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National Pride at All-Time High as India Nabs Cricket World Cup Championship

April 6, 2011

Last Saturday, Mumbai played host to the biggest party on the planet as a record-breaking 67.6 million people tuned in to watch India’s victory over Sri Lanka in the ICC World Cup Championship. For the last six weeks, the country has been gripped by cricket fever with the home team battling it out for a place in the world tournament. Following tough encounters with rivals Australia and Pakistan in the quarter and semi-finals, India – for only the 3rd time in its cricket history – made it to the final round of the mega event.

Indians watch World Cup finals

A record-breaking 67.6 million people tuned in to watch the World Cup final between India and Sri Lanka. Above, fans watch from outside an electronics store. Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim.

The expectations were tremendous – the last time an Indian team won the World Cup was 28 years ago in 1983. In a nail biting contest that went down to the wire, Team India beat Sri Lanka by six wickets to the roars of a jubilant crowd and nation. Fireworks lit up the night sky as people took their celebrations to the streets, waving the Indian flag and chanting slogans. Delhi’s iconic India Gate was swamped with thousands of fans bringing traffic to a grinding halt. Similar scenes erupted across the country.

The victory is a welcome source of national pride and celebration in a year that has been marked by a series of political and corruption scandals. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has faced serious criticism over corruption scandals that took place under its watch. In October 2010, India experienced international humiliation as reports of corruption surrounding tenders and contracts for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi made headlines. The event, which was meant to signal India’s arrival on the international stage (much like the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China), exposed the country’s weak governance and poor leadership. Since then, corruption has been the flavor of the season with mega scams surrounding the allocation of 2G telecom licenses and housing allotments, tarnishing the image of the government and costing the nation billions in lost revenues (an estimated $40 billion in the case of the 2G telecom scam). Over the past six months, the Indian Parliament has been regularly disrupted by opposition protests, with the Lower House working at just 6 percent of its scheduled hours during a recent session. The already beleaguered government made headlines again in March as a WikiLeaks exposé revealed that cash was paid to MPs to secure votes for the 2008 Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal.

At a time when public faith in the government is at an all-time low, Team India’s masterful performance and, in particular, Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s tremendous leadership under pressure has been a source of inspiration for the country. Speaking to a leading newspaper, sociologist Shiv Vishwanathan observed, “Unlike our politicians, here was a leader [MS Dhoni] who knew how to lead. Here was a coach who happily stayed in the background. And here was a team that played like a symphony, with everyone chipping in.” The captain is being hailed as “India’s modern day icon,” and the World Cup win as a testament to India’s growing economic and political strength.

Team India’s win was nothing short of historic. After a series of failed attempts in 1999, 2003, and 2007, India is now the first host country to win the Cup and only the third to have done so twice. Indian cricketing legend, Sachin Tendulkar, emotionally dedicated the win to the whole country, saying, “We all have won this Cup, not only us 15 players. It belongs to the entire nation.” National pride is at an all-time high with newspapers, television, radio, and the internet abuzz with stories and reports of India’s victory. “The World at Our Feet,” proclaimed the front page of the Times of India on Sunday, while the Hindustan Times congratulated the “Champions.”

Cricket is a religion rather than a sport in India. From Kashmir in the North to Kanyakumari in the South, the sport is a multi-million dollar industry with a fanatical fan following. Cricketers such as Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, and Virender Sehwag are worshiped like gods and are considered more popular than politicians or Bollywood stars. As Saturday’s victory proved, cricket, unlike any other sport, has the ability to galvanize the country and bridge differences of caste, creed, and religion. Even as India struggles to set its house in order, for now, the country has reason to celebrate.

Mandakini Devasher Surie is The Asia Foundation’s program officer in India. She can be reached at mdsurie@asiafound.org

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