RSTV Media Manthan – Cricket, Nationalism and Media
It is recognised that there are close links between sport and politics, and in particular between sport and national consciousness. There is a strong link between cricket and Indian national consciousness which requires detailed analysis. Coming to a clearer understanding of the relationship between the two can demonstrate and provide insights on how these elements of Indian identity can become more relevant.
Pre Colonial times
This all started with Quadrangular and Pentangular tournaments in Bombay which started in the early 20th century. Parsi merchants were the first to take up cricket in the late 19th century with Hindus and Muslims participating soon after the turn of the century. The Quadrangular tournaments in Bombay consisted of English, Hindu, Parsi, and Muslim teams. Later, they developed into the Pentangular – the fifth team being known as ‘All the Rest,’ comprising Indian Christians, Buddhists and Jews.
By the 1920s and 1930s the tournaments had become very popular – about 20,000 fans would attend a match. Some academics suggest that this was in part because they were communal, no other tournament was as popular and the organisers recognised their commercial potential early on. The tournaments were halted in 1945, some say, because it was decided that they were deeply divisive and more popular than Ranji trophy.
It should be noted that whilst cricket in Bombay was organized along communal lines, elsewhere in the country it was not. In Bengal and Madras, cricket was adopted by the middle classes and the elites in order to beat their colonial rulers at their own game.
Once India gained Test match status in 1932, cricket became a way of settling scores with their colonial rulers. When the Indian team beat the British team, editorials appeared in Indian vernacular newspapers claiming that political equality should follow sporting equality. While it would be too simplistic to argue that cricket became popular in India purely because of its associations with some form of early Indian nationalism, there is no doubt that this was an element that explained its appeal.
After Independence, cricket was equated with patriotic virtue – being a good cricketer meant that one was a ‘good’ Indian, Pakistani or Sri Lankan. As cricket lost its associations with colonialism, it became a means for developing national and masculine identities. The decline of sporting success in hockey happened in parallel to India’s growing prominence in cricket, which helped develop cricket as the prime national sport in the country.
Politicians and politics
One factor in the growing link between cricket and national consciousness was the political classes. Others argue that the relationship between sport and politics in India is mutually beneficial, sport needs politicians in India to get money and cut red tape and politicians use cricket as a way to gain popularity.
It should be noted that the links between sport and leaders were developed even before Independence. The BCCI was formed by the Maharajahs of the Princely States, and cricket boards have always been supported by the most powerful people in the area.
Media and Multi Nationals
Another crucial factor that has increased the link between cricket and national consciousness is the deregulation of the television industry that took place in 1993.
Cricket on television is a boon for advertisers because commercials can be shown every five minutes or so, after each over, this combined with the need for the new channels to fill their schedules meant more and more matches being shown.
Multinational corporations (MNCs) entered India as the Indian economy opened up and they needed brand ambassadors with whom the population identified. Cricket players provided the perfect vehicle for this which in turn boosted the popularity of the star players. This also allows the poor to interact with global capitalism and forget their own situation for a while.
Media’s penchant love for increasing their TRP ratings makes the situation worse. A false pride or a distorted nationalism is promoted through advertisements, debates etc making the sport more like war than just a game.
It has been argued that several elements have contributed to the close links between cricket and Indian national consciousness. From a historical perspective, it was a major factor – both as a way of ‘fitting in’ with the British as the Parsis and the local rulers desired, and as a form of non-violent dissent against the colonisers. These two paradoxical reasons for taking up the game in pre-Independent India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries illustrate the complex role that cricket has played in the country.
Once the colonisers left, the game continued to flourish which suggests that the roots are deeper than mere anti-colonial or pre-colonial expression. Once the game was established, the media and politicians used cricket as a way of boosting their ratings and popularity. As cricket rose in the national consciousness of India, MNCs latched onto it as a way of enhancing their sales figures. Bollywood also capitalised on the links between anti-colonial feeling and national consciousness, with the movie Lagaan providing the most successful example of this.
At the end, cricket is one such game which we got from British. We used it as a tool to fight against British as part of our diplomatic, Non violent channels. Now that the British is gone, the game of cricket should be used to fight against the differences that are present right now between the countries than spewing blind hatred which in turn destroys the true spirit of the game.