India is noisily celebrating its victory an hour or two ago over Pakistan in the semi finals of the cricket World Cup.
As soon as the match finished last night (March 30), the sky around my central Delhi flat was full of flashes and blasts from fireworks and young people began driving around cheering on motor bikes. Others danced in the streets, and children came out with their own firecrackers. The same has happened across the country which had spent the afternoon and evening glued to television screens.
It was the India’s fifth consecutive World Cup win against Pakistan. Each such match combines the toxic mixture of rivalry and relationships which both divide and unite these two neighbours that have fought three wars and one serious border battle since independence. But unlike the decades of sometime violent rivalry between for example England and Germany over football, the cricket rivalry between India and Pakistan can have positive results, as has happened here.
There are two main winners from the day’s cricket – in addition to India which won when Pakistan was 231 runs all out, failing to beat India’s 260 for nine. India now goes on to the final against Sri Lanka on Saturday.
One winner is Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, who invited Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to the match.
The other is the relationship between India-Pakistan, which has been fractured and bitter since a deadly attack on Mumbai in November 2008 that was blamed on terrorists who travelled from Pakistan.
Manmohan Singh desperately needed this fillip after months of declining fortunes when his inability to lead his shockingly corrupt coalition government has done serious damage to his reputation and, maybe, his authority.
He is not however by any means totally to blame, and has been unfairly criticised by the world’s media, firstly because he is the prisoner of the pulls and pushes of greedy coalition government partners. Secondly, it is Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party and of the coalition, who ultimately calls the policy shots but keeps herself carefully out of the political firing line so does not share the accountability or blame.
In foreign affairs however, the prime minister can sometimes strike out on his own, as he did with the 2008 India-US nuclear deal, and as he has done before on relations with Pakistan.
After India’s win in the World Cup quarter-finals last Friday against Australia, he personally decided to invite Gilani to today’s match in Mohali, just 200 kms from the Pakistan border in the Indian state of Punjab.
The invitation triggered saturation coverage on tv and in newspapers of the diplomatic and sporting pros and cons of the move. There was some criticism of the initiative on both sides of the border. India’s Bharatiya Janata Party was against formal talks until Pakistan took more positive action against those accused of involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. L.K.Advani, the veteran BJP leader, said Gilani was welcome for the cricket but not much more.
Opposition was reported from one or two top Congress leaders, but that was apparently silenced when Sonia Gandhi let it be known she would attend the match and meet the Pakistani prime minister. Coincidentally, there were two days of constructive talks between the two countries’ home ministries in Delhi just before the match.
Nirupama Rao, India’s foreign secretary, said after the talks and a dinner hosted at the cricket ground (above) by Manmohan Singh, that the day of sportsmanship had “set a good trend”, and Gilani had invited the Indian prime minister to visit Pakistan.
Her smiles at a press conference said almost more than her words about what seems to have been a relaxed mood at the dinner and the talks between the two prime ministers. The signature of the event, she said, was about “peace, reconciliation and healing wounds”.
India won the World Cup on Saturday night April 2 – see India celebrates a great World Cup victory http://wp.me/pieST-1hM