Opinion: Virat Kohli becomes a victim of political paranoia

The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Bridge.


Outrage, outrage everywhere. Not a single brain to think. 

That spin on Coleridge’s words might have come out of the author’s brain but had the English poet been alive today in the age of social media, he might have got to it first. That’s the state of affairs almost everywhere, a demonstration of which came our way when Virat Kohli found himself in a quandary for comments in a video that has now gone viral on the internet.

In a 27 second video that is a part of a longer video (available on his app) mean tweet section, Kohli can be seen reading on his phone what’s possibly a tweet saying, “Over-rated batsman. I see nothing special in his batting. I enjoy watching English and Australian batsmen more than these Indian.” Kohli’s response to this isn’t the most sophisticated or humorous, the latter, his tone suggested, possibly being his intent. He can be seen saying, “I don’t think you should live in India, go and live somewhere else. Why are you living in our country and loving other countries? I don’t mind you not liking me, but I don’t think you should live in our country and like other things. Get your priorities right.”

That’s all that’s there in that less than a minute video which has got twitterati up in arms against the Indian captain. There is a lot of ‘Shame on You, Virat! Mixed with old videos of him calling Herschelle Gibbs is his favourite cricketer all over the social media (Not sure if even Gibbs saw that coming) and congratulating Angelique Kerber on her Wimbledon success.

So, how outrageous are Kohli’s comments? Perspective is an essential ally in our quest to get to the bottom of the matter. While there is a little doubt that Kohli’s response is slightly unwarranted and over the top, there, one has to understand that it’s not supposed to be taken very seriously.

That’s how the ‘Mean Tweets’ section of any show is. Sample this. A mean tweet with racist connotations addressed to Kumail Nanjiani on the Jimmy Kimmel show asked, “Is Kumail Nanjiani’s d**k multiple colours? The Big Sick actor of Pakistani origin replies, “Yes, every shade of your mom’s lipstick and her bu**hole.” As distasteful as the tweet and the response might seem, one has to understand that it wasn’t to be taken seriously by anyone. 

Moreover, another contextual parameter on which the statement has to be put is that of time. Would Kohli’s statement have created the same kind of furore a decade back? Highly unlikely. It would have easily flown under the radar. So, what’s wrong with it today? Well, for once, it’s not solely the social media which is responsible for the star cricketer getting pilloried left, right and centre today but also the political climate of the country.

Thanks to hundreds of news channels and social media’s growing footprint, we are all too familiar with this template of ‘If you can’t do X, go back to Y’ statements, where X is almost always some dripping nationalism act, and Y is Pakistan. It’s a statement that has fringe right wing written all over it in bold and capitals, with Pakistan even underlined. And the Indian junta has been fed to saturation with such statements in the last four years. The news channels, the Facebook pages, and the WhatsApp groups have done their bit to add to the paranoia. Kohli’s statements, following almost the same template, have rankled this section of the population who are aghast at such comments from a public figure and also are sensing a tacit nod by the skipper to similar thoughts expressed by some politicians of the fringe right.

While the fears of some section of people from such statements can’t be dismissed as unserious, the controversy is also a reflection of the state of paranoia that we have grown accustomed to in our country. This paranoia is tactfully used as well as misused by some with a dislike for the right to keep those feelings among the masses alive. And the star batsman has unfortunately found himself dragged into this political crossfire. Twitter has already declared him a ‘Sanghi’, a ‘right-wing goonie’, and even a BJP candidate for 2024.

This is over-reaction at its very best. Those chastising the batsman based on a 27-second video should take into account a few things. Firstly, the whole ‘mean tweets’ business is supposed to evoke humour and wit, and humour doesn’t always toe the line of political correctness. Besides, the entire video (which I am sure not too many would have cared to watch) lacks in both humour and wit. Neither are the tweets amusing and not the responses. Let’s just say, humour and wit are a bit like playing reverse sweep for Kohli. They don’t come naturally to him.

Secondly, if what Kohli states doesn’t have the least semblance of humour and is a reflection of his thoughts, then also who are we to school him for keeping his views? Our judgments are symptomatic of a deep-rooted malaise that runs across fans across the globe. As hero-worshipping fans, we tend to put our stars on a pedestal where we refuse to see them anything less than embodiments of perfection. Every time, the sportsman strays from what our version of ideal is, we are outraged, forgetting that the sportsman is, in fact, an individual entitled to his idiosyncrasies and imperfections.

Thirdly, and most importantly, while the hate mongering comments of politicians do warrant a reaction because they are eventually power-wielding law-makers of the country, course correcting Kohli makes little sense. At the end of the day, the 30-year-old is a cricketer whose forte is playing the game, something that he does with unquestionable dedication. If we are expecting him to be equally eloquent at articulating his political views, it’s akin to Kohli hoping us to understand the dynamics of weight transfer while playing the backfoot punch through covers.

There’s no absolving Kohli, though. As a public figure, he should have done better and refrained from making statements that, in the current scenario, could elicit a reaction that it has obtained. But the outrage against it too is steeped in ignorance and is coloured in political paranoia, something that has turned into a trend courtesy social media, where peddling hatred and misinformation go hand in hand.

Having said that, what Kohli should also refrain from is taking breaks from cricket. The last time he took a break while the Indian cricket team played Afghanistan in a Test in June, he ruffled feathers by laying into a certain Arhan Singh for littering on streets. The video shared by him of the incident on Twitter backfired, and fans lashed out at the cricketer instead for his apparent smugness. And now while the Indian team makes short work of the Windies in the shortest format, he is raking up a controversy sitting home. In the best interests of everyone, Kohli should play cricket, score centuries and bring a smile on millions of Indians’ faces.