Sunday, March 23, 2014

All He Said Was 'Let’s Leave Politics To Politicians'

Amid the national jubilation over the Nepal’s spectacular debut at the ICC World Twenty20 cricket tournament, it was safe to assume there was a party-pooper or two lurking somewhere out there.
Comrade C.P. Gajurel struck faster than Maila Baje expected anyone would. The senior leader of the hard-line Baidya faction of the Maoists described the national craze as an ‘anomaly’, which would not help change Nepal. In his estimation, only politics could.
So this bloke Gajurel had to inject politics into sports. We started burning him in effigy, forcing a man rarely on the defensive to apologize, although he did not exactly walk back his comments.
How dare he attempt to politicize sports at such a moment of national glory? But wait a minute. Have the two ever really been separable in Nepal? And let’s not forget that we’re talking about cricket here.
The game, to be sure, has come a long way in the country over the past two decades. It is no coincidence that this happened after the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990.
During the Panchayat era, cricket was largely perceived as a relic of the British Empire. Since Nepal was never officially part of that constellation, cricket was kept at bay.
Moreover, with India dominating the game in the region and beyond, the drivers of the partyless system felt they could not afford to open another vulnerable front for cultural encroachment from the south.
So dismal was cricket’s lot here then that its patrons, many of whom were part of the partyless system’s elite, had to work in the shadows, often pouring their personal resources into the game.
Today, when cricket has gained so much ground, constituencies skeptical of India’s motives and intentions in Nepal are understandably upset the most. (One wonders how the story might have evolved had the Chinese, too, been enthusiastic cricketers.)
But before indulging in wholesale criticism of Gajurel, you have to consider what he really said. It wasn’t the game per se that annoyed him. He has since clarified that the ‘anomaly’ he referred to pertained to politics.
Come to think of it, Gajurel himself may have found some solace in TV or radio coverage of cricket matches when his existence in India – both subterranean and in incarceration – had tended to become particularly stifling.
What really irked Gajurel was the contrast being drawn between our cricket players and our politicians. Specifically, that our players were a disciplined fraternity capable of producing results than were our politicians. Yet even the most avid follower of the game knows that running up and down the pitch is the same thing as running the country.
We’ve been here before. There was a time, after the April 2006 uprising, when civil society luminaries arrogated to themselves the task of leading our leaders. Once the scale and scope of ‘transforming’ Nepal into nebulous newness became apparent, prominent civil society leaders returned to becoming back-seat politicians, pretending to be mediating between the people and the state.
Our cricketers have done us proud. They have lifted the national morale in a way that would be hard – if not impossible – for politicians to replicate anytime soon. Sportspeople, like other important members of society, will always have distinctive roles to play in our national life. But politics should be the preserve of politicians. This also means that – to stretch Gajurel’s point a little further – politicians should quit acting like batsmen and bowlers.