Saturday, October 2, 2010

Gandhi and Sport

(Also posted at: )

On the face of it, drawing a link between M.K. Gandhi and sport seems incongruous – so much so that the only picture that I could find linking Gandhi to sport was that of a look-alike participating in the Mumbai Marathon. There is little evidence of Gandhi having played any sport. In his autobiography there isn’t a word of mention of sport or its social relevance. Ramachandra Guha, in his book, ‘A corner of a foreign field,’ however, cites a 1958 article in which one of Gandhi’s school-mates from Rajkot is quoted as referring to Gandhi as ‘a dashing cricketer, who evinced a keen interest in the game as a school student’ and one who ‘was equally good at batting and bowling’. Yet, Gandhi’s interests, if any existed, had perished, certainly, by the time he returned to India from South Africa.

Guha in an article in the Hindu to mark Gandhi’s 132nd birth anniversary notes that, perhaps, the only seemingly direct role played by Gandhi in relation to cricket in India concerned the Bombay Quadrangular – an annual tournament comprising four teams – the Hindus, the Muslims, the Parsees and the Europeans. In the months leading up to the 1920 Quadrangular, Gandhi’s campaign against untouchability provided steam to the cause of three Dalit brothers – Baloo, Vithal and Shivram Palwankar. After Baloo, a hugely talented left-arm spinner was dropped from the Hindu Eleven named for their game against the Muslim Eleven, his brothers withdrew in protest. In spite of Gandhi’s movement to have the brothers reinstated in the team, the game against the Muslims was played without the Palwankars, who were however, restored in the team that played the Parsees in the next match.

The competition, halted during the Civil Disobedience Movement, resumed in 1934, and was soon converted into a pentangular, with the inclusion of the ‘Rest’ team that contained Jains and Buddhists amongst players of other religions. However, by then the tournament took place only in fits and starts, coming under the constant cosh of nationalists, who argued that if Muslims had the right to field a separate team, it would only validate their demands for a separate nation.

Gandhi is quoted as saying: “my sympathies (were) wholly with those who would like to see these matches stopped. The sporting public of Bombay should revise their sporting code and must erase from it communal matches. I can understand matches between Colleges and Institutions, but I have never understood the reason for having Hindu, Parsi, Muslim and other communal Elevens. I should have thought that such unsportsmanlike divisions would be considered taboo in sporting language and sporting manners.”

Viewed in this context, I can only imagine that Gandhi would have been pleased with the composition of the Indian cricket team, post-independence. Cricket has since the days of the Bombay Pentangular, mostly been spared the ills of communalism. India has had three Muslim captains – Ghulam Ahmed, M.A.K. Pataudi and Mohammad Azharuddin – apart from being captained, by Parsees (Polly Umrigar and Nari Contractor), Christians (Vijay Hazare and Chandu Borde) and a Sikh (Bishen Singh Bedi). Rising communalism since the 1980s has also had little, if any, impact on the sport. The team has continued to field an amalgam of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, and has been as secular a grouping as one can hope to see. This obvious lack of communalism in Indian cricket only makes one wonder why Gandhi failed to see sport as a means of engineering social change.

Sport has often been used as a tool of social revolution by leaders as far-ranging as Adolf Hitler and Nelson Mandela. While Hitler sought to promote his belief of racial superiority by allowing only Aryans to be fielded in German teams competing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Mandela sought to bring about racial-unity by supporting the Springboks – the South African rugby team that largely comprised Whites – in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, held in his country.

A blog on however, notes Gandhi to have been a ‘huge football aficionado,’ and to have used ‘the game to promote his political philosophy of non-violent resistance and to socially uplift and integrate the Indian community in the Rainbow Republic.” He is reported to have started two football clubs, one each in Johannesburg and Pretoria, with both being named as the ‘Passive Resisters.’ The clubs’ activities, though, declined with the return of Gandhi to India and they were wound-up by 1936. Gandhi could have therefore, been one of the first leaders to have sought to use sport to craft a change in society. He may not have seen sport as a definite means of bringing forth a transformation in Indian society, but his thinking and philosophy is as relevant to sport as it is to any other sphere of activity, especially in a day and age where sport and sleaze seem closer than ever before.


Rahul Saha said...

I think Gandhi would have been about as good at Sport as Goutham. But seriously, I wonder what Gandhi's view would have been of the understated racism in Cricket in the years post-independence. e

Suhrith said...

Dude, Goutham is a damn good sport. He is an awesome leg-spinner and at TT. And now I hear he is mastering football.

Anonymous said...

you bastards! :)