Is Babita Phogat Another Rangoli Chandel in the Making?


Is Babita Phogat Another Rangoli Chandel in the Making?

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

Jwala Gutta and Babita Phogat are both eminent names in the field of Indian sports. One a badminton player, the other a wrestler; both have won gold medals for India at the Commonwealth Games in the past, along with laurels at other tournaments. As their time as active sportspersons drew to a close, Gutta moved into supporting social causes and a fledgling film career, while Phogat entered politics by joining the Bharatiya Janata Party in August 2019. And despite the fact that they belong to different disciplines and fields, Gutta and Phogat have crossed paths  – on Twitter.

Phogat has been trending on Twitter for the last few days after she spoke out against the Tablighi Jamaat gathering and expressed support for Rangoli Chandel, who was banned from the micro-blogging site last week after posting inflammatory content that violated the website’s Terms of Service.

Phogat’s views are often similar in thought and message to Chandel’s, and there was a section of Twitter that believed she too was broadcasting hate speech on the platform and demanded that she should be suspended. However, the wrestler-turned-neta was not cowed by the criticism, and doubled down, posting a video where she once again blamed the Tablighi Jamaat for the spread of the new coronavirus in the country, while also saying she was nothing like Zaira Wasim – the actress who played the role of Phogat’s sister Geeta in the film Dangal.

Here’s when Gutta stepped in, hoping that she’ll make a fellow sportsperson see sense. Urging Phogat to take back her statement, the badminton player said, “Sorry babita I don’t think this virus sees race or religion.. I request you to take back ur statement… we are sportspersons who represented our great nation which is secular and so beautiful… when we win all these people have celebrated us and our wins as their own!!”

However, in these times we live in, criticism of anyone associated with the ruling party is very easily mixed up with criticism of the nation, and by challenging Phogat on Twitter, Gutta put herself in the firing line of Twitter trolls. Phogat herself has been an example of this line of thinking, with one of her past tweets reading “sangh matlab desh bhakti”.

However, the truth is that there are many ways to be proud of and serve your nation without swearing allegiance to any political party or social organisation. It’s absurd that the patriotism of sportspeople like Gutta, who is also a past recipient of the Arjuna Award and has spent her whole career trying to bring India prestige on the badminton court, can be called into question over a simple request for unity. Gutta even took the time to give the trolls who called her out for her allegiances a fitting reply on Twitter.

Gutta has continued to reiterate that her stand is merely for unity and mutual respect.

The fact that one of the country’s decorated athletes has to remind the public about the medals she has won for India in order to be allowed to express an inoffensive opinion is troubling. Gutta might have won over 300 matches in her career, but bridging India’s widening social divides might be beyond her. As far as Phogat goes, she should realise that Twitter is no wrestling ground.