Since last evening, I've been constantly checking the online portals hoping to grab my own Indian cricket team’s army tribute cap. Hope the team’s kit sponsors, Nike, put it up soon, before this euphoria around the Indian armed forces dies down. After all, soldiers and their plights have very little shelf life in the Indian psyche. They are occasional guests, welcome to prime time debates and public display of valour, and our blank consciences, invariably, after their deaths.
For those who missed it, Indian players wore “special” armed forces camouflage caps during the third ODI against Australia in Ranchi on March 8, and also donated their match fees to the National Defence Fund. Skipper Virat Kohli came out for the toss wearing the camouflage cap, which sported the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) logo on the front, and a bold, if not bigger, Nike logo on the other side — a branding surgical strike. Precise, timely and effective. Unlike this modern phrase’s reality though, this one did not go unmissed.
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While the decision by the BCCI and the Indian players to donate the match fee (a playing XI member gets ₹ 8 lakh in ODIs and reserve players get half that amount) to the defence fund is highly commendable, one couldn’t understand the need to sport camouflage caps while doing so. Perhaps it was to reiterate the gesture with a bit of visual representation. In other words, use an unwarranted cheap gimmick to highlight the Board’s newfound love for the military. In times of jingoism, even they have followed suit.
The visuals of MS Dhoni, an honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the Territorial Army, handing out the caps to his teammates — with one of them even stomping his foot down before executing a sorry mimic of a salute — may remind you of the news anchor from a regional channel who, the other day, explained the recent military action in Kashmir wearing camouflage fatigues and carrying a toy machine gun.
Giving the Men in Blue some benefit of the doubt, let us assume that they were not trying to make a fool of themselves or the armed forces. The idea was to honour the soldiers, right? But, with the capped display of valour, they have made a mockery of the whole gesture.
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Perhaps things would have been better had the Indian cricket players realised the real meaning of being in uniform, serving in war zones. War is not a game of cricket. Modern television broadcasting and social media orators constantly scream “it’s ‘panga’, and a war”, giving you an illusion that war is sport. But it is a primal and unwanted narrative completely devaluing human lives in conflict.
And, unlike the common soldier, cricketers are sportspersons perched on a pedestal of privilege accorded by a nation-wide fancy for the sport, nothing more.
In a parallel, real and endorsement free world, Olympic heroes, Padma Bhushan and Arjuna Award winners, serve on the borders, wearing camouflage caps, which could, some day, save their lives by serving the purpose of camouflage itself. Conceal them from the enemy.
In cruel irony, the Indian cricket team’s camo cap was meant to make them stand out, and give its stakeholders some mileage in the process as well.
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While Dhoni, honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the Territorial Army, or Group Captain Sachin Tendulkar of the Indian Air Force, go about discharging their duties every now and then, in front of firing cameras for added measure, there are many sporting brethren of theirs, who do so in the line of fire with nary a camera around.
In September 2014, I chanced upon one near the Chumar region of Ladakh, close to the Line of Actual Control on the Chinese border. There were some suspect activities observed on the other side of the border and the Indian army had deployed personnel as a precaution. A group moving towards the region had Lieutenant Ignace Tirkey of the Garhwal Regiment as one of the officers. Tirkey, two years prior to that, was in the Indian hockey team at the London Olympics.
This single episode is enough to highlight the vanity in the gimmick that was played out by the cricketing heroes in Ranchi. The cap, worn by the players perhaps as a symbol to respect the soldiers, takes on sinister connotations in a country going through a hypersensitive, hyper nationalistic phase. A country where — as per yardsticks set by the government and narratives played out by a wide section of the media (social and mass) — baying for revenge, blood and warmongering make you an ideal citizen.
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A line by Kohli dedicating the gesture to the CRPF jawans killed in Pulwama, and the donation of the match fee to the welfare fund for soldiers, should not justify what was an unnecessary stunt. The BCCI itself has trained its guns towards Pakistan, wanting to ouster them from the ICC World cup later this year — a move that would have ramifications on Indian sport and even sanctions from global bodies. The Board, nor the players, don't realise that their antics — public display of jingoism — is adding fuel to the already nitrous and volatile state the country and South Asia is in at the moment.
Then again, stuntmasters call the shots these days, don’t they?
This doesn’t end here. The gimmick has opened doors to let Nike, that American sports manufacturer which runs sweatshops across South East Asia and China, make a bit of hay when the nation bays for war. The golden yellow logo of Nike prominently displayed in the camouflage caps of Kohli and Co. shows us another classic example of how things roll these days.
It is a world of big businesses — be it war, be it sport, be it peace, be it elections!
Sign up now. And brace yourself. This Nike-made, Indian cricket team’s Army special cap will be on the streets soon.
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