EDITORIAL: Australian cricket team touring India had a taste of religious bigotry blighting India under its far-right Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. One member of the squad, Usman Tariq Khawaja, was refused visa because he is a Muslim of Pakistani origin whose family immigrated to Australia when he was just four years old.
Only after the Aussies’ cricket administration intervention was he able to join his team. One of the visitors’ best batsmen, Khawaja put in a spectacular performance hitting a century on the first day of the fourth Test in Ahmadabad, where before the start of the play Modi did a lap of the ground in a chariot ride along with his Australian counterpart, Anthony Albanese.
After cocking a snook with his brilliant century at those trying to hold him back, Usman Khawaja said that “to get a hundred in India, as an Australian that’s what you want to do.”
Some sports analysts in Australia have commented with biting wit on the Modi government’s resort to discrimination against one of their own. A well-respected commentator for the Sydney Morning Herald, Malcolm Conn, wrote that “the irony should be lost on no one that it was Khawaja, a Pakistan-born Muslim who dominated the cricket after Modi was choreographically feted at the stadium named in his honour”.
He went on to note that “the stage-managed political fluff was exposed by Khawaja” in the last over of the day’s play when he flicked a Mohammad Shami delivery through the leg side and danced with unbridled joy, celebrating his first century in India.
Shami, an Indian Muslim, too, has been frequently targeted by BJP activists. He was viciously trolled when India lost to Pakistan in the 2021 T-20 World Cup finals. However, the then team captain Virat Kohli had strongly defended him, saying “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 past few years.”
For Usman Khawaja, this was not the first time India had denied him visa. Back in 2011 at the time of the Champions Trophy he had experienced a similar problem, prompting Cricket Australia and Cricket New South Wales to ask the Indian High Commissioner for issuance of visa.
Singling out a Muslim with Pakistani roots for bad treatment is of a piece with the Modi government’s anti-Muslim policies and practices that upset all decent Indians like Kohli, but they do win votes. Nevertheless, the Australian government has some explaining to do as to why it lets that happen to one of its citizens.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023