Front page news on Tuesday announced this year's World Cup squad for India's favourite sport, cricket. Beyond this lies India's top homegrown game, kabaddi. The game did make its international debut at the Asian Games in New Delhi in 1982, and there is even a pro-kabaddi league in the country, but I suspect the best kabaddi players are now in politics. I certainly got this feeling after seeing other front page news about gross violations of election rules.
The country's parliamentary democracy, based on the Westminster system, like the T20 version of what was once Test-focused cricket, has lost its English charm in the maidans of India. It certainly is no longer a gentleman's game known for fair play, integrity and dignity.
Holding one's breath, crossing into the opponent's territory, touching him without being pounced upon or surrounded by the rival team and getting back into the home territory is what kabaddi is all about. This year's election campaign has sunk so low, that the only way to dignify it is by drawing a parallel with India's most famous indigenous sport.
In Uttar Pradesh, Azam Khan literally goes below the belt by referring to a rival party's woman candidate, who was his Samajwadi Party colleague, in terms of her underwear. In Himachal Pradesh, a BJP leader hurls a common Punjabi invective of the most unparliamentary variety on stage at Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who in turn is quibbling on the nuances of his "chowkidar chor hai" insult hurled at the Prime Minister with the Supreme Court, no less, looking askance at him.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meanwhile, wants voters to dedicate their first vote to the martyrs of Pulwama in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink hint at who they should be voting for - though the Army is avowedly apolitical.
Oh, what a lovely election we have in the world's largest democracy!
The Election Commission is where the Model Code of Conduct is supervised from, but, unless one is a bad punster, no one hears it as a Moral Code of Conduct. The Election Commission even tells the Supreme Court that is "helpless" in cracking down on hate speeches targeting people on their religious identity or invoking caste. There ought to be a TN Seshan School of Poll Management for the current lot in which the former Chief Election Commissioner, who pioneered a tough guy interpretation of the high Constitutional office, may be a permanent faculty member.
More kabaddi moves: Maneka Gandhi, Union minister, and BJP leader, tells Muslims that she is no Mahatma and any post-election benefit for them would be linked to their booth-level voting. Yogi Adityanath stands unapologetic after saying his party has Bajrang Bali to counter the Muslim's Ali. Mayawati controversially calls on Muslims to vote en-masse. They all, like Humpty Dumpty, temporarily fall down from their election campaigns as the Election Commission, like Rip Van Winkle, kind of wakes up late to crack its "helpless" whip and calls them off their campaign trails for a day or two or three like a referee showing a red card.
There is a lot of sophistry and deceptive arguments floating about. The I-did-not-say-that variety. The I-did-not-mean-that variety. The others-are-saying-that-too variety. The I-have-been-misquoted variety. This media-people-are-like-that-only variety.
Picture it all like a game of kabaddi. They hold their breath, touch their opponents, and try and pretend they did not cross the Lakshman Rekha.
The Supreme Court meanwhile plays its own version of hu tu tu, aka kabaddi, with the Election Commission (helpless, remember?) that has been the most famous for deafening silence since former prime minister Manmohan Singh. The highest court of the land taunts the Election Commission for its use of powers (finally).
All they have to do now is to say that they are playing India's favourite rural sport. It is not for nothing that filmmaker Gulzar made a movie called Hu Tu Tu, that caricatured Indian politics with kabaddi as metaphor. Though it flopped, the film made 20 years ago captured the kabaddi culture that increasingly dictates India's elections. New lows are being plumbed as those unable to hold their breath blame the media or taunt the Election Commission. Only the judges have been spared thus far - at least in public comments.
It takes a poet like Gulzar to call the bluff on a crude sport. What is happening this year in a system that swears by tolerance, liberal values and parliamentary democracy is a grand game of kabaddi. It is certainly not cricket
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)