakistani chants. Restless and agitated, the protesters stormed into the office of BCCI chief Shashank Manohar— demanding he refuse to meet with Pakistan’s Cricket Board chief to sort out details of the impending India-Pakistan bilateral series scheduled to begin later this month. While Congress was quick to criticize the Shiv-Sena’s partisan behavior, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the BJP party, was and continues to be silent on the issue. A silence that has left thousands of cricket fans at the edge of their seats wondering if the first match will indeed happen.
For many months now, talks of a bilateral series between India and Pakistan have been underway. While the Pakistani government just gave clearance to the series this Friday, the Indian government has been paralyzed by an array of political opinions that leave the fate of the series uncertain. Furthermore, even if the Indian government, i.e. Modi, clears the series, the debate over the first match’s location still remains unresolved.
For all intents and purposes it is Pakistan’s turn to host the first match. Yet ever since the 2009 extremist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, the UAE has served as the official home turf of Pakistan. The Indian government however, still seems unsatisfied with the idea of playing in the UAE. This sort of apprehension would have certainly been justified a few years ago when the UAE was accused of match-fixing. Nevertheless, under the watch of the UAE’s newly appointed, and “openly Indophile,” Minister of Culture, Youth, and Social Development, the Indian government’s reluctance is standing on thinner and thinner ice.
Right-wingers contend that playing against a country like Pakistan would be blasphemous to Indian identity. Last May, former Home Secretary, R.K. Singh, argued in front of the Lok Sabha that playing cricket against Pakistan was “needless,” as the country has and continues to support terrorism against India— the recent release of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi is not winning Pakistan any extra friends in the Indian government. At the same time, India has never seemed to protest playing against Pakistan in the international arena, i.e. the World Cup. The viral ‘Mauka Mauka’ ads of the 2015 World Cup painted an India that was all too eager to engage in some sportive rivalry with its Western neighbor. Furthermore, at a time when India has interest in normalizing relations with Pakistan on other fronts, refusing to play in Pakistan’s ‘homecoming match’ seems a bit counterintuitive.
If India does believe that making a political statement through the cricketing arena is the right decision, they must be aware of the consequences that accompany such a choice. There seems to be some discussion of having talks about the series in Sri Lanka itself— Modi and Nawaz Sharif’s congenial handshake at the Paris Climate Talks further supports this notion. However, India’s insistence that an India-Pakistan series be not only played, but also discussed in rainy Sri Lanka, whilst seeking to open diplomatic relations with Pakistan could certainly raise questions about the former’s diplomatic consistency. Taking a firm political stance on this bilateral series then, may end up leaving India in just the strategic position that it didn’t want to be in.