A political game: BJP vs DMK, Pakistan’s withdrawal from the Olympiad shows why politics and chess go hand in hand

By Tushar Bhaduri

The first image formed in the mind at the mention of the word “chess” represents two intelligent people competing on a board of 64 black and white squares.

The best chess players are considered the most brilliant minds in the world, which is why the title of world chess champion is so prestigious, both for the individual and for his country. The number of grandmasters a country produces can also be a contest for bragging rights.

Ever since the Cold War, when title fights between American Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union took on geopolitical significance, chess has been seen as more than just a game for enthusiasts, as players themselves have become pawns in The Great Game. .

It is not for nothing that chess is considered the most political sport, with many of its strategies being followed in statecraft as well as on the war front.

Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand emerged onto the chess scene at the end of the Cold War, but experienced first-hand how ideological narratives shaped the way the game was perceived.

“Fischer-Spassky was the pinnacle of the Cold War rivalry in chess. And there was an echo of that anyway a match between a Soviet defector and a Soviet champion or someone who doesn’t fit in, like ( Garry) Kasparov. You were still able to take sides. And every journalist sent to cover the failures, even if he couldn’t follow the failures, he could write a few lines about the KGB, mention that spies are standing here, spies are standing there. He can mention bugs, wiretaps and some conspiracy theories,” Anand said during a recent The Indian Express brainstorm.

The Cold War, in its previous form at least, is no longer here. But chess continues to be an instrument of state policy.

It is therefore not surprising that the 44th Chess Olympiad, which takes place in the seaside town of Mamallapuram, is used by some to make political statements and gestures.

Part of a larger frame

To begin with, the event came to India due to seismic geopolitical events. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the International Chess Federation (FIDE) to withdraw the Chess Olympiad from Russia, the original hosts. Players and teams from the country were also excluded from the event.

The All India Chess Federation jumped in to fill the void and set the stage in no time. And the central and Tamil Nadu governments have been quick to take credit.

The courts also had to intervene. The Madras High Court has ordered the Tamil Nadu government to ensure that photographs of the President and Prime Minister are published in all Chess Olympiad advertisements in print and electronic media, The Indian Express had reported. .

The state government’s argument for not using photographs of the Prime Minister in advertising campaigns was that “his office’s consent came late”.

Things reached such a pitch that several BJP officials walked out of an event in the run up to the Olympiad when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not recognized for hosting the event by India.

Even the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, MK Stalin has claimed a big role in organizing the mega event.

“After the cancellation of the planned venue in Russia, I asked my officers to take the opportunity if it comes up in India. In March, I made the first announcement in this regard…Usually it takes a minimum 18 months to prepare for such an international event, but we trained about 18 committees and managed to organize it in just four months,” he said at the inauguration ceremony.

And he couldn’t help but point out the high proportion of Tamil Nadu players in Indian teams, 26 out of 73 Grandmasters. “This means that 36% of Indian grandmasters are from Tamil Nadu. It is a game of intelligence and mathematics. And Chennai can rightly be called the chess capital of India.

Even the veshti-draped mascot Thambi has become a political reference. “Former chief minister (and DMK founder) CN Annadurai used to call everyone Thambi. The mascot was named after these memories,” Stalin said.

pakistani angle

Pakistani players and teams participating in sporting events in India, and vice versa, is always a sensitive issue. Just when it looked like there would be no problem at the Chess Olympiad, Pakistan withdrew from the tournament on its inauguration day, when their team had already reached Chennai, via the relay of the torch passing through Jammu and Kashmir.

One wonders what would happen if a certain fast bowler Umran Malik, who is also from there, was included in an Indian cricket playing XI for a game against Pakistan.

Beyond the current Chess Olympiad, the Russia-Ukraine situation should also be played out on all 64 squares. Arkady Dvorkovich, the current FIDE president who is seeking re-election, is seen as part of Putin’s inner circle. If he gets another term, it remains to be seen if the ban on Russia and Russian players continues, depending on how long the conflict in Ukraine lasts.

As always, chess – the unique game of the mind where players must think several moves ahead and elite grandmasters must operate almost at the level of supercomputers – will blur the line between sport and politics.

Comments are closed.