In one of the many poignant moments in Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s wonderful film on what a sporting victory can mean to a nation, Nelson Mandela asks Francois Pienaar, captain of the South African rugby team: “How do you inspire your team to do their best?”
“By example. I have always thought to lead by example,” answers Pienaar. “That is right,” counters Mandela. “But how do we get them to be better than they think they can be? That is very difficult, I find. Inspiration, perhaps. How do we inspire ourselves to greatness when nothing else will do? How do we inspire everyone around us?”
This exchange between a brave sporting leader and an inspirational national leader can tell us a lot about India’s exhilarating victory in the cricket World Cup. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the man who led by example. He had a mediocre tournament till Saturday night. But he chose to come out at a time when victory was only a possibility and saw India through. That was Dhoni at his best: calm under pressure, leading from the front, taking risks that only a leader with belief in himself can.
And there was also another man who inspired his team to greatness, by being a role model for everyone around him. It was no surprise that every player with a television mike thrust into his face said that the victory was for Sachin Tendulkar. He has carried Indian cricket on his broad shoulders for 22 years, as Virat Kohli reminded us, seeing the national team through thick and thin, giving his best, being untouched by controversy and being a guide to the younger players.
In Invictus, Mandela shows how sport can be used to unite a nation. The 1995 World Cup for rugby was played under far more trying circumstances than the 2011 cricket tournament was. Mandela had inherited a nation living under the shadow of brutal racist repression and could have dissolved into chaos fuelled by retributive justice. It took Mandela’s political genius to use a sporting encounter to unite black and white into his rainbow nation.
Contemporary India does not suffer from such basic dissensions. But it is a nation that seems cynical and exhausted despite the long economic boom. The past few months have seen a tidal wave of corruption scandals, an ineffectual government and public rage. The World Cup victory is a moment to be enjoyed, but also a chance to show what Indians are capable of when they are led by men who lead from the front and strive for excellence.
The political class has evidently had a great time in the past few weeks, hogging the best seats at the various stadiums as a matter of right, and evidently not paying for the privilege. It is a metaphor for the state of the country right now.
India deserves something better.
Can India replicate its World Cup success in other spheres? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org