Sachin Tendulkar - New pitch, new innings
At a recent press meet Sachin Tendulkar said - “I am not a politician. I am a sportsman and will always remain one. I am not going to enter politics giving up cricket, which is my life. I will continue to play cricket.” He was reacting to the hullaballoo created by the news of his nomination by the President of India to the Rajya Sabha.
He repeated the same again and again during the course of his interaction with the press. In fact, he got a thunderous applause from the journalists as soon he cleared the air. It almost seemed as if Sachin was someone pure and anything to do with politics would make him dirty. He appeared amused at all the hype surrounding his entry to the citadel of democracy and signed off by repeating,
“Mein wapas phir se bolta hoon, mein politician nahin, sportsman hoon.”
On my part, although my personal fears were allayed about Sachin getting caught in the whirlpool of politics, some of the apprehensions remain.
In spite of all the outcry over Sachin’s entry into Parliament, deep in my heart I felt that the master blaster would probably not join any political party at any stage in the future and had just accepted the nomination to the Upper House because he considered it to be a privilege and an honour. Having followed the little genius for years now, I have never seen him align himself with any political party or campaign for them. Also, I have also not witnessed Sachin getting into any needless controversy and have mostly seen him play with a straight bat.
The maximum controversy that he got into was when he took on Bal Thackeray on the issue of ‘Marathi Manoos’. He had retorted, “Mumbai belongs to India. That is how I look at it. And I am a Maharashtrian and I am extremely proud of that but I am an Indian first.” In fact, Sachin had to face the flak from the Shiv Sena supremo who was quoted in the Sena mouth piece ‘Sammana’ as saying that there was no need for Sachin to take a cheeky single and that he had by making these remarks, ‘got run-out on the pitch of Marathi psyche’. But Tendulkar was hailed by one and all for making the right statement even if it meant antagonizing the tiger in its own den.
But this time the country was not as unanimous in its appreciation of the batting maestro donning the hat of an MP. Like others, I too was concerned whether the man who is a perfect timer of the ball, had mistimed on this occasion and will get caught or bowled in the days to come.
Even though Sachin reiterated that he is not joining politics, I still cannot fathom why he said yes to being a nominated MP in the first place. He is an active sportsman and still has some cricket left in him. So he could have politely refused and said that he would be okay accepting the nomination once he had quit international cricket or maybe not accepting it at all ever. Sachin has that stature in this country where he can say no without antagonizing anyone. Also, Sachin’s stature as an icon or his genius as a sportsman will not get enhanced by becoming a Member of Parliament. There are many whose importance in the society gets a boost by such nomenclatures. But Sachin does not need these paraphernalia. He has achieved what he has achieved by his sheer talent and nothing, I repeat noting, can add to his greatness.
I also could not comprehend why the Government of India was in a tearing hurry to nominate Sachin to the Upper House in the first place. Many said that the move to make Sachin an MP was a ploy by the ruling party at the Centre to divert attention from the perception battle that it has been fighting on the issues of corruption, policy paralysis and price rise. Others felt that with the clamour for bestowing Sachin with the Bharat Ratna growing by the day, this was a move by the government to delay the matter for a few more years as the little champion was probably a bit too young for the highest civilian honour of the country.
This again is baffling. Does any political party in this country think that by nominating an icon of the country to the House of Elders, it can fool the public and garner votes? Also, does any political party think that the nation will become indebted to them that they made their beloved son of the soil an MP and thus they will forgive them of all the wrongdoings? And as far as the Bharat Ratna is concerned, yes Sachin is our jewel, but when people say that probably hockey legend Dhyan Chand should get it before him, they too have a point.
Anyways, Sachin being Sachin promised, “I would do whatever I can for sportsmen. I would certainly want to contribute." It is said that even when Sachin is playing a casual game with his teammates or friends, he is very competitive and hates to lose. It is also common knowledge that for Tendulkar any match he plays ‘starts much before the first ball is bowled’. Such is his planning. He is still someone who would most likely be seen at the optional nets, even at this age. So, going by these standards many feel that Sachin will probably do a decent job in Parliament too. Former Indian captain, Sunil Gavaskar echoed the same feelings when he said on a TV show that knowing how seriously Sachin takes any role bequeathed on him, he would do justice to the new role that he is taking on.
All this is very well but I still have my doubts as to how and when Sachin will find time to attend the Parliament and make a constructive contribution. If the House is in session and a Test or an ODI series is going on or if the IPL is in progress, surely Sachin will choose the latter. That is till the time he does not bid adieu to the game. The term for a Rajya Sabha MP is six years. Tendulkar will probably retire before his term in the Upper House gets over and then probably he can devote more time to his new role. But I guess that all this is a matter of speculation and conjectures and as a very clichéd and oft repeated adage goes – ‘only time will tell’ what happens in this case.
Anyways, amidst all the shock and the excitement that Sachin’s entry into the citadel of Indian democracy generated, I realised that some things never change. Sachin has had to literally bear the burden of the expectations of his countrymen on his shoulders for most part of his career. And this time around too, the scrutiny on him was immense and the expectation from him to come clean and say that he was not joining politics was huge. What if Sachin wants to join politics like his predecessors, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Kirti Azad and Mohammad Azharuddin? What if he wants to pursue a career in politics after he retires from international cricket? Does he not have the freedom of choice to decide what he wants to do in the future? I guess not. Because the very thought makes us fans aghast. He can do anything he wants to do with cricket, sports or he can take up charity work and espouse a certain cause. His fans want Sachin to be what he has been for his entire life – above everything else. As former India opener Chetan Chauhan told a daily, “My only fear is that the stamp of a political party should not come on Sachin. The minute he associates himself with a party, the public's perception about him will change.”
There was another aspect which was interesting. Since the time Sachin made his debut as a 16- year-old in Pakistan and faced the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Yunus without fear in his eyes, from that time on everyone in this country and every part of this nation claimed an ownership of the cricketing legend. He has been one of those rare unifying factors in a land of diverse opinions, religion, region, caste and creed. People from all walks of life and all parts of the country are simply one when it comes to Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. They rejoice and celebrate when he hits a century. They are sad and despondent when he fails at the crease. There is a spring in the feet of Sachin worshippers when he guides India to a victory and the mood of the same people gets sour when he goes back to the pavilion on a low score.
So it was ironical that the man who has been such a unifying factor for years now, divided the nation this time around. There were the likes of politicians and some film stars like Amitabh Bachchan who welcomed the step taken by the government but there were some sportsmen like former Indian cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar who was ‘shocked’ at the news. The media fraternity too could not digest the very idea. But the maximum rage was from the youth and from the world of Twitter and Facebook. The outrage in the social media was simply unprecedented. One explanation can be that India is a young nation and the youth of today are by and large disillusioned with the political class. So maybe the outrage was not difficult to understand. Maybe the anger was not directed at Sachin but at the ruling party at the Centre whose popularity is at an all time low.
There was also a section which asked why Tendulkar and why not the likes of cricketing legend Sunil Gavaskar and Sourav Ganguly who too have brought accolades to the country and have contributed immensely to the game. There was also some noise about why a cricketer and why not legends from other sports. Former cricketer Bishen Singh Bedi said, “I'm not too sure if this is the right time for Sachin to take up such a responsibility. Also, if Sachin can be an RS member, so can Prakash Padukone and Milkha Singh. But they are not chosen because cricket gets 90% attention in our country.”
Boxer Akhil Kumar echoed the same emotions. “It is but obvious that a cricketer will be preferred over others. I'd like to see people from other sports also getting similar opportunities. Sachin's name is even being considered for the Bharat Ratna. If achievement is the only criterion, then why are Leander Paes, Viswanathan Anand or Abhinav Bhindra not being considered?”
And listen to Rajpal Singh, Indian hockey team captain – “It is a known fact that cricketers are given priority in everything in our country. This is sheer discrimination.” I guess opinions will differ on who deserves to be a Parliamentarian and who doesn’t and people are entitled to their views. Remember, the only other sportsperson who has been nominated to the Upper House is wrestler Dara Singh.
Also, there were some sound bytes which were amusing. Like the one by Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackerey who said that the move to make Sachin an MP was Congress’ ‘Dirty Picture’. And the one by yesteryears’ Hindi film actress and dream girl Hema Malini who said – “Rajya Sabha is for retired people...and I suppose Sachin is not retired yet. I just hope he doesn't get bored.”
Postscript: I don’t say that good people should not come into politics, even though the word has been associated with something dirty in our country. Also, I am not an apolitical person and I follow a certain ideology and back a certain political party. But being the pride of the nation in most people’s eyes, Sachin must not take any decision where he will have to take the brickbats with the praises. What you may do or not do in politics, criticisms are bound to come your way – and so my disdain at the very idea, however remote, of Tendulkar joining active politics ever. This may smack of double standards but that’s the way it is.
For me, it is okay till the time Sachin limits himself to being a nominated Parliamentarian. And yes, now that he has agreed to become an MP, he should serve to the best of his ability and be ready for the challenges ahead.