Cheering for Pakistan’s cricket team isn’t sedition - Hindustan Times
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Cheering for Pakistan’s cricket team isn’t sedition

ByYashovardhan Azad
Nov 01, 2021 05:43 PM IST

India is too strong to be affected by the immature chants of a few. But penal action will breed alienation, erode democratic credibility

Moments after India’s shock defeat to Pakistan in the World Cup T20 match in Dubai, Virat Kohli walked across to congratulate his rival captain, Babar Azam, and embraced him — winning the hearts of millions of cricket lovers across the world for his noble gesture. The high-voltage clash between South Asia’s fiercest rivals was given a befitting, dignified closure, with the graceful act on the part of the losing captain.

Babar Azam looks up to Virat Kohli as his role model. MS Dhoni shirts are worn by Pakistani fans. The cricket fraternity speaks a different language, quite distant from that of politics (ANI) PREMIUM
Babar Azam looks up to Virat Kohli as his role model. MS Dhoni shirts are worn by Pakistani fans. The cricket fraternity speaks a different language, quite distant from that of politics (ANI)

Indian supporters were in a state of shock, but soon recovered. India-Pakistan matches do not arouse the passion and hysteria of yesteryears. Besides, India has been routinely winning against Pakistan in the last 20 World Cup matches. However, young passionate lovers of cricket tend to go overboard at times, with aggressive showmanship and chauvinist acts.

Should cheering for Pakistan in a cricket match against India be punished by slapping sedition and terror laws? Can a mighty State such as India be dented by some slogans in favour of Pakistan in a match, at a few odd places in the country?

In an engineering college in Punjab’s Sangrur, students from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP) clashed with Kashmiri students when the latter were allegedly cheering for Pakistan. The matter was resolved amicably by the college authorities. The police, mercifully, were not called upon to intervene.

In Kashmir, however, unknown students of two Kashmir colleges have been charged with the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for raising slogans in favour of Pakistan. Videos have been circulated on social media to whip up hysteria and mobilise opinion against the students.

Kashmir is going through a delicate phase. The Valley is tense and fragile, grieving at the loss of Army jawans. Counterinsurgency operations are in full swing, and migrants are being corralled at designated centres for their protection. People have been detained for questioning and the police are stretched, investigating the recent killings. How logical is it to lodge first information reports (FIRs) against students and go through the rigamarole of trying to establish a terror charge against cheering students? Is cheering an act of violence against the country?

In UP, things look even more grim. Chief minister Yogi Adityanath has issued a stern warning that such elements will be dealt with severity. Three students of Agra are now facing charges of sedition. They have been suspended from college and heckled in court by lawyers. They come from poor families and their fathers have made a passionate appeal to the state to forgive them. Precious money has been spent on their education in the hope that they become engineers and look after their poor families when they grow up.

The home minister of the Islamic military State of Pakistan, who is not taken seriously even at home, stated after the match that it is the victory of Islam. But Saqlain Mushtaq, former Pakistan spinner, moved by Kohli’s gesture, stated that it is the victory of insaniyat (humanity).

In 2014, 60 students of Meerut were slapped with sedition after they were found cheering for Pakistan. The charge was later dropped as wiser counsel prevailed. In the recent T20 match between Pakistan and Afghanistan, cricket fans in India, admirers of Rashid Khan, were rooting for Afghanistan. Does that mean any kind of linkage or preference for the Taliban?

Neither the charge of sedition or UAPA is tenable, nor is the action justified against the students on grounds of governance. There was neither any incitement to violence from the closed spaces nor was any such act committed. In the case of Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab, the Supreme Court held that shouting “Khalistan Zindabad” is not sedition as there is no call for violence or public disorder. The charge of cyber-terrorism may be laughed out of the court too.

As the national security coordinator for the Pakistan team touring India in 1999, I was witness to the standing ovation given by the entire stadium in Chennai to the Pakistan team after it beat India narrowly in the Test match. Later, travelling with the Indian team on its Pakistan tour in 2004, I saw Pakistani fans applauding our team at various places. The camaraderie between individual players of both sides was quite visible in 1999 and 2004, and remains quite strong even now. Babar Azam, the latest batting sensation from Pakistan, looks up to Kohli as his role model. MS Dhoni shirts are worn by Pakistani fans. The cricket fraternity speaks a different language, quite distant from that of politics.

Alienating the young in Kashmir is not the way forward to its emotional integration with the rest of India. Kashmiri students outside Kashmir must savour their freedom of speech and expression. Lodging cases against a few for their enthusiastic overreach, even if objectionable, will only belittle our claim to being the largest and truly democratic State. Any penal action will breed more animosity and push the young into a vicious cycle of widespread acrimony. We need the firepower of the youth to enable the vision of activating the prime minister’s vision of a New India.

All cases instituted against the students should be withdrawn in response to the prayers of their distraught parents. Their act of cheering for Pakistan should be condoned as an act of immaturity, a mere folly of youth.

Yashovardhan Azad is chairman, DeepStrat, a former Central Information Commissioner and a retired IPS officer who has served as Secretary, Security and special director, Intelligence Bureau

The views expressed are personal

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