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What Shami means under Hindutva

Updated on: 27 November,2023 12:50 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Ajaz Ashraf |

The BJP may want to appropriate the top World Cup performer in the hope of giving itself a facelift, but Muslims will not b forgiving of the party that has demonised the community

What Shami means under Hindutva

PM Narendra Modi with Mohammed Shami (right) and Ravindra Jadeja. Pic/PTI

Ajaz AshrafThe emergence of Mohammed Shami as a superstar during India’s World Cup campaign has injected new meanings into his persona. It will make him vulnerable to powerful personalities appropriating him for myriad causes. He will be seen to embody ideas he might not have even thought through. He will be cited as an example to clinch drawing-room debates. Shami will no longer be just Shami, the fast bowler with a runup resembling the steed’s gallop, swinging and seaming the ball to dismiss the best in the world.

Eminent Muslims personalities are almost always transformed into emblems of arcane ideas. They become their community’s pride, an argument against those who question their loyalty to India, a rebuttal against the cry of discrimination they encounter, and a symbol of hope for Muslim teenagers to aspire for glory.

A Muslim superstar is seldom divorced from his religious identity. Therein lies his/her lure and, at times, nemesis.

Shami broke into the Indian cricket team in November 2013, months before the rumour about the rising tide of Hindutva was confirmed in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He did not quite become a star overnight. Yet his very presence in the team represented India’s religious pluralism. It was assumed Hindutva followers would refrain from demonising the Muslim cricketer straining every sinew to win matches for India.

The assumption was flawed, for hate recognises no limits. Hate found Shami during the T20 match against Pakistan in 2021. He leaked runs. He was trolled viciously, accused of deliberately bowling poorly to let a Muslim Pakistan win, of being a Pakistani agent in the Indian team. Virat Kohli, the Indian skipper then, lashed out against the trolls, saying they operated at the “lowest level” any human could.

The famous and the ordinary joined Kohli in supporting Shami. He suddenly represented India’s ideological faultline.

Even Congress leader Rahul Gandhi consoled Shami on Twitter, now called X: “…We are all with you. These people are filled with hate because nobody gives them any love. Forgive them.” By then, India had already seen scores of lynchings of Muslims, with their protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, crushed and Muslim youth leaders packed off to jail under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

Shami, with Gandhi’s tweet, represented the victimisation of Muslims under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule.

“Shami, Shami,” the crowds would roar every time Shami galloped to bowl during the World Cup matches. His dream run prompted Modi to post on X, after the semi-final, “The bowling by [Mohd Shami] in this game and also through the World Cup will be cherished by cricket lovers for generations to come. Well played Shami!” After India stumbled in the final, Modi sauntered into the Indian dressing room, with a camera in tow, grabbed and cradled Shami’s face on his shoulder, in a display of consoling him.

Regardless of Modi’s intentions, his X post and act of commiserating with Shami were widely perceived as political messaging belonging to the same order as his show of concern for Pasmanda, or backward caste Muslims, and praises for Sufism. Shami, the star, was thought to have a political purchase equal to the wooing of an entire category of Muslim castes and a sect.

A friend insists Modi’s cultivated fondness for Shami was a measure to quell the international criticism of his regime’s treatment of Muslims. It would also convey to a segment of Hindus, alarmed at the ferocity of hate driving Indian politics, that Modi is not anti-Muslim, or is, at least, belatedly trying to turn a new leaf. Certainly, the Hindutva brigade will claim that its leader’s and their full-throated support for Shami is proof that they do not hate Muslims, at least not those who bring glory to India or are not closet ‘jihadis.’ Has not, they will argue, Chief Minister Adityanath ordered the commissioning of a mini stadium in Shami’s ancestral village in Uttar Pradesh?

No doubt Muslims will celebrate Shami every time he scalps wickets but they will also be, in the same breath, reminded of the mistreatment they have undergone over the last 10 years. Their rejoicing of his future feats will be tinged with sorrow and bitterness, which a segment of Hindus, too, will comprehend and note. Take journalist Anuj Kumar, who went to Shami’s village, in Amroha, before the World Cup final and wrote an insightful piece.

Kumar said Shami is an inspiration in the “village that is hardly 70 kilometres from Madanpur village… where Qasim Qureshi was killed in June 2018 by a mob following alleged rumours of cow slaughter.” Kumar also quoted the Moradabad-based Badruddin Siddiqui, who discovered and honed Shami’s bowling skills, “Instead of crying over discrimination, I tell Muslim boys to prove themselves. I know we have to repeatedly prove our love for the nation…”

Rare will be a Muslim who can emulate Shami. So, how will ordinary Muslims prove their patriotism? Well. Shami can never be a trope for the everyday experiences of ordinary Muslims. It is in this state of not-being he is celebrated, as much out of innocence as hypocrisy. Shami, aap bowling kariye, we are with you. Shami, Shami!

The writer is a senior journalist

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