‘I Will Not Expect You to Justify Lynchings of Minorities & Dalits’: An Open Letter to Gautam Gambhir By One of His Admirers
"I fear that I will have to see you say and do things for which your record in cricket has not prepared me."
Dear Mr. Gautam Gambhir,
As an admirer of your game, I received with mixed feelings the news of your candidature from East Delhi for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. I am happy that a person of your stature and image will be in the Parliament. More so when there are so many people in the Parliament with questionable credentials and criminal records. I am a bit apprehensive also as I fear that I will have to see you say and do things for which your record in cricket has not prepared me.
I have followed your different roles related to the game, as a player, a captain, a columnist, and a commentator, and became your fan gradually. Your excellent test record in the first three-four years of your career, when you topped the ICC ranking for batsmen, filled me with pride. Your reliance on stroke play, rather than brute force, convinces everyone that one does not always have to have the physique and power of a Gayle or a Watson to score runs quickly. Watching your brand of aggressive cricket, and seeing that aggression both in batting, and in your interaction with the opposition, was sheer joy.
Ever since you became captain of Kolkata Knight Riders, I switched my loyalty from Rajasthan Royals to KKR. I discovered that in my university there was an overwhelming support for KKR. There are often no concrete reasons, other than regionalism or a love of some players, for the support of a particular team in IPL. For me the reason was Gautam Gambhir the captain and a few West Indian players who I just love watching anytime. They are wrong when they say that a captain is as good as a team.
I remember 2012 and 2014 IPL seasons where KKR’s title wins were achieved under your excellent leadership. Give a good team a bad captain and see how quickly the team can decline. There is no dearth of bad captains in IPL. Dinesh Karthik can praise Virat Kohli and Moin Ali but can ignore Nitish Rana and Andre Russell who almost won him the match against RCB in an extraordinary display of power hitting. He has a better team than what Gautam Gambhir had, but he can hardly match Gambhir as captain. Ashwin is another bad captain, not only for his infamous mankading act but also for his attitude to the game. He can lose a match from a winning position and not feel bad about it. Obviously he has not learnt anything from a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
I liked your irrepressible attitude in the field. Not many people would have crossed the path of Virat Kohli in the field. But you did, in your famous spat with him in a 2013 IPL match. Everyone knows Kohli is a superstar. Ravi Shastri knew it in the best possible manner. Today, he has a lucrative job where he does not have to do anything except praise Kohli and his team and run down any criticism of the team. But you did not think it twice when you held on to your decent aggression in that spat. More recently you also did not shy away from commenting on Kohli being lucky with his franchise, despite being on a losing spree all these years. But we also remember the other gentler aspect of your personality. Which cricket fan can forget your generosity in giving your Man of the Match award to Virat Kohli when he scored his maiden century against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens in 2009?
What do they know of cricket who only cricket know, wrote C.L.R James. I always looked forward to reading your cricket columns for Hindustan Times . The way you began a column with an interesting anecdote from life and related it to the game, required a certain command of the nuances of writing. How you blended the personal, poetic and the philosophical with your comments on the game convinced me that you possess an art which you can take forward in longer write-ups and books. Greg Chappell is another contemporary columnist who blends life and cricket excellently in his columns. The genre of cricket writing, perfected by the likes of Neville Cardus and John Arlott in the past, has been enriched by your write-ups.
As a commentator I like your frank and undiplomatic opinions about the game. You could say with confidence that a captain needs to set a special field for a very few players, for Chris Gaye and Rohit Sharma certainly, but not for all fast scoring batsmen, not even for Virat Kohli or AB de Villiers. You could also say that Dinesh Karthik considers himself a finisher, a judgement of Karthik about himself which is not upheld by others.
I fully believe that you have the talent, the enterprise and the attitude to be a good addition to our parliament. What I also expect you to have is the unwillingness to be fully co-opted into the dominant discourse of the times. I am sure an intelligent reader like you will read, explore, and introspect and not fall to half-truths and lies which are being circulated in the media on an hourly basis. You will not talk like Maneka Gandhi or Pragya Thakur to create divisions in society. It has become so damned easy to win an election by creating hatred against a particular community. I will not expect you to justify lynchings of minorities and Dalits.
I am sure you will see the hollowness of terms like ‘minority appeasement’ or ‘Hindus in danger’ in their own land. I want you to read the report of Sachar Committee, if you have not already read it, and see the level of Muslim community’s poverty, deprivation and marginalization. I will expect you not to fall to vicious propaganda against Indian Muslims . An intelligent man that you are, you will realize that Indian Muslims are as much the citizens of India as anyone else and as proud of their Indian heritage as any other community. They are as much the son of the soil as anyone else and do not require a certificate of loyalty from anyone. I expect you — somebody who has travelled widely and seen our country in all its variety — to stress the fact that India is a land of diverse cultures, traditions, and religions, a fact repeatedly stressed in our Constitution, which I am sure you will swear by.
I will expect you to speak your mind like you always did and not genuflect before the biggies in your party simply under the pretext of party discipline. You were a star with a clean image your party needed against an extremely competent and well regarded AAP candidate. Cricket is a kind of religion in India and a star cricketer like you is adored by all sections of society, irrespective of caste, creed and region. You will remain a star and win more hearts if you speak truth to power, an ability you have, and have displayed in your entire career.
You have lived by the values of excellence and fair play on cricket field. I expect you to bring that fair play in all your utterances and actions in your new role. I wish you the very best.
One of your admirers
(The author teaches English at Aligarh Muslim University.)