How much space do we have in our domestic lives for a neighbor who recurrently attacks to kill our family members, or, is continually plotting and planning to do so. Do we encourage our children to go play cricket with such a neighbor, in the name of humanity and nurturing a sporting spirit? Quite simply, what is unthinkable for our families, should equally, if not more vehemently, be true for our nation.
The debate today - should we or should we not play Pakistan, should we concede 2 points by not playing them, what if have to then play them in the semi-finals – is a set of non-issues. The issue we should present to the ICC and the world should be, that, Pakistan is a terror state, continually waging acts of war against India, and, the only choice ICC has is a World Cup either with India as a participant or Pakistan as a participant. Ban Pakistan from the World Cup or India withdraws.
If Pakistan is permitted to participate, it is critical “India withdraws”, which means team India, Indian sponsors, Indian media and Indian fans. It will have a commercial cost for us (which we could defend on a “just cause” and “overwhelming compulsion” basis) which would be miniscule when weighed against National Pride and Principles. When the eyes of the world are trained on a World Cup, is the right time to name, shame and game Pakistan.
If we withdraw, are we being the petulant rich kid of global cricket who leaves the game when things do not suit it? Absolutely not. We must first understand ourselves, and then sensitise the world, that the principle we raise and fight for, are about our sovereignty and our national security, which have been under threat and attack for years resulting in the loss of thousands of lives of our citizens and our armed forces.
These issues we are raising define the core of who we are as a nation. We are not being petulant, only principled. The ICC and the world can decide the standards they choose to hold themselves to. But they must make a choice.
The sporting isolation of South Africa had a huge impact in the fight against apartheid. Terrorism is a similar, if more vicious monster. The isolation of Pakistan from the World Cup could be a major influencer in the long road to fighting terrorism.
The entire line of thought, of play them and beat them (as we would expect to do, given history and the current form book) obscures the fact that we have beaten them on every occasion in the past, and the loss of face on the cricket ground, has likely manifested itself in more devious actions within our country and on our borders. If playing them and beating them hasn’t worked in the past, it won’t work in the future.
Acknowledgely, we are probably the best cricketing nation in the world today. We do not need a World Cup to reaffirm our cricketing stature. When a team which is rated highly by experts globally to have a real chance to win the World Cup, is willing to risk that opportunity as a matter of National Principle and Pride, it may be worth more than the Cup itself.
The only international sphere, where Pakistan can even stand on the same field as India is cricket. On every other parameter which matters - economic, global stature, international statesmanship, democracy, diversity, our achievements as a people and a nation, Pakistan can never be spoken of in the same breath. Deny them the only legitimate opportunity where they can hope to share the same field as us. It is time for us as nation not to stop, but to stand as tall as we really are.
If India feels outraged by acts of terrorism today, who is to say that this may not be the misfortune of UK, Australia, South Africa or any other nation tomorrow. If they all, like us, want to shape a different tomorrow, they must act with us today.
If ICC and the world choose to have a World Cup without India, our principled stand as a nation will still resonate strong throughout the world. If ICC and the world choose a World Cup without Pakistan, it would be a significant step in the fight against global terrorism.
Given the vibrancy of our democracy and the intellectual energy of our citizens, this suggestion to have Pakistan banned or have “India withdraw” from the World Cup, will likely foster more debate on prime time shows and social media. My request is let’s stop the debate, and, put India first. We can’t shed tears and hold candles for our jawans, if we can’t prioritise their lives and our national pride, more than a game of cricket.
(Rohan Shah is a practicing Advocate in the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. He was identified by “India Today” (January 2000) as one amongst “50 Indians for the Next Millennium”.)