Why Gandhi said no to British In­dia’s top cricket tour­na­ment

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Sport - Bo­ria Ma­jum­dar

Ma­hatma Gandhi and cricket sounds a bit odd to start with. The Ma­hatma, never of any keen ath­letic dis­po­si­tion, try­ing his hand at what was a colo­nial im­port to keep the em­pire to­gether wasn’t the most log­i­cal thing to do. Yet, he did have his run-ins with the gen­tle­man’s game from time to time, even­tu­ally play­ing a se­ri­ous hand in the dis­con­tin­u­ance of the Bom­bay Pen­tan­gu­lar tour­na­ment, the fore­most cricket tour­na­ment in colo­nial In­dia, where teams were named after com­mu­ni­ties: Hin­dus, Mus­lims, Par­sis, Eu­ro­peans and the Rest.

Kausik Bandy­opad­hyay in his work “Ma­hatma on the Pitch” puts it nicely, “It is in­ter­est­ing to ex­plore the il­lu­sions of a sport­ing Gandhi, who played lit­tle but ob­served, told or wrote a bit about sports in gen­eral and cricket in par­tic­u­lar.”

More than a player, young Gand­hiji was a much-re­spected um­pire, an as­pect of his child­hood high­lighted by Pyare­lal in his bi­og­ra­phy of the Ma­hatma pub­lished in 1965. “On moon­lit nights, par­ties of Hindu and Mus­lim boys as­sem­bled there from dif­fer­ent quar­ters of the city and played games for an hour or so after din­ner. He (Gand­hiji) did not par­tic­i­pate in them but loved to of­fi­ci­ate as um­pire and saw to it that the rules of the game were very strictly ob­served by those who en­gaged in them.”

It was only when the Parsi head­mas­ter of his school at Ra­jkot, Dorabji Edulji Gimi, made par­tic­i­pa­tion com­pul­sory in cricket and gym­nas­tics that Gand­hiji was forced to play these sports. This is ev­i­dent from his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy where he writes, “I never took part in any ex­er­cise, cricket or foot­ball, be­fore they were made com­pul­sory.” Later in his life he did agree that “phys­i­cal train­ing should have as much place in the cur­ricu­lum as men­tal train­ing.”

Gand­hiji, how­ever, did leave a last­ing im­pres­sion on In­dian cricket when he weighed in on the Bom­bay Pen­tan­gu­lar. On be­ing met by a se­lect del­e­ga­tion of the Hindu Gymkhana at Wardha in De­cem­ber 1940, Gandhi had re­marked, “Nu­mer­ous en­quiries have been made as to my opin­ion on the pro­posed Pen­tan­gu­lar cricket match in Bom­bay ad­ver­tised to be played on the 14th. I have just been made aware of the move­ment to stop the match. I un­der­stand this as a mark of grief over the ar­rests and im­pris­on­ments of the satya­grahis, more es­pe­cially the re­cent ar­rest of lead­ers.”

He went on to add, “I would dis­coun­te­nance such amuse­ments at a time when the whole of the think­ing world should be in mourn­ing over a war that is threat­en­ing the sta­ble life of Europe and its civil­i­sa­tion and which bids to over­whelm Asia. ... And hold­ing this view I nat­u­rally wel­come the move­ment for stop­ping the forth­com­ing match from the nar­row stand­point I have men­tioned above.’

It was only after this state­ment that he went on to con­demn the com­mu­nal or­gan­i­sa­tion of the tour­na­ment, a de­nun­ci­a­tion given much pub­lic­ity in the con­tem­po­rary press. The Times of In­dia car­ried a front page re­port on De­cem­ber 7, 1940, with the fol­low­ing head­line: Mr Gandhi Against Pen­tan­gu­lar

Yet, there was no wan­ing of in­ter­est in the Pen­tan­gu­lar matches. Con­firm­ing this, the Times of In­dia re­ported Gandhi’s state­ment the day after: “With Bom­bay’s great an­nual cricket fes­ti­val only a few days ahead, the Pen­tan­gu­lar fever is at its height, a height that has rarely been at­tained be­fore. Large crowds watched all the three trial matches played over the week­end.”

When a res­o­lu­tion was tabled at the Hindu Gymkhana, call­ing for a with­drawal from the tour­na­ment, it had the sup­port of only 70 mem­bers of the Gymkhana. The to­tal mem­ber­ship of the Gymkhana stood at 900. This res­o­lu­tion was even­tu­ally passed by a small mar­gin of 37 votes (280–243), par­tic­u­larly as a mark of re­gard for Gandhi.

Within a cou­ple of weeks of Gandhi’s pro­nounce­ment against the Pen­tan­gu­lar, the Ma­hara­jku­mar of Viziana­gram, one of the key pa­trons of cricket in colo­nial In­dia, de­clared that, “Ma­hatma Gandhi has ex­pressed un­equiv­o­cally on com­mu­nal cricket. He gave it as his con­sid­ered opin­ion that com­mu­nal­ism car­ried into the do­main of sport is no happy au­gury for hu­man growth. It is high time that we gave Pen­tan­gu­lar cricket the burial it al­ways de­served.” Other princes con­curred. Fol­low­ing them, P Sub­baraon, the BCCI pres­i­dent, de­clared, “Now that Ma­hat­maji has spo­ken, I feel free to say that the au­thor­i­ties will be do­ing the right thing if they aban­don com­mu­nal cricket.”

The Pen­tan­gu­lar was even­tu­ally abol­ished in Jan­uary 1946 mak­ing way for the Ranji Tro­phy as In­dia’s fore­most

The Times of In­dia, Dec 7, 1940

do­mes­tic tour­na­ment and this was pos­si­ble to a large mea­sure be­cause of Gand­hiji’s pro­nounce­ments against the Pen­tan­gu­lar.

More re­cently in Au­gust 2015 the cricket boards of In­dia and South Africa have named the tro­phy awarded for the In­dia-South Africa bi­lat­eral se­ries as the Gandhi-Man­dela Tro­phy and it is fit­ting that the two coun­tries are cur­rently play­ing for this tro­phy as In­dia cel­e­brates the 150th birth an­niver­sary of the Ma­hatma.

Lala Amar­nath scored a bril­liant 241 for the Hin­dus in the 1938 Pen­tan­gu­lar. He and sev­eral other play­ers boy­cotted the tour­na­ment after Gandhi’s call

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.