Sharad Mathur

The Resurgent Indian

Sharad Mathur

The stereotype of a weak and defeatist Indian has been around for some time and has travelled all over the world with the Indian Diaspora. With centuries of colonisation, roots of this stereotype most plausibly can be traced in the view that the conquerors held of the conquered. Lord Babington Macaulay, in a letter written during his Nilgiris trip, described Indians as “a race so accustomed to be trampled on by the strong”. In the same letter he recalled his Indian servant as “like most of his countrymen… a chickenhearted fellow”.  This view was a natural attempt at rationalising the ill-treatment of the conquered; it was a manifestation of the conqueror’s sense of racial and cultural superiority. Over time, it also started making sense to the collective psyche of the conquered. This is perhaps why, the late Indian writer Nirad Chandra Chaudhuri, described his impression of his fellow Indians in a rather unflattering manner – “I came upon people, both men and women, who seem to enjoy being ill-treated by others. It is an emotional luxury for them to dwell on and speak about their grievances and wallow in self pity.” This was not an observation of a culturally uprooted Indian; Nirad Chaudhuri lived in India for over 70 years before migrating to England. To be fair to Chaudhuri, this was not very far off from the view of most English educated Indians who had seen the British Raj lay foundations of modernity in India, sang ‘God save our King’ with passion, and were disappointed with the travails of an independent India.

The liberalisation of Indian economy, since 1990s, has changed the scenario dramatically. As India began to grow, the weak-Indian stereotype has constantly been deteriorating. From snake charmers to computer geeks, Indians have come a long way. Though various factors are at play here, the most important ones that are turning the tables on the weak defeatist Indian stereotype are increasing young demographic, rising income, and growing awareness. These three factors at work make a sizeable chunk of India’s population – young, upwardly mobile, aspiring, aware, and demanding. Let us take some examples from recent times to explore these factors at play.

The Sledging Indian Cricketer

They were calling me a spoilt brat, and I said, ‘Maybe that’s the way I am. You guys hate me, and I like that.’ I don’t mind having a chat on the field, and it worked in my favour I guess. I like playing against Australia because it is very hard for them to stay calm, and I don’t mind an argument on the field; it really excites me and brings the best out of me. So they don’t seem to be learning the lesson.

This is what Virat Kohli, the new Indian test captain, said after his on-field spat with Mitchell Johnson, about the Australians, in Australia. To back what he said, he ended up as the second highest run accumulator in a four match series that went 2-0 in favour of Australia, but could have easily been drawn with some luck going India’s way. Though it was the Saurav Ganguly led touring Indian side, from 2008, that for the first time fought fire with fire against the Aussies but theirs was just a reaction. What the current Indian side under the leadership of Virat Kohli has done is unprecedented. They drew first blood! They not only sledged the Australians but also started the sledging in an otherwise sombre series following Australian opener Phil Hughes’ demise.

Not that there is a virtue in sledging first, but to understand the paradigm shift let us go back in time to the other touring Indian sides and we will clearly see a pattern in a handful of small built men – Hazare, Gavaskar, Vishwanath, and Tendulkar – braving the opposition’s fast bowling attack while absorbing the insults and the talk. Look at these Indian sides of the past and we can find a dearth of aggressive fast bowlers and over-dependence on slow paced spin attack; perfectly fitting as an extension to the stereotype of a effeminate Indian who can never be an aggressive fast bowler and has to be a little shifty to take wickets. Mihir Bose, in his book ‘The Magic of Indian Cricket: Cricket and Society’, highlighted this sense of inadequacy deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche, which makes people actually wonder if a country that lived on a rice and vegetable diet could really match fast bowlers from countries that ate beef and pork. To demonstrate this sentiment, he quotes his own octogenarian father who thought he did not have many years to live. On being given the example of a nonagenarian British lady, his father quipped, “These people are different. They eat pork and beef. You cannot compare us with them.”

So, what has changed from then to now?  For sure the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has not gone out of its way to select players who have been raised specially on a staple diet of beef and pork. It is just that the times have changed. Unlike Nirad Chaudhury and Mihir Bose’s father, the young Indian has no recollection of the realities that existed in the colonial era. Most of them grew up experiencing the boons that post liberalisation economy has brought to India. All of them have experienced Indian Premier League! Indian franchises employing foreign players, especially from the first world nations like England and Australia where cricket hails from, is no less a blow to the colonial hangover than say, the Tatas acquiring Jaguar. David Warner, one of the most firebrand cricketers in the Australian cricket team made whopping Rs 5.5 crore playing in the IPL 2014 for Sunrisers Hyderabad, a side captained by Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan. That, in all probabilities, is much more than what Warner makes from all other sources of his income. All the IPL sides are owned by Indians.  Five out of eight teams on the IPL roster are captained by Indians. This changes the equations of power. Today, it would be mighty difficult for a Warner to ever treat a Dhawan with the contempt with which even the best of Indian players were treated in the past.

Minnows Speak Up

That N Srinivasan, former BCCI President and current Chairman of International Cricket Council (ICC), had to come out and say that BCCI is not trying to bully the world cricket, shows the clout BCCI enjoys. So, the episodes of Indian cricketers finding a back bone have coincided with the moolah showering all over Indian cricket. But what explains, more and more Indian sports authorities standing up to protest a perceived injustice?

Hockey in India, which in no way is remotely as influential as BCCI, took a tough position and made the world hockey body, International Hockey Federation (FIH), blink first! In December 2014, after defeating India in the semi-finals of Champions Trophy, some over-enthusiastic Pakistani players showed middle finger to the Indian crowd which was booing them throughout the match. Although, Hockey India promptly lodged a protest with FIH, the players were let go off with a gentle rap on the knuckles. Had it been Hockey India of the past, this would be end of it. But it was not to be. A visibly upset Narendra Batra, President Hockey India, in a televised interview called FIH ‘spineless’ and posted a very strong public statement on Facebook: ‘Hockey India is disappointed with FIH’s decision. I am instructing my CEO to inform FIH that in case this behaviour by teams is within normal and tolerable limits of FIH then we may not be interested to host any more tournaments in India and the tournaments may be shifted to countries which tolerate this kind of nonsense and uncouth behaviour’.  Within hours, FIH did a u-turn and suspended two Pakistani players and officially reprimanded one.

It is not an isolated incident either. Laishram Sarita Devi refused to accept her bronze medal at the medal ceremony of the 2014 Asian Games, exposed the problem of judge’s bias for boxers from host nation, and paid the price by receiving a one year ban. In 2012, one of the sponsors at the London Olympics was Dow Chemical – whose negligence caused over thousand deaths in Bhopal. Indian athletes threatened to boycott London Olympics over this and their petition reasoned, “We feel that it will be against the basic principles of the Olympics charter to partner with Dow Chemical, which is responsible for the ongoing disaster in Bhopal.” Under pressure from the Indian Olympics Association and Indian athletes, the organising committee had to remove Dow Chemical’s logo from London’s Olympic stadium.

So, do these incidents of Indian sports authorities and athletes putting their foot down really indicate a pattern of change in the society at large? To explore this, let us take our focus to 2012 when an ordinary girl was brutally gang raped by some men in a moving bus. She was Nirbhaya, in whose death the entire nation was awakened. In Delhi, thousands of young men and women gathered spontaneously and occupied the roads leading to Parliament of India and Rashtrapati Bhawan – the official residence of President of India. Law enforcement agencies, with all their seasoned negotiators, were at bay to devise a way to deal with this sea of protestors because it did not have a leader. Unlike this protest, almost all other protests of similar magnitude were organised by political or social organisations, and had a clear chain of command. For the first time, in the history of protests in India, such a large number of concerned citizens, without an organisational and leadership structure, connected through the social media and joined forces to demand accountability from the state. However, it was not the first time it had happened in the world; it had happened in Tahrir Square, Cairo.  Even after Nirbhaya protests, it continues to happen in urban centers like Gezi Park, Istanbul and downtown Hong Kong. Technology is making the world smaller and the rapid pace at which it is raising awareness amongst masses is revolutionary. With awareness comes empowerment, and empowered people stand up for what they believe in.

Changing face of India

The Indian General Elections of 2014 were no less than a revolution. It was the first time that half of the Indian voters were under 35 years of age and 150 million first time voters were coming out to vote. It was also the first time in the last 67 years of Indian democracy that there was a strong wave in favour of a political party which was fuelled by a development agenda, as opposed to being an emotional response to the demise of a powerful leader as we saw in the 1984 general elections. The Modi wave materialised not with the usual far-right Hindutva rhetoric, but took wing with the aspirations of these young Indians. To these young voters, it mattered that the economic growth had slowed down from around eight per cent to five per cent. And that the inflation rate had risen to double digits. To these voters, the opportunity to succeed was more important than free doles. This is obvious in face of the worst outing Indian National Congress has had since India’s independence, despite them launching many last minute populist schemes. Knowing that the youth is the new face of India, Narendra Modi led BJP utilised technology and communication to promulgate the Modi wave, and ended up getting an absolute majority on their own.

With the new government in place, India has been asserting its prominence unapologetically at the world stage. Examples of it are clearly seen in Narendra Modi putting up a hell of a show at Times Square; launching of Mangalyan (Mars Orbiter); India unilaterally suspending talks with Pakistan after its envoy chose to meet the Kashmiri separatists despite India’s protests; and India’s former defence minister Arun Jaitley commenting on the subject of skirmishes at the LoC — “When Pakistan used to fire, we always had a shield in our hand. This time we also had a sword.” Though many are crediting Modi and his no-nonsense approach to a changing resurgent India, the fact of the matter is that a changing resurgent India is shaping Modi’s no-nonsense approach. Testimony to it is the fact that even a supposedly passive UPA government led by Manmohan Singh, took on the mighty US on the issue of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade. It virtually took on all of European Union on the issue of Italian Marines trial. The young aspiring India defined the approach of a sexagenarian RSS pracharak (can be loosely translated to campaigner or missionary) Modi to lead India!


There are bound to be many opinions on Virat Kohli’s aggression, Sarita Devi’s outburst, Narendra Batra’s uprightness, Nirbhaya protestors’ methods, Modi’s developmental agenda, and India’s foreign policy. However, it really does not matter if they are good or bad. Or at least, it does not matter as much as spotting a visible pattern in this. The Indian is finally discovering a voice. His youth, his awareness, and aspirations are emboldening this voice every day. What matters most right now, is for us to ask if this is enough for India to stake its claim at the helm of world order?

Leave a Reply


I Sell Bacteria
E. Sreedharan: A Level Five Leader
Ujjwal Nikam: The Dark Knight of Justice
Back to Top