What Does the BCCI and Cricket Mean to the Indian Middle Class?

I want to sum up the debate on the regulation of cricket in India (as my last post, apparently controversial, provoked all sorts of opinions). There are, largely, two broad themes at work here: first, the legal and technical problem of controlling the BCCI, and second, the cultural and moral and political importance of cricket and Indian nationalism.

For more on the first problem, see my previous post. There’s a question about whether or not the BCCI is a private entity — and therefore exempt from public transparency laws — or a public entity that controls a major public interest with state patronage. Personally, I’m of the latter view. Even here in small-government America, the state does periodically involve itself in the workings of its sports leagues; most notably in recent years over the brouhaha about steroid use in baseball.

But let’s talk more about the second problem: it’s clear that cricket is modernizing, and one of the major drivers behind this trend has been the Indian middle class. The world is waiting for two markets — India and China — to take over the role of the American consumer and keep the global capitalist machine humming. And we, as cricket fans, are getting our first glimpse of the power of the Indian side (rise of T20 format; the IPL; the maddening schedule; the fights over UDRS).

But there are also some tough questions here, both for the game and Indian society at large: will the Indian middle class act the same way as the European/American ones did during the Industrial Revolution? Rana Faroohar of The Daily Beast doesn’t think so, observing an odd mix of “pride and insecurity” in the newcomers:

The emerging bourgeoisie is a patchwork of contradictions: clamorous but rarely confrontational politically, supporters of globalization yet highly nationalistic, proud of their nations’ upward mobility yet insecure and fearful they will fall back, fiercely individualistic but reliant on government subsidies, and often socially conservative. Many of the aspiring elite seem willing to let the powers that be—whether authoritarian governments or elected ones—call the shots as long as they deliver the spoils of growth.

Political observers more astute (and expert) than me are needed to explore the full range of pathologies (and abilities) of the Indian middle class. But I have noticed a worrying trend wherein on-field disputes — think Harbhajan-Symonds — are conflated with some conception of “national honor.” It was even said once that India’s not being able to host IPL-II was a cause for national shame.

Andrew Miller of Cricinfo has recently suggested that ridicule is the best way to prod Indians to act and change. Indeed, I think a major force driving the recent anit-corruption protests in the country has been the feeling that the Indian babu is not just breaking a moral code — that much can be forgiven — but also humiliating and embarrassing the country. But in international contexts, some Indians are too quick to defend their institutions and ways, so much so that it leads them to a blind defense of the BCCI and its overlords. (Related e.g., Sunil Gavaskar’s recent tantrum about Stuart Broad wearing a sponsor’s cap at a presentation ceremony and what it said about supposed English ‘double standards.’)

I worry that the “bad” features of the Indian middle class — the Hindu nationalism; the post-colonial inferiority/superiority complex; the insecurity; the brash consumerism — will win over the “good” features — the ingenuity; the drive; the audacity. And I fear this battle will spill over into cricket faster than we all realize.

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3 thoughts on “What Does the BCCI and Cricket Mean to the Indian Middle Class?

  1. […] sorry to continue writing about the BCCI; cricket administration isn’t my forte (nor is it a major theme of this blog). But seeing the […]

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