When Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli wasted no time in hailing the demonetisation announcement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016, many fans were stunned by his extraordinary support for a political decision. Those critical of Kohli’s support for the note ban had wondered what may have blinded the cricketer from Delhi to not see the deaths of over 250 people, who had died of demonetisation related stress. Not to forget the ruin this foolhardy economic decision caused to the Indian economy. Truth be told, no one really expects the likes of Kohli to have the mental bandwidth to understand the economy. But surely, we expected him to be empathetic to the misery of hundreds of thousands of people whose lives were adversely impacted by the decision to declare 86% of the Indian currency illegal.
However, months later Virat Kohli appears to have come out in the open with his bigotry as he slammed a fan for admiring batsmen from England and Australia. Astonishingly, he told that fan that he had no business living in India if his favourite cricketers were from a foreign country. Little did Kohli realise that he, as an Under-19 cricketer of the Indian team, had said that his favourite cricketer was not Sachin Tendulkar but South Africa’s Herschelle Gibbs. Neither did Sachin Tendulkar have a problem nor was he told to migrate to South Africa as he continued to seek opportunities in the Indian cricket team.
Even after becoming a top-rated Indian cricket player, he famously announced that the German ladies tennis player Angelique Kerber was ‘officially’ his ‘favourite womens tennis player’ as he admired her fighting spirit. Again, the cricketer, who chose to get married in Italy and not in India, was not expected to give up his Indian citizenship and neither did India’s own Grand Slam champion Sania Mirza tell him to migrate to Germany.
— Rifat Jawaid (@RifatJawaid) November 7, 2018
No wonder, social media users are aghast at this motormouth and seemingly arrogant Indian cricketer’s audacity to award a patriotism certificate to his fans just because one of them called him an overrated player. Many of these fans are detecting a parallel in what Virat Kohli uttered with the vitriolic agenda of Hindutva militants in India. Questioning Indians’ patriotism in light of their criticism of the government policies has become a norm under the BJP-led government since 2014.
Kohli will do justice to his game and its millions of followers to quit cricket and join the right-wing groups in India to carry out this hate agenda without much fuss. No one will be complaining then. But as long as he is wearing the Indian blue cap and representing the national team, he must realise that he represents an inclusive society that this country has been proud of. Being a cricket captain doesn’t give him the right to berate a cricket fan nor the authority to question anyone’s patriotism. If he’s so juvenile as to not to understand the ramifications of his choice of words, he is probably not fit enough to lead India.
Kohli isn’t the first top Indian cricketing name to show his bigotry as his former team-mates Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have disgraced themselves with their despicable statements, made to suit the agenda of a political party. But, what makes the Indian captain unique is that he has chosen to make unfortunate comments while still being a part of the Indian national team. Sehwag and Gambhir revealed their bigotry after they became unfit to play for the country.
Going by his current form, the Indian captain is on course to smash every cricketing record in the book. But, the dangerous path he has chosen to tread on will never accord him the greatness, enjoyed by his predecessors namely Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar. For, national icons ought to remain inclusive, not divisive.
Kohli can learn a thing or two from Arsenal’s Turkish descent German footballer, Mesut Ozil, who only today showed how being a sporting icon was a privilege and not a tool to cause further friction in society. Ozil, a devout Muslim did not have to prove his tolerance towards other religious festivals. But, not only did he record a special message for Indian fans on the occasion of Diwali, but he also wrote a personal message in pure Hindi. To make it more special, he ended his Diwali greetings by posting the national flag of India. That’s how you lead by example and not by fake grandstanding.
Not too long ago, Virat Kohli was desperately seeking glory at the cost of an ordinary citizen, who had allegedly littered a Mumbai road with a candy wrapper. He had posted a video of his Bollywood actress wife Anushka Sharma giving a public dressing down to the man in question. This was seemingly in a bid to earn plaudits that he cared for PM Modi’s Clean India campaign. My advice to Kohli in light of the fresh controversy is that before you give sermons to others on keeping India clean, it’s important that you take urgent steps to clean the filth from your mind.
(The author is the founder of Janta Ka Reporter. Views expressed here are his own.)