Sports and Politics

Sports and Politics are different and both should not be mixed, is the most cited argument in favor of sporting ties with Pakistan. People argue that not playing with Pakistan or Pakistani sportsmen would not serve any purpose as it would not end cross border terrorism. The fact is that Sports since the time of Gladiators has affected politics and shaped public opinion. The two just cannot be separated. Sports, like war is used as a tool to achieve political objectives. Of course it is non violent and not as affective as war.

Last month, a senior official of Iran Football League had to resign. His crime? He accidentally sent an email to Israeli Football federation wishing new year!! Israel and Iran have no sporting ties and the reason is purely political. None of the two countries have ever been on war with each other. And it is not just about the Arab world, where many countries have no sporting ties with Israel; Politics has even affected Sports in other parts of the world.

South Africa was not only banned from Olympics from 1962- 1990 but the UN also maintained a list of people who participated in sporting events in South Africa to put a moral pressure on athletes not to appear in South Africa. The UN and other countries did this so that the country ends it apartheid policies. South Africa could play its first cricket world cup in 1992. Many sportsmen who visited South Africa on private tours were banned by their respective sports federations. In 1976, 28 African nations, boycotted Olympics to protest against tour of South Africa by New Zealand’s Rugby team. The Sports boycott in itself did not put an end to the apartheid in South Africa. But, the boycotts put across the point that it wont be business as usual for South Africa and it would have to mend its ways.

Olympics were not boycotted only in 1976. In 1980 around 45-50 countries boycotted Moscow Olympics including US, Japan, China & West Germany as a protest against Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The boycott triggered a debate in US that it could be percieved as a sentimental rather than a strategic reaction. However, the counter argument prevailed, that the boycott would be an effective symbolic protest because of its dramatic visibility to the citizens of the Soviet Union, regardless of whether or not the action provoked a response. In retaliation the Soviet Union along with fourteen countries boycotted the 1984 Los Angles Olympics. Superpowers like US & Soviet Union clearly did not believe that Sports and Politics can be separated just because Sports alone could not achieve any political objective. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did not end after the Olympics boycott and the US had to fight a proxy war for eight years.

On the other hand, the argument that Sports and Politics should not be mixed prevailed during 1936 Berlin Olympics. The Berlin Olympics marked the return of Germany on International stage after World War 1. There was a huge debate in US over boycotting the Olympics to protest anti Semitic policies of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Avery Brundage, president of the American Olympic Committee, stated: “The very foundation of the modern Olympic revival will be undermined if individual countries are allowed to restrict participation by reason of class, creed, or race.” Brundage opposed a boycott, arguing that politics had no place in sports saying “The Olympic Games belong to the athletes and not to the politicians.” Many Afro Americans favored participating arguing that victory of Blacks would undermine Nazi’s “Aryan Supremacy” theory and foster Black pride in US. Thus there were political reasons as well for not boycotting the games.  The issue was settled by a vote and the Amateur Athletic Union defeated the proposal to boycott the Olympics by two-and-a-half votes. However many Jewish players personally boycotted the games.

Hitler initially held the Olympics in low regard because of their internationalism, but he became an avid supporter after Joseph Goebbels, his Minister of Propaganda, convinced him of their propaganda value. Goebbels stated in 1933, “German sport has only one task: to strengthen the character of the German people, imbuing it with the fighting spirit and steadfast camaraderie necessary in the struggle for its existence.” Germany won most medals in that Olympics and won praises from most of visitors for its hospitality and organization. Hitler even had plans to take over the Olympics forever. He said, “In 1940 the Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo. But thereafter they will take place in Germany for all time to come, in this stadium”. Many observers believe that boycott by western countries would have bolstered international resistance to Hitler’s expansionist designs.

In the context of India Pakistan relations, Cricket has played an important role many times in the past. In 1987, when the Indian and Pakistani army were in an eye-ball-to-eye-ball confrontation on the border, General Zia invited himself to watch an India Pakistan match at Jaipur and eased the tension. Before India’s tour to Pakistan in 2004, when ties between the two countries were improving, opponents of the Pakistan tour within the Govt argued that an attack on Indians on Pakistani soil would destroy the sense of well being whereas supporters of tour argued that it would help to ease the tensions. The successful tour by the Indians further created a false sense of normalcy. Prior to the tour, cross border terrorism had reduced in 2004 and Pakistan for the first time had said that it would not allow its territory to be used against  India. This has since proved to be a false promise.

Today the situation is much different from the one in 2004. Despite evidences against 26/11 attacks, Pakistan has not taken any relevant action against terrorist groups acting against India. Yesterday, Pune was attacked barely a week after JuD said that Delhi, Pune & Kanpur were its targets. The current circumstances demand isolating Pakistan on international forums and exerting diplomatic pressure, if not a limited war, to dismantle terrorist infrastructure. The recent unofficial boycott of Pakistani players by IPL has once again demonstrated the importance of cricket diplomacy. Isolating Pakistan in cricket and not just IPL would go a long way in exerting diplomatic pressure on Pakistan.

The Kashmir Conundrum

The crisis in Kashmir is at a crucial stage. Our actions at this juncture will not only decide the fate of Kashmir and India but of entire South East Asia. In the last few days we have seen a sudden spate of views not just by left liberals but also by centrists like Vir Sanghvi and Swaminathan Aiyar suggesting secession of Kashmir from India. It is really baffling to see them suggesting this just because demand for secession has increased in the last few days.

Was the merger of Kashmir with India unjustified ?

Swaminathan Aiyar questions the merger of Kashmir with India by comparing the merger of  Junagarh with India. He conviniently forgets that India is a secular country wheras Pakistan is a theocratic state. A Hindu majority region could not have merged with Muslim Pakistan. Muslim majority region could merge with India because India is a secular state. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nahru, Sardar Patel and millions of Hindus and Muslims who stayed back in India, did not approve of Two Nation throry and that was the reason India remained secular. If Kashmir secedes from India just because it is a Muslim majority state, it will validate Two Nation theory and pave way for India to become a Hindu Rashtra. Besides, Two Nation Theory was debunked in 1971 with secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan and continuous illegal immigration of crores of Bangladeshis in India since then. Invoking Two nation theory to support secession today is devoid of any logic.

Is Kashmir a colony of India ?

Swami has went a step ahead and compared Kashmir to British India. This despite the fact that Kashmir is the only Indian state to recieve almost 100% funding from Central Government for its five year plans. The poverty level in Kashmir is lowest of all Indian states. A state like Bihar, which is one of the most backward state in the country, gets per capita central assistance of Rs 876 per year. Kashmir gets over ten times more: Rs 9,754 per year. It is the only Indian state to recieve special privileges under Article 370 that bars any non Kashmiri Indian from buying property in the state. Ofcourse, Kashmiris are free to buy property anywhere in the country. Now which “colony” in the history of the world was so pampered ? Vir Sanghvi rightly mentions that most elections held in Kashmir were not as free and fair as in rest of India. But how can this argument be used to merge Kashmir with Pakistan, which has been under dictatorship most of the time since its existence ? Even democratic Governments in Pakistan were always under the shadow of Army and no one can deny that even today Army and not the civilian Government is the most powerful establishment in Pakistan. So if Kashmir merges with Pakistan, would it get any special democratic right which is not enjoyed by the rest of Pakistan? Besides the status of Human Rights in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir should give an inkling to Kashmiris about the state of affairs in Pakistan. Compared to PoK, violation of Human Rights is far less in J&K as said by European Union, Human Rights Watch  and other agencies.

What if Kashmir secedes ?

Most probably we would see a repeat of communal violence that engulfed the nation in 1947, if Kashmir secedes. The only difference would be that now we do not have a Mahatma Gandhi who could soothe communal tensions.

Secession of Kashmir would open a pandora’s box and we would see similar demands from other regions in the country. When Raj Thackeray says that Maharashtrians have first right over any job created in the state, he is bashed by all and sundry (and rightly so), however we would see a Raj Thackeray in each state of India who would have some or the other grievance. Ironically, the same people who harshly criticise Raj Thackeray (and rightly so) do not find anything wrong with the seperatists of Kashmir !!!

As mentioned above, Kashmir’s economy is heavily dependent on Central Government’s aid. An independent Kashmir would be as successful as Pakistan or Bangladesh are today. Crores of Bangladeshis have already made India their home illegally. There is no strong reason to believe that the same story wont be repeated with Kashmir. Pakistan would obiviously try to annex Kashmir, which would be resisted by a strong section of Kashmiris and this will only make the entire South East Asia more unstable.

What is the solution ?

There is no quick fix. The Government needs to take all affected parties into confidence and resolve the Amarnath dispute, which triggered the current crisis. Even if Amarnath land transfer issue is resolved, we need to make a road map for a permanent solution. Pampering Kashmir with special status and a generous central financial assistance hasn’t worked. Financial assistance need not be stopped as the state is victim of terrorism, however Article 370 is part of the problem and not the solution. It is very important that Kashmiris mingle with people from rest of the country and Indians accept them as their own. But you need two hands to clap. Kashmir should be as open to rest of the country as is any other state. Abolishing Article 370 will bring Kashmir and India closer. This ofcourse is not the right time to abolish it but the Government should have a concrete road map to do so. Barring the two elections of 1977 & 2002, all elections in Kashmir are alleged to be rigged. We need to make sure that such mistakes are not repeated and Kashmiri participation in democratic processes is as good as any other state in the country. In short, Kashmiris should be encouraged to join mainstream India but not at the cost of injustice towards rest of India.

As Muzaffar Razmi said, Yeh Jabr Bhi Dekha Hai Tareekh Ki Nazron Ne, Lamhon Ne Khata Ki Thi Sadiyon Ne Saza Payee (History is witness to incidents where mistakes were made during split seconds for which entire generations had to pay the price till centuries). The Indian sub continent is still paying the price for the khata (mistake) made in 1947. Let us learn something from that mistake rather than repeat it.

For more insight on the issue read All Talk and No Action, MJ Akbar, K Subrahmanyam, Arif Mohammed Khan & Mohammed Wajihuddin