Why Does the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Resent Cricket?

A cricket match between India and Australia in progress in Nagpur, Maharashtra, on Oct. 28, 2009.

A cricket match between India and Australia in progress in Nagpur, Maharashtra, on Oct. 28, 2009.

Nagpur, a city of nearly 2.5 million in central Indian state of Maharashtra, has the slow rhythms of a small town. The noise and edginess of the new Indian metropolis, the gargantuan   shopping malls and luxury automobiles, have yet to overwhelm it. Nagpur seeks half-hearted recognition as India’s Orange City, for being a major trade center for oranges cultivated in the region. Nagpur makes an appearance on the national stage when the right-wing guardians of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), pronounce their views on Indian politics or society from their headquarters in the city.

Among other things, they have often aired their dissatisfaction with cricket — their chief complaint being that, as a game, it is not sufficiently “Indian.” In A Corner of a Foreign Field, a magisterial history of Indian cricket, Ramachandra Guha reproduced parts of a speech M.S. Golwalkar, one of the R.S.S.’s founders, had given in the 1950s. Mr Golwalkar argued that “the costly game of cricket, which has not only become a fashion in our country but something over which we are spending crores of rupees, only proves that the English are still dominating our mind and intellect.”

In 2011, following the Indian team’s progress through the Cricket World Cup, I was in Nagpur to attend India’s match against South Africa. One morning, I  decided to visit the offices of the RSS to understand why they resented cricket.

Nobody seemed to know where the RSS office was. At Badkas Chowk, a chaotic roundabout barely a hundred meters from the RSS office, two shopkeepers had no clue. A puzzled autorickshaw driver asked me, “What is RSS? A shop?”

I had expected the headquarters of the powerful Hindu nationalist organization in India to be a prominent address in town. I was amused by the sight of locals scratching their heads about its whereabouts. After several fruitless forays, I finally spotted a pale, unremarkable building, tucked inside a lane off from the main square. Two policemen surveyed the street from a watchtower behind its gate….

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