Recently, I’ve found it difficult to make even the most basic points to my friends — the importance of empirical evidence in rational debate, for instance — but I want to take on a much complicated topic, involving post-colonialism, sledging, and media coverage. Stay with me.
The Shane Warne/Sourav Ganguly crisis folded just as quickly as it began, with each player handed out the requisite fee and slap on the wrist. The window was open long enough, however, for the 24-hour news channels in India to get their word out. Watch Times Now dissect the “scandal” in clear, India v. Australia terms:
There are a few problems here. First, the “nation” analytical framework doesn’t work in the Indian Premier League. Shane Warne wasn’t representing an Australian side and, from all accounts, his Indian co-players have found his captaincy inspiring. In fact, the IPL’s main attraction — at least for me — is its blurring identities, which produces dilemmas that, while not completely new to cricket, are still just as startling given the brash of national rivalries present in the game (between, e.g., South Africa and Australia; Australia and India; India and Pakistan, and Australia and England). What exactly unites a team when national identity is not at stake? Money? Victory for victory’s sake? Those are more exciting questions, which international cricket doesn’t need to entertain.
That’s not what I want to talk about, however. What’s most troubling in the above video comes at the very end, when the announcer praises Ganguly for getting under the Australians’ skins, and “[beating] them at their own game.” I heard this argument made repeatedly in Indian circles during the Sydney fiasco, and I couldn’t disagree more: rather than proving the emergence of a superior India, this logic only emphasizes the scale of Western influence on our thoughts and actions. I’m not saying that sledging is never justified, but arguing that it is simply because the Australians do it only proves that we aren’t playing a game we want to. We’re just trying to satisfy rules and benchmarks set by other countries and cultures, thereby denying ourselves the chance to set our own path.
I think this line of reasoning helps fans avoid interrogating their own side. With the West as the constant comparison, many Indians never bother to ask themselves if Harbhajan Singh may have gone a tad too far during the Test series, or whether Sreesanth needs to tone down his erratic behavior. Instead, we hear the common refrain: if the West can do it, why can’t we? But while we are beating them at their own game, when exactly do we get to play our own?
This argument doesn’t constrain itself to cricket. When I was in India last, I was appalled to read on the front page of the Times of India a wide-ranging attack on Western demands that India adopt more environmentally sound policies. The same refrain could be heard in this debate: the West didn’t have a cap-and-trade system during the Industrial Revolution, why should we? Or, the West still pollutes more than we do, why should we take the lead?
Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with criticizing industrialized countries for the damage their economies have wreaked on the planet. Go ahead. But don’t use their bad behavior as an excuse not to study your own path of action. India may find it difficult to balance economic growth with keener environmentalism, but the debate doesn’t disappear just because the West ignored it.
So, quit playing each India-Australia spat as an international crisis. It isn’t: if anything, it only shows how Australia and the West long ago wont he contest, informing former Asian colonies what behavior should be emulated and held up to regard.