Every four years, Bharat witnesses a bout of collective belly-aching served with dollops of self-flagellation. Why, oh why, can’t we win Olympic medals, particularly Gold medals, commensurate with the size of our population?
The op-eds of our English-language papers and TV talk shows are full of commentary listing the following reasons in some order or the other: poor sports administration, lack of resources, lack of self-belief in athletes, poor nutrition and diet, sidelining of other sports vis a vis cricket, lack of facilities, planning and high-quality training, lack of a sporting culture, and of course the perennial favorite: ‘caste and cultural factors’.
The last one is something Western media outlets are especially fond of reporting, ably aided and abetted by likes of Prof. Ronojoy Sen, of the University of Singapore, who told BBC “Indians have traditionally seen themselves primarily not as individuals, but as members of their caste, tribe or region…Even when people excel in sport, they are often discouraged from pursuing it to top levels, by their families and wider community. And social stratification has meant different castes tended not to play sport together.”
To be true, there could be a grain of truth in some of the above listed factors. But what our commentators fail to diagnose is that our lack of sporting prowess boils down to the same thing which holds us back from reaching our true potential in other spheres of human activity: the fact that we are yet to fully decolonize ourselves and embrace our civilizational identity.
We are a confused nation. Our elites – those who dominate our institutions, intelligentsia and business – have yet to break free from the mental shackles created by past British and Islamic colonisers. They are self-alienated and harbor an instinctive contempt for the majority Hindu and Dharmic culture. Educated and brought up in an Anglicized milieu, our elites hanker for Western approval and abhor the uninhibited pride in one’s civilization that is the key ingredient for any nation’s rise. In this sense, our elites are intellectual sepoys, just like the British Army used native sepoys (soldiers) to subjugate the nation during colonial rule.
History shows that every nation’s rise is preceded by leadership which encourages the citizenry to take pride in their civilizational legacy and strive unitedly to claim their place on the world stage. The West’s own history is littered with such examples – of course, their national, cultural and religious pride morphed into supremacism and naked greed, giving rise to European colonialism and genocide of native populations in Americas, Africa, Australia and Asia.
But if we look East, we will see just the models that Bharat should be emulating – Japan rising through the Meiji Restoration (although that too got influenced by prevailing Western colonial mores leading to regrettable excesses by Imperial Japan), Korea’s rapid rise to modernity under Gen. Park Chung-hee, and yes China too – especially the path shown by Deng Xiaoping. Let’s not forget that even after turning Communist, China never lost its respect for the ancient Chinese civilization. One of the driving forces behind the nation’s meteoric rise today is a national resolve to never allow a repeat of the ‘century of humiliation’ – a period starting from the middle of the 19th century when China was subjugated by colonial powers. Compare this with the hatred India’s communists harbor for Bharatiya civilization.
During the men’s table tennis semi-final match during the current Olympics, as China’s Ma Long was engaged in a see-saw battle with Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov, the Chinese national coach bellowed from the sidelines to Ma, “You CANNOT lose to HIM.” The message was clear – Table Tennis is China’s domain, do not lose to this European. Ma Long went on to win the match and the final.
What do we think inspires children from China, Korea, Japan to excel in sport or life? What makes them go that extra mile that separates the Gold medal winner from the silver/bronze one? How do they manage to work together – players, coaches and officials all in sync – for the greater national goal without the same factionalism and inefficiencies witnessed in Bharat?
All these East Asian countries have modernized, yet they have managed to retain the civilizational core which defines and propels successful nation states. It is no surprise that they dominate the medals tally every Olympics along with the Americans and Europeans (we can consider Australians and New Zealanders as quasi-Europeans).
Our Anglophone elites have created an English-language apartheid system. The more a person is conversant in the English language and steeped in Western intellectual frameworks, literature and history, the greater is his intellectual heft in the faux marketplace of ideas created by them. These elites love talking down to the masses, to what they consider ‘vernacular’ (a word used in a pejorative sense) speakers. They love telling commoners what is wrong with them and their traditions, and why they are inherently incapable of matching Western liberal democracies.
But the Anglophone elites are not alone in this power structure which is holding Bharat back. They have found willing collaborators in feudal, regional chieftains whose only interest is in enrichening themselves and their progeny. As per this bargain, the elites dominate intellectual discourse and key institutions, while also providing intellectual cover to help the feudal chiefs grab political power by gaming our democracy in alliance with minority supremacists. And if the masses do wise up to vote for a party/group with at least some semblance of national ideology, this cabal cries in unison: ‘Ugly Majoritarianism, Fascism, Hyper-nationalism’!
End result: a nation without a long-term vision, a patronage-based system where heads of most sporting bodies are political lackeys, endemic corruption, and a general dilution of standards. Ordinary citizens who are only fluent in native languages like Hindi often nurse an inferiority complex, and their self-belief takes a hit as the state and elites are constantly signaling to them that their culture and civilization is inferior. This lowers standards even more, creating a self-perpetuating cycle where English-speaking ability alone defines self-worth and is seen as the ticket to success. Everyone starts mimicking the ruling class and adopts a selfish, me-first attitude.
When you starve a nation of success and self-belief, the few who do succeed get disproportionate attention. But the next time they falter, they receive condescension or over-the-top criticism as if to say, ‘We told you so’! Sometimes, players and officials also learn how to play this game and milk the system – a case in point being our cricket team where the current coach-captain duo have managed to create the impression of an all-time great team, whereas the current team is strictly speaking a good, competitive Top-3 unit – what that means for a sport played seriously by only a dozen-odd nations is for the reader to decipher.
As we witness Bharat’s women, especially from much maligned ‘conservative’ states like Haryana and others from ordinary families where religion and culture are still considered forces of good, perform creditably in the Olympics, don’t expect any let up in the English-speaking elites’ narrative that Hindu families are all about patriarchy, misogyny and backwardness. Some are even attempting to redirect credit for our women’s hockey team’s inspirational run to a film that used hockey as a backdrop to drill home a favorite trope of the Anglicized sepoy: shame the ‘ungrateful, narrow-minded’ majority for being prejudiced towards minorities.
Today we saw Ravi Kumar Dahiya, the third Olympian from Nahri village in Sonepat district of Haryana, enter the final of the men’s freestyle wrestling 57kg competition at the Tokyo Olympics. His entire village and nation erupted in joy when he won his semi-final bout, and this is how Ravi’s father Rakesh and the entire village has supported his Olympics dream:
“Rakesh will himself carry milk and butter to Chhatrasal Stadium, about 60kms away from Nahri, every single day without fail to ensure that his son gets the best diet.
The routine means Rakesh would wake up 3:30am, walk about 5km to the nearest railway station, get down at Azadpur and then walk another 2km to the Chhatrasal Stadium, where Ravi trained under Mahabali Satpal.
After coming back, Rakesh would work in the fields and it continued for 12 years till the COVID-19-induced lockdown halted the routine in 2020.
…Ravi was six-years-old when his father introduced him to the sport. He would carry Ravi with him to the fields, where his friend Hansraj ran an Akhada. “He has only dreamt of winning an Olympic medal since the beginning. He knows nothing else,” said Rakesh.”
One can only hope that the likes of Prof. Ronojoy Sen take off the colonial-lens through which they view Bharat. Community ties based on ethnicity, region or other identity marker (like jati in Bharat, wrongly translated as ‘caste’) are a universal human phenomenon. People derive strength from these community bonds, from other achievers and from their ancestors A nation can either honor these ties and use them to weave a larger civilizational national identity, or it can choose to use these identities to divide society apart in pursuit of some abstract, imported idea of ‘Constitutional morality’.
Many among the masses are now seeing through the game played by the Anglophone elites and their feudal collaborators. A rapidly modernizing Bharat which proudly wears its civilizational Dharmic identity is the need of the hour. Olympic gold medals will follow.
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