‘Yuva Dum Football Ka’

Upon arrival at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport little spoke of the U-17 World Cup, but across the Indian capital, a vast megapolis of centralized political power, historical monuments and poisonous smog one single billboard popped up in every metro station, screaming in Hindi ‘Football’s Power of Youth,’ with Prime Minister Narendra Modi striking a stern pose, arms folded. The sexagenarian was about to do a player presentation and say ‘I am David Luiz and I am a central defender.’ By Samindra Kunti The beautiful game became a part of the PM’s nation-building exercise. Backed by nationalistic rhetoric and the promise to rejuvenate India, Modi swept to power in 2014 with a historic mandate, but in the second quarter of 2017 amid economic mismanagement and frail growth rates he faced a political crisis. Within his conservative Bharatiya Janata Party, Modi was on the defensive. For a moment, football was to take him on the offensive again. On a wearing and hot afternoon tuk-tuks, yellow cabs and Ubers were wrestling for every inch of Delhi’s tarmac in the vicinity of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, a monolithic arena of crosshatched steel beams. Long lines of school boys, clad in 26,750 blue India T-shirts, were shepherded towards the stadium. Shortly before kick-off, Modi arrived with his immense security cordon and the sullen Special Protection Group in tow. His attention to sartorial detail was, as ever, immaculate: under a grey Nehru jacket he wore a pearl-white kurta. Over the PA star anchor Charu Sharma whipped up the fans. The roaro-meter went crescendo when the cameras of state-run TV Doordarshan panned to Modi, who felicitated  a number of Indian football captains. He strode out onto the field, flanked by Praful Patel, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) president and highest football administrator in the country. Fatma Samoura, FIFA’s general-secretary, and Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, the Asian Football Confed...

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