Is India-Pakistan cricket a proxy for religious war between Hinduism and Islam? While Indian police arrested some Kashmiris for allegedly not cheering India, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed called the team’s success a ‘victory of Islam’. Are Indian Muslims destined to be the ‘outsiders inside’ forever, or is it time for a change in the narrative?
This is the nub. It has always been whispered that besides Kashmiris, many other Muslims too wish for India’s defeat against Pakistan. The insinuation found credence when the bursting of crackers and religious war cries were allegedly heard from some Muslim neighbourhoods whenever Pakistan trounced India. This socio-political disorder has been a badly kept secret, which few had the moral courage and ideological integrity to address. Acknowledged, it was, but in a devious manner. Instead of correcting this aberration, the Muslim narrative makers feigned huge indignation at being suspected of disloyalty to the nation. Such had been the stranglehold of ‘sarkari’ secularism that sotto voce snides, and innuendos apart, it was not possible to admit that we had a problem at hand begging for immediate attention.
In fact, with cavalier smugness, they did the exact opposite. It was said that sports needed to be kept immune from the demands of national loyalty, and support for the national team of another country was not only a sign of higher sportsmanship, but also a sort of cosmopolitanism as seen in the emerging multiculturalism of the West, where immigrants openly support their native country’s team against their adoptive one’s. It was argued that a Tebbit test-like scrutiny in India would be tantamount to a majoritarian inquisition.
The Tebbit test was a controversial phrase named after the British Conservative politician Norman Tebbit, who said that the lack of loyalty to the England cricket team among South Asian and Caribbean immigrants suggested that those who support their native countries rather than England at the game are not integrated into the United Kingdom. However, Indian Muslims are not immigrants, and they aren’t here as a consequence of Indian colonialism. Therefore, extrapolating any critique of the Tebbit test for extenuating an aberrant group behaviour in India would be misplaced.
Denial doesn’t help Muslims
For the Muslim narrative makers and their liberal mentors, living in denial has been an easier option than recognising the problem and helping the community correct a dangerous distortion in a discourse that would inevitably affect their standing in the national life. That such a thing has been happening, and not called out, betrays not only a tacit indulgence of the community at large, but also an enabling atmosphere conduced by the Muslim narrative makers and their liberal cheerleaders, who have been complicit in normalising the perception of persecution and discrimination against Muslims. Such addiction to victimhood was to lead to an ever-widening emotional chasm between the Muslim community and the national mainstream.
Two-nation theory is still alive
It’s often argued that the display of support for Pakistan in cricket by some Indian Muslims has nothing to do with Islam, and whatever it might be, it should not be misconstrued as religious-communal disloyalty to India. That’s true. It’s not a part of the Islamic catechism, and one’s salvation or damnation in the afterlife doesn’t depend on it, but insofar as religion has informed identity formation — progressing from community to nationality to separatist religious nationhood — it would be naive to ignore the religious factor at play.
The two-nation theory, which this process engendered, implied the existence of Muslims and non-Muslims as two nations in India, and not India and Pakistan as two different countries. Pakistan is more of an ideological than a territorial state. It’s less a locale and more a mentality. It’s the embodiment of Muslim political power in India, which Bangladesh or any other Muslim country is not. That’s why the kind of frisson that a mere mention of Pakistan generates in every Indian mind, whether Hindu or Muslim, cannot be created by any other Muslim country. If the two-nation theory were only about Islam as a nation — without any reference to India — Pakistan would seek its identity in a merger with the Muslim countries rather than in contradistinction with India.
Shaping community destiny
Whether the two-nation theory disappeared with the Partition or not is a moot question. If it had, Waqar Younis wouldn’t be indulging in pious gloating, and Mohammed Shami wouldn’t be so vulnerable to vicious trolling. So, if the two-nation theory didn’t disappear and has merely been rephrased as identity politics, then its basic premise of Hindus and Muslims being two mutually antagonistic nations must have been reformulated in post-Independent India as a perpetual conflict between the State and its Muslim citizens.
This is a dangerous formulation whose implications would be suicidal for any minority. If the Muslim community feels alienated, is it because the Indian State has been practising systemic discrimination against them, denying them equal rights and opportunities? Or, does the sense of estrangement come from ideological reasons whose roots go deep into the imperialist interpretation of Islam that views India with abhorrence as a land of idols and infidels? If the latter be the case, is there an intelligentsia among Muslims with such intellectual integrity as to make the correct diagnosis and prescribe the right treatment?
Currently, the Muslim community abounds in self-serving sermonisers, both of the traditional and the modern types. The latter quotes the Constitution much like how the televangelists quote scriptures, and for the same purpose. Unless the Muslim community had well-meaning narrative makers who understood that theirs was an Indian destiny, and so should be their identity, the distortions plaguing the community’s discourse wouldn’t be corrected. A display of deviant behaviour, whether brazen or discreet, would continue to make an innocent Shami a soft target.
The author is an IPS officer. He tweets @najmul_hoda. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)