Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s official Twitter profile shows him wearing the words Honor and Virtue prominently on a T-shirt that resembles battle fatigues. It’s a fitting image for the battle-hardened captain of Indian cricket. Most cricket lovers would swear that Dhoni embodies Honour and Virtue through his batting and captaincy. And till the latest IPL scandal emerged around this time last year, there was nary a thing one could say against the Jharkhand juggernaut.
But 2013 had not been good to Mahi. Sreesanth was caught with pants down — or literally speaking, with his kerchief hanging out — and that unearthed a long list of frauds committed by a long list of personalities during IPL 6, with Dhoni having to face some of the music too.
And with all the allegations and accusations flying around, yesterday, another ghost from the ghastly last year reared its head and came straight for Dhoni in the form of an arrest warrant.
In April 2013, Business Today ran a cover story on Dhoni’s fabulous brand appeal, and how he was becoming the God of Big Deals. The magazine augmented this title by depicting Dhoni as Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, holding 8 endorsed products in his 8 hands. One of the products happens to be a shoe – an impure object according to orthodox Hindus. Quite predictably, many petitions were filed against Dhoni in cities such as Delhi, Pune etc alleging that Hindu sentiments were hurt.
One such petitioner was Y Shyam Sunder from Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh. Shyam Sunder happens to be a local leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) which is a part of the Sangh Parivar – an umbrella term used to denote organizations that practise Hinduism with a certain intensity missing in mainstream Indian life. And, yes, the ruling BJP considers the Sangh Parivar –the RSS in particular – its ideological parent.
Thankfully, Shyam Sunder filed his petition against Dhoni in February 2014, months before the NDA’s electoral victory. As such, we need not attribute this action to newfound arrogance stemming from high power. But at the very least, the action appears to be a manifestation of misdirected anger.
Surely Mr Shyam Sunder and his ilk do not suspect Dhoni of providing the magazine’s editorial team with the title and the image idea? Surely there was at least an editor, a journalist, a copywriter and a graphic designer involved? Shouldn’t they accept a lion’s share of the responsibility?
Who knows whether it was Dhoni or one of his representatives who approved the Photoshopped image, without worrying too much about its perceived irreverence?
The only real error probably made by Dhoni’s team here is that they assumed that the storm would blow over and there would be no need for him to make a personal appearance. That assumption has backfired – having endured no-shows to three summonses, the local court judge of Anantapur has issued an arrest warrant. And suddenly, Dhoni finds himself needing to make an unscheduled return trip to India from the UK, perhaps after the first Test match ends at Trent Bridge. Perhaps some lucky police officers might even get the opportunity to travel to London to escort the skipper back. Who knows?
Trivialities apart, this issue is bound to resurrect a jaded debate in Indian society. Oft-asked questions will do the rounds again. What is secularism? Is freedom of expression subservient to religious sentiments? Who will define limits to freedom of expression? What would those limits be? As always, these questions will receive the usual responses from the usual quarters.
Emboldened Hindus might have one more question to ask: in a framework wherein Gods have created epics by donning human forms and wherein the line dividing the human and the divine has always been faint, can a human being not aspire to divinity?
If all goes well, MS Dhoni will be released with a slap in the wrist. While he might have to answer plenty of tough questions in the months to come, explaining his avatar in a magazine cover shouldn’t be one of them.
P.S: With every other detail being the same, will this issue have acquired such proportions if our protagonist was Sachin Tendulkar instead of MS Dhoni? You are now free to spend the next few hours in reflection and/or animated debate.