Centurion Usman Khawaja ‘victim of BJP bigotry’

New Delhi, March 12, 2023 (PPI-OT): The fact that Australian batsman Usman Khawaja was initially denied an Indian visa because of his Pakistani origins has been blamed on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by Australian sports writers and Indian cricket enthusiasts alike. That Khawaja cracked a century at the first outing at Ahmedabad, where the prime ministers of India and Australia took an unusual lap of honour, was only a bittersweet outcome, said historian Ramchandra Guha in an interview with Karan Thapar on Saturday.

Prof Guha, a well-regarded cricket historian too, was commenting on the remarks by Malcolm Conn in The Sydney Morning Herald, slamming the denial of visa to Khawaja. “When a well-regarded sports writer reflects on the attitude of India’s ruling party and its ecosystem toward Muslim sportspersons, it should make everyone sit up and take note,” wrote M.K. Venu in The Wire. “Conn of The Sydney Morning Herald has brought out the rich irony of Usman Khawaja’s brilliant century on day one of the fourth Test match between India and Australia, which started after the well-choreographed chariot ride around the stadium by PM Narendra Modi, accompanied by his Australian counterpart,” The Wire report said.

Mr Guha said the treatment of Khawaja was “vicious and spiteful … and shows India in a poor light”. He added it “shames us … belittles us,” Prof Guha told Thapar. Conn said two standout performances on the first day were by Usman Khawaja, who scored a century, and from Mohammed Shami on the Indian side, who took two out of four wickets. “Sadly, both Khawaja and Shami have been targets of bigotry flowing from the Hindu nationalist ecosystem in India,” The Wire reported. Without mincing his words, Conn states that the “Hindu nationalist” government of the BJP sees “Khawaja not as one of Australia’s finest cricketers but as a Muslim born in Pakistan”.

Khawaja was initially refused a visa by the Indian government and couldn’t travel with the Aussie cricket team on Feb 1. Only later, after the Australian cricket administration intervened, did Khawaja get his visa. “The fact that PM Modi was planning a triumphal chariot show may have helped Usman Khawaja get his visa after a delay. But the first instinct was to reject his visa application,” The Wire said. “So Khawaja’s century has immense significance, scored at a venue in Gujarat named after Narendra Modi. It is also his first Test century in India. At the time of writing, he was still forcefully making a point with 180 runs on board. Indeed, Khawaja has been the best performing batsman for Australia during this series, even on pitches which favour spinners.”

The Wire said with his brilliant performance, Khawaja may have unwittingly provided a certain agency to the millions who feel very strongly about the divisive politics hurting India today. Pakistani cricket commentators who were popular with Indian audiences have disappeared as a result of the Indian ruling party’s bigotry. And sadly, such developments have touched even sports writers far away in Australia. Malcolm Conn not only empathises with Usman Khawaja but also expresses great solidarity with Mohammed Shami, who has been targeted by right-wing trolls in India from time to time. He recalls how Shami was targeted for India’s loss against Pakistan in the T-20 World Cup finals 18 months ago, and captain Virat Kohli came out strongly in his support.

“Targeting someone for his religion is the most pathetic thing that a human being can do. They have no understanding of how much effort we put on the field… They have no understanding of the fact that someone like Shami has won India matches in the last few years,” Kohli had said.

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