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Inclusivity and pluralism retains a country’s vitality

Sangakkara’s prescription for cricket administration is equally valid for our state administrators and for our political leadership. The political leadership needs to be transparent and embrace pluralist and democratic values; while the administrators in the public services need to display more professionalism and have the strength of character to withstand undue political interference.
by Shanie

The Aryan migrations are supposed to have taken place about a thousand years after the Indus Valley period; and yet it is possible that there was no considerable gap and tribes and peoples came to India from the north-west from time to time, as they did in later ages, and became absorbed in India. We might say that the first great cultural synthesis and fusion took place between the incoming Aryans iand the Dravidians, who were probably the representatives of the Indus Valley civilization. Out of this synthesis and fusion grew the Indian races and the basic Indian culture, which had distinctive elements of both....It is odd to think of India, with her caste system and exclusiveness, having this astonishing inclusive capacity to absorb foreign races and cultures. Perhaps it was due to this that she retained her vitality and rejuvenated herself from time to time."

(July 09, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India, from which the above is taken, is an extraordinary and scholarly piece of writing of an extraordinary and visionary political figure. The Discovery of India is a sweeping view of Indian civilization and culture from the earliest times with a commentary on India’s freedom struggle. But the amazing part of it is that this over five hundred page of print were hand-written by Nehru while spending five months in prison, one of many occasions when he and other leaders of India’s independence struggle were sent to jail by the British colonial government. It must however be said to the credit of the colonial rulers that they seemed to have provided their prisoners with the facilities for writing, discussion and reference to books. The Discovery of India was published unchanged from the original manuscript that Nehru wrote in prison.

The founding fathers of independent India like Gandhi and Nehru set firmly on the course of pluralism, secularism and democracy. Both at the time of independence and continuously over the years, there have been forces of ethnic chauvinism and religious extremism but the democratic and pluralist values that India’s leaders wrote into their independence constitution has prevailed. These are values that are for all time. These values that Nehru emphasized in his writings and in his actions have echoed by Indian scholars, political leaders and others over the post-independence years. Professor Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate, has recently written of the invaluable contribution made by Emperors Ashoka, a Buddhist, Akbar, a Muslim, to the development of the Indian tradition of inclusivity and pluralism, which Nehru himself had acknowledged in several of his writings. Ashoka had argued for the need to conduct arguments with ‘restraint in regard to speech’; ‘he who does reverence to his own sect by disparaging the the sects of others wholly from attachment to his own sect, in reality inflicts, by such conduct, the severest injury on his own sect.’

Akbar, according to Amartya Sen, not only made unequivocal pronouncements on the priority of tolerance, but also laid the formal foundations of a secular legal structure and of religious neutrality of the state, which included the duty to ensure that ‘no man should be interfered with on account of religion, and anyone is to be allowed to go over to a religion that pleases him.’ Amartya Sen continues: ‘While the historical background of Indian secularism can be traced to the trend of thinking that had begun to take root well before Akbar, the politics of secularism received a tremendous boost from Akbar’s championing of pluralist ideals, along with his insistence that the state should be completely impartial between different religions. Akbar’s own political decisions also reflected his pluralist commitments, well exemplified…., rather remarkably, by trusting a Hindu former king (Raja Man Singh), who had been defeated earlier by Akbar, to serve as the general commander of his armed forces.’

Sangakkara’s Spirit of Cricket Lecture

It is such values that we need to restore in our country. Kumar Sangakkara has done the country proud in his Colin Cowdrey Memorial Lecture delivered in the Nursery Pavilion of the MCC’s Lords Cricket ground. In a powerful speech, he stressed what leaders like Nehru and Amartya Sen have been stating in neighbouring India. It is a synthesis of our diverse cultures over the past millennia that has made us one people with a proud civilization. Sangakkara stated: ‘In our cricket we display a unique spirit, a spirit enriched by lessons learned from a history spanning over two-and-a-half millennia. In our cricket you see the character of our people, our history, culture and tradition, our laughter, our joy, our tears and regrets. It is rich in emotion and talent. My responsibility as a Sri Lankan cricketer is to further enrich this

beautiful sport, to add to it and enhance it and to leave a richer legacy for other cricketers to follow.’ When Sangakkara spoke about cricket and cricketers, he was addressing the entire Sri Lankan nation. The spirit learned from our history, which he said the cricketers displayed, is something that our country and our people should embrace.

Sangakkara has himself on earlier occasions received the ICC’s Spirit of Cricket award, for which he was chosen by cricket umpires, writers and officials for embodying the highest traditions of the sport. He was chosen to deliver this Lecture this year, for the first time by a still active player, presumably because of the high standing he enjoyed throughout the cricketing world not only for his outstanding talent as a wicket keeper batsman and the way he played the game on and off the field, but also for the belief that many had that he would through this lecture, be able to make an outstanding contribution to the future the game. Sangakkara has not failed those who had that faith in him. He has quite forthright in his opening remarks that he had not chosen as the subject for his lecture any of the many issues that were troubling the cricketing world today. He recognized their importance but he said that he preferred to speak about the story of Sri Lankan cricket. He possibly did not want to add just another voice to the many other equally competent persons who were grappling with the many critical issues in world cricket. But the story of Sri Lanka cricket, a fascinating story by itself, was also one that would teach many lessons to many, both within Sri Lanka and without. Particularly the emerging cricketing nations of the world, but even the older cricketing nations will have much to learn from the story of Sri Lankan cricket. Sangakkara stood tall when he concluded his lecture by stating: ‘I will keep paramount in my mind my Sri Lankan identity: play the game hard and fair and be a voice with which Sri Lanka can speak proudly and positively to the world. My loyalty will be to the ordinary Sri Lankan fan, their 20 million hearts beating collectively one to our island rhythm and filled with an undying and ever-loyal love for this our game. Fans of different races, castes, ethnicities and religions who together celebrate their diversity by uniting for a common national cause - they are my foundation, they are my family. I will play my cricket for them. Their spirit is the true spirit of cricket. With me are all my people. I am Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. I am today, and always, proudly Sri Lankan.’

How Sri Lanka Succeeded

In his story of Sri Lankan, Sangakkara commented on two personalities who had made a significant contribution to bringing Sri Lanka to the level it enjoys in world cricket. This column has on a previous occasion made reference to these same two same personalities, who though involved in politics, never allowed party politics to intrude or influence Sri Lankan cricket. Gamini Dissanayake was a cabinet minister in the UNP government when he, as the elected President of the Board of Control of Cricket in currently Sri Lanka, successfully negotiated the admission of Sri Lanka as a full Test-playing member of the ICC in 1981. Arjuna Ranatunga, who played as an eighteen year-old schoolboy for Sri Lanka in the inaugural Test match against England in 1981, belonged to a prominent SLFP family in the parliamentary opposition. Party politics did not play any part in Ranatunga’s selection to play in the inaugural Test match nor when he was appointed Captain of the Sri Lanka cricket team in 1988, when Gamini Dissanayake’s UNP was in power. And the Cricket Boards were manned as Sangakkkara said, by men of integrity whose love was the development of Sri Lanka. It is this, and Ranatunga’s astute leadership, that led to Sri Lanka coming from behind to win the World Cup in 1996.

But, as Sangakkara laments and which every Sri Lankan now knows, with the World Cup win, money started pouring into the coffers of the Board. And thus began the decline of Sri Lankan cricket. Many sought positions in cricket administration, some well-meaning and some seeking the wealth and power that administrators enjoyed. With government appointed interim committees and the requirement that team selections needed political approval, it was small wonder that Sri Lanka was eliminated in the preliminary rounds itself at the next World Cup. Since then, the players have shown remarkable unity and a sense of purpose in achieving their goals. There have been and continue to be political interference in Sri Lankan cricket; the cricket captains of recent years have however been able to withstand to a great extent such interference and have displayed leadership of the highest quality. But, as Sangakkara says, ‘unless the administration is capable of becoming more professional, forward-thinking and transparent, we risk alienating the common man. Indeed, this is already happening. Loyal fans are becoming increasingly disillusioned. This is very dangerous because it is not the administrators or players that sustain the game– it is the cricket-loving public. It is their passion that powers cricket and if they turn their backs on cricket then the whole system will come crashing down.’

Sangakkara’s prescription for cricket administration is equally valid for our state administrators and for our political leadership. The political leadership needs to be transparent and embrace pluralist and democratic values; while the administrators in the public services need to display more professionalism and have the strength of character to withstand undue political interference. This is the only way in which we can move forward and, like our cricketers, stand tall among other nations with dignity and assurance.

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