A former BCCI administrator has hit out at the treatment of Usman Khawaja by Indian authorities during the recently concluded India-Australia Test series, calling it “vicious and spiteful”.
Khawaja’s visa was delayed ahead of the series, causing him to miss the flight to India alongside his teammates and forcing him to fly to Melbourne and spend the night in an airport hotel.
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The Pakistani-born Khawaja was the only member of the Australian team to have visa issues ahead of the highly anticipated Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Leading Indian historian Ramachandra Guha, who formerly held a position on the BCCI’s panel of administrators, hit out at the delays.
“Khawaja is a fine cricketer, he played very impressively, and to hold up his visa was an act of spitefulness,” Guha told Indian journalist Karan Thapar on The Wire.
“It shows India in a very poor light, not the (ruling party) BJP, not (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi, but you and me as Indians that our country could hold up someone’s visas even though he is an Australian citizen,” he said.
“It was a vicious and spiteful act and in some ways, given all that went on, it is poetic justice that Khawaja scored a hundred.”
Khawaja is a dual citizen of both Australia and Pakistan, holding an Australian passport and Pakistani passport, but India visa applications require anyone of Pakistani origin, whether they or their parents were born in Pakistan, to declare their origin status on a separate application form, as well as whether their grandparents have at any point held Pakistani nationality.
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India and Pakistan have been in conflict since the partition of British India in 1947, which formed the modern day countries of (largely Hindu) India and (largely Muslim) Pakistan.
The two nations have been at war three times in addition to ongoing military engagements over the disputed territorial status of the Kashmir region.
“In my view, Pakistan should be able to play in India and come for the World Cup because cricketers are not terrorists, cricketers don’t represent their government, they just play a sport,” Guha said.
Pakistan have not played a match in India outside of ICC tournaments since 2013, and Pakistani cricketers have been excluded from the lucrative Indian Premier League since the second season, following the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Khawaja, born in Islamabad before moving to Australia as a toddler, is a devout and practising Muslim.
India’s ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party have been criticised for their “Hindutva” ideology of Hindu nationalism and for systematically discriminating against Muslims, which form India’s largest minority group.
News Corp understands that Khawaja’s visa application was submitted in early January, during the Sydney Test, and he was the only member of Australia’s touring party to not have his visa processed.
It is not the first time Khawaja has struggled with visas to India, with his passport being withheld in 2020 ahead of an ODI tour, as well as a heated debacle in 2011 ahead of the now-defunct Champions League T20 tournament.
Cricket Australia and Cricket NSW were forced to petition the Indian High Commission to reverse their decision to refuse Khawaja a visa, after an Indian diplomatic staffer insisted his application had to be made with a Pakistani passport rather than his Australian one.
At the time, an incensed Khawaja vented his frustration with the situation, tweeting “Indian visa department need to sort their issues out.
“Refusing to let me travel to India as an Australian, because I wasn’t born here. Wow,” he wrote.
Responding to Portugese-born teammate Moises Henriques’ queries, he replied: “It wasn’t that I wasn’t born here but where I was.”
Guha went on to lash out at the BCCI’s handling of the Ahmedabad Test and the Indian cricket media, after News Corp reported that travelling Australian fans had been denied tickets for the first day’s play in favour of tickets set aside for a political rally that featured Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
“It is deeply upsetting, and also upsetting that it took an Australian writer (News Corp’s Peter Lalor) to point this out,” he said.
“This is well known among Indian cricket writers, but no Indian cricket journalist or website had the courage or decency to write about this.”
Guha’s interview with The Wire came after he wrote an opinion column in Kolkata daily newspaper The Telegraph, where he criticised the scheduling of the fourth Test in Ahmedabad at all, blaming Prime Minister Modi’s desire for a diplomatic show of economic force in the 132,000 capacity Narendra Modi Stadium.
Ahmedabad is the largest city in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“It was only in Gujurat that the demands of the personality cult could have been adequately satisfied,” he wrote.
Guha also appeared on The Grade Cricketer podcast, telling hosts Sam Perry and Ian Higgins that the scheduling was “scandalous” and “an outrage”.
“It’s like Sydney and Melbourne not getting a Test match, and Alice Springs and Darwin hosting two of your Test matches,” he said.
Guha also criticised ex-players for being complicit in avoiding criticism of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
“India has become the big bully of world cricket, and the IPL has allowed it,” he said.
“Many ex-cricketers, including Australian cricketers, are part of this, because they want contracts to commentate on the IPL.
“There was a scandal in Ahmedabad earlier this week because there weren’t any tickets available for the first day because (Prime Minister) Mr Modi a captive audience, there was a pushback on social media, but no cricketer talked about it.
“Don’t (Ricky) Ponting and Michael Clarke, and (Matthew) Hayden and the others care about fans? Australian fans?”