How political ideology shaped the football fandom in India

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In the small town of Nawabganj in West Bengal, a coastal state in eastern India, one can find, amid a monotonous and crammed series of dilapidated and similarly worn buildings, a shiny striped structure azure white that, from a distance, appears to be a piece of luminous sky amid the drab, closely spaced dwellings. On closer inspection, one would realize that the entire three-story house is painted with the Argentinian flag.

The house is owned by Shib Shankar Patra, a humble tea seller who has soaked his residence in the colors of a nation 10 miles away, when told his $ 900 in savings would not be enough to afford a trip to Russia to attend FIFA. World Cup 2018 and watch his hero Lionel Messi play for his country. Two giant Argentinian national flags fly around its tea stall, which is itself popular throughout the region as the “Argentine tea stall”.

Patras is not an isolated feature. The whole state of West Bengal is teeming with tens of thousands of football fans dressed in Argentinian colors; Brazil follows far behind. You don’t need to visit Kolkata to validate this fact, its virtue can be attested by Google search statistics.

An analysis of search statistics for the query keyword “Argentina” for India shows a significant peak in 2018 around the time of the World Cup. Indeed, an overwhelming majority of queries come from the northeastern states, West Bengal, and the South Indian state of Kerala, the exact regions known for their distinct cultural identity and assertion, their free thinking, their inclination for religion. socialism and their aversion to appropriating the heart of Hindi.

Whether it was his exceptional affinity for football, his conservation of trams, his political leanings, his unique matrimonial customs, his hand-drawn rickshaws or his choice of color for police uniforms, Bengal has often been an exception. in terms of cultural choices. The non-conformist state, although historically considered an integral and inalienable part of the continent, has many peculiarities that seem to distinguish it.

One of them is his distinct and obsessive support for Argentina’s soccer team, a nation with which India has never had significant cultural contact.

Bengal bard Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate in science fiction who composed, among other things, what was adopted as the national anthems of India and Bangladesh, was involved in a platonic, intellectual, spiritual relationship. and globally complicated with the eminent Argentine writer Victoria. Ocampo.

Any form of friendship or relationship between the opposite sexes outside of marriage was strongly frowned upon, let alone transnational, at a time when marriage outside one’s caste was taboo, almost always ostracized. But West Bengal, being at the forefront of Indian intellectualism, liberalism, internationalism and cosmopolitanism, had its imagination captured by this romance across the two oceans.

India’s Creative Home was inspired by this form of transcendent bonding, feeling and solidarity which has shown that empathy and a sense of belonging and oneness can connect the most unlikely places.

West Bengal is known as much for its ideological and spiritual allegiance as it is for its spearheading of the Indian national freedom movement and regional patriotic sentiment. Its inhabitants are known to have a very strong sense of distinct cultural identity, but are still the pioneers of international adoption, overseas exposure and cross-cultural interactions.

In fact, Bengal’s intellectual and practical spearhead of social reform in India as well as its outbreak of the Indian freedom struggle were inspired by the ideas and ideals of the French Revolution. This is one of the reasons why the people of Bengal, which was ruled by a communist government for 34 years, root for the socialist-leaning Argentina rather than the generally corporate-leaning Brazilian giant.

The same goes for Kerala, led by perhaps the most successful Marxist government in the world, an exemplary welfare state in its sectors of health and education, and guaranteeing community harmony, social justice and equality.

Both states are striving to emerge from the dominant shadow of the Hindi mainland, which also finds expression in their extraordinary love for football in a nation singularly obsessed with cricket, a proclamation of their freedom and distinctive identity. Argentina is loosely regarded as the David vis-à-vis the Goliath of Brazil.

Colonial history

It all started with the 1986 FIFA World Cup when Argentina overcame all odds to beat England, a nation that reminds Bengal of its brutal 200-year-old colonial history. Bengal was the first and most affected of the Indian regions by the atrocities of British colonial rule. A number of intellectual and politically conscious Bengalis found solidarity with Argentina, which had engaged in a military struggle with Britain in its overseas territory of the Falklands, four years earlier.

Britain’s insolent retention of the islands was seen as a continuation of her historic imperialist tendencies. So, Bengal rejoiced when Maradona sealed Argentina’s victory in the final with his hand from God, and most middle-aged Bengalis owe their Argentine fanfare at this very moment, a sign of rebellion and a proclamation of freedom. . It was, for them, a symbol of resistance and the overthrow of arbitrary authority – a provocative uprising of the commons.

The humble southern nation had beaten the colonial power at a game of its own creation. The 1986 World Cup was broadcast live on Indian National Television. The elite saw it on the newly introduced color televisions, imprinting the vibrant jerseys on their minds.

Many of them, including Patra, admit that they see Messi as an extension of Maradona and therefore a root for Argentina, passing that fandom on to the next generation, including through the massive distribution of shirts. Patra “blesses” the life-size posters of Messi he has in his room with anointing from the neighborhood temple before important games.

Maradona’s visit to Calcutta in 2017 was much anticipated and much celebrated. It is not uncommon to see schoolchildren in the small suburbs of Calcutta saving their pocket money to celebrate Messi and Maradona’s birthdays. Anticipation leads to jubilation and truly empty streets, victories bring joy and celebration with firecrackers and candy, and losses bring mourning.

The obsession, however, sometimes goes to the extreme, as in the case of the most unfortunate suicide of a staunch supporter after Argentina’s loss to France in the 2018 World Cup.

For Kerala, football is like cricket, a colonial introduction that has caught on. Football was introduced by the Portuguese, the first European explorers, traders and settlers to arrive in India. But it is also a symbolic thing in the politically conscious state.

Soccer for Kerala is an expression of aesthetics, freedom, solidarity and camaraderie, united in passion amidst the diversity of allegiances and supporters. But support for Argentina is clearly set aside.

Malayali 2019 movie Argentina Fans Kaattoorkadavu told a story centered on football fandoms in an eponymous village in Kerala, with its sports tale deeply entangled with ideological conflicts. It’s a fairly well-known fact in Malayali football fan circles that Che Guevara and Lionel Messi share the same birthplace – Rosario, Argentina.


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