Tuesday, 21 September 2010

All eyes on Ayodhya

6th December 1992 is a day still fresh in memory. I was an eleven year old back then, studying in seventh standard. Sometime late in the morning of that day, the mother of one of my classmates arrived calling for him (possibly her, I no longer recollect). Imagine my surprise when the teacher assented to it without a murmur. I didn't think much about it, notwithstanding the fact that a short while later, another student's mother turned up and I saw the same thing repeat itself all over again.

It then turned into a flood, as someone's mother started turning up every minute or two to take her son or daughter home, until about an hour later, my brother arrived to pick me up. I learnt that my mother too had turned up and my brother (who was in ninth standard then) and I were to go home with her. I had no idea what was happening. All I knew was that I'd got to leave school early and as a passionate school-hating eleven year old, that was itself reason to rejoice.

Later that day, I learnt that a mosque in Ayodhya had been demolished and that riots had broken out as a result. For the next few days, wild mobs ran riot in Bombay (as my city was called in those days), followed by a few days of calm before it started all over again sometime a month later. Kalina, where I used to live in those days, was completely untouched by the violence and so I never got to see first hand what happened.

I was too young to understand the connection between the the demolition of a mosque somewhere over a thousand kilometres away and riots in my city. All that an eleven year old could understand back then was that he didn't have to go to that hated place called school for a few days. I could have never imagined that the events of those few extraordinary weeks would dramatically transform India's political landscape, that it would lead to a communal polarisation the effects of which are felt to this day.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), then a fringe right-wing party little known outside the Hindi speaking heartland catapulted itself into the political centrestage as the protector of 'Hinduism and Hindu values. In just over half a decade post-demolition, the BJP came to power at the centre, going on to become the first ever non-Congress government since independence to survive a full term. Such was the political mileage the BJP drew from that event that they remain to this day the main opposition to the Congress. The events at Ayodhya that day paved way for the political process that resulted in the bipolarisation of Indian politics. To this day, every government at the centre is formed either by the Congress or the BJP in coalition with regional players.

But something else too changed: from that point on began a race for one upmanship between Hindus and Muslims in India, with the result that one finds mosques with loudspeakers all over the place and celebration of Hindu festivals are becoming more visible and noisier every year. We have self-proclaimed guardians of social morals out to rough up people under any possible pretext, which could mean something as trivial as youngsters going into pubs.

And there's the spectre of terrorism. India has been rocked by countless terrorist attacks since then, not least the horrors of 26/11, quite apart from countless bomb blasts in various cities across the countries. There are supposed to be terrorist training centres in Karnataka. Madrasas in U.P are suspected to be centres of radicalistion (perhaps unfairly so). Extreme right wing organisations like VHP and Bajrang Dal have become more and more prominent and bolder. There's also the fact that the RSS- often accused of being an organisation of Hindu fanatics that spews hatred against muslims (once again, possibly an inaccurate image)- is attracting greater numbers, especially among the youth.

All of which is a fallout of the chain of events triggered by that demolition on 6th December 1992.

That is why I and millions of other Indians like me are worried. On the 24th of September- this Friday, the Allahabad high court is going to pronounce its final decision on the question of ownership of the piece of land where the masjid once stood. Irrespective of the high court's decision, there is going to be a side that will be disgruntled. The gentlemen adjudicating the case are in the thankless "damned if you do, damned if you don't position". The rest of the country sits in fear of the fallout.

What happens thereafter will tell us where India stands today. Is the India of 2010 a vibrant young country looking to the future or are we still a country where the people have little to do by way of constructive work and as such have the time for needless and meaningless destruction? Are we a nation where the people are more concerned about working hard to improve our lot and building a great country for our future generations or are we an intolerant, narrow-minded and bigoted people with no tolerance for the beliefs of the others?

The answers will be out by the end of this week. All we can do now is to pray silently and hope for the best. Until then, it's all eyes on Ayodhya.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Great player poor captain

Sachin Tendulkar has got to be one of the most universally admired sportsmen in the cricketing world. Surely, no man has smashed so many records, pummeled so many bowlers across so many generations even as he won so many hearts. Despite attaining heights lesser mortals would not even dream of and achieving more than anyone has ever done before and perhaps anyone ever will, Tendulkar has remained firmly grounded, a far cry from many other cricketers whose achievements could be described on the backside of a dinner plate and yet strut about with the ego befitting an emperor.

And yet despite his collosal achievements and inspiring presence, leadership is an art Sachin Tendulkar has never mastered. Just today I was reading an article where Ravi Shastri has mentioned that even the presence of the great Tendulkar has not been sufficient to inspire Mumbai Indians.

Well, I'm a huge admirer of the man. Being from Mumbai, I guess I'm bound to be. And yet, its hard not to feel that far from being a helpless captain unable to solve a problem haunting his team, Sachin Tendulkar is himself the problem. Just the other day, Mumbai Indians- the team led by him- lost their nerve at the fag end of a game they had under complete control and managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

I did not witness the game, but the Cricinfo article took me back thirteen years in time. It was 13th February 1997. India needed 252 off 40 overs to win the finals of the Standard Bank Cup at Durban. At 198-3 after 30 overs, the target was a mere 54 runs off 60 balls with seven wickets in hand- an easy target even allowing for a strong opposition attack. And yet, against the run of play, India spectacularly imploded, losing by a mere 15 runs.

Something eerily similar happened at the Arnos Vale Ground at St. Vincent on 30th April 1997. At 201-3, India needed 49 runs at under a run a ball with seven wickets in hand- another breeze to victory, or so it should have been. Instead a flurry of mindless shots ensued and India were blown out for just 231. The main damager? The little remembered Ottis Gibson with three wickets at the fag end (not to mention a couple of run outs).

Fast forward a dozen years to 14th May 2009. Mumbai Indians needed 4 off 6 balls with three wickets in hand to beat Rajasthan Royals. They got bowled out, adding a solitary run to their total. A victory that had been a mere formality had turned into a ludicrous defeat- a tendency the Mumbai Indians had shown time and again in the first IPL season in 2008 where they actually played a lot better than statistics might suggest.

I'm sure you're wondering what's the connection between the three. Is there anything in common between those three games played thirteen years apart? There is. Sachin Tendulkar was the captain in all those games, as he was earlier this week when Mumbai Indians lost their nerve and lost a game that was all but won, as he was in IPL 2008.

It is reasonable to argue that cricketers at that level should be thinking for themselves and as such, should be able to hold their nerves. Fair point. Having never been in the dressing room and having never even played the game at anything vaguely resembling a serious level I of all critics am least qualified to comment. Nevertheless, the question needs to be asked: why does every team the great man has ever led show a tendency to implode when confronted with victory?

I admire Sachin Tendulkar as a batsman. For the sheer quality of his batting and the scarcely believable period over which he has sustained that quality, he is without peer. Across three generations, ten cricket playing countries and in all possible betting conditions, he has scored handsomely. Bradman may have his takers, but going beyond just the average, its worth pointing out that he scored all his runs in just two countries in an age when pitches were generally dead, when one had the luxury of time due to the combination of timeless tests (in Australia) and 120 overs a day (as against 90 a day these days), quite apart from unimaginative field placements, meant that scoring opportunities were far greater.

But great individual players do not necessarily make great leaders. Perhaps every man is bound to have his shortcomings. While Tendulkar's mastery and understanding of the game is unparelled in all the annals of the game, the cricketing Gods held back just a little bit in terms of his leadership.

That perhaps is the master's tragedy.