Why can’t Sachin be the ‘Bharat Ratna’

Ritesh K Srivastava

The demands to decorate batting maestro Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar with the country’s highest civilian honour- the Bharat Ratna – has gained momentum ever since Team India lifted the prestigious Cricket World Cup trophy after toppling Sri Lanka in the finals held in Mumbai.

Voices in favour of Sachin are coming from all walks of life and several former cricketers, eminent sport personalities, Bollywood stars and even political parties have now joined the chorus to bestow him with the top honour.

Going by Sachin’s extraordinary accomplishments and the numerous accolades, which this living legend has won for his team and India, he is already a "Bharat Ratna" in the eyes of his admirers whether he actually gets it or not. So felicitating him with the country’s top civilian honour will just be a fitting tribute to this God of cricket for achieving many milestones in his over two-decade long career.

The demand to decorate the batting maestro with the Bharat Ratna was first made way back in the year 2003 by the Shiv Sena and seconded by the then Human Resource Development (HRD) minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

The talks to confer upon him the Bharat Ratna again gained momentum after Sachin became the first batsman in the history of One-Day International Cricket to score a double hundred. Sachin achieved this rare feat, while tearing apart the strong fielding set-up by the South African team at Gwalior in February 2010.

In view of this achievement, and more importantly, after Team India’s World Cup glory, Maharashtra Assembly recently adopted a resolution seeking country’s highest civilian award for Sachin Tendulkar. The Maharashtra government is also going to recommend Sachin Tendulkar for the country’s highest recognition.

Given the buzz surrounding Sachin, he is almost certain to be honoured with India’s highest civilian award, and if he does, it would be another first for the master-blaster as no other sportsperson has ever won the Bharat Ratna. If reports are to be believed, Sachin’s name for the honour has also been recommended by the Government of India, which makes the possibility of his winning stronger than ever before this time around.

However, there are several obstacles which the government needs to clear before it actually felicitates Sachin with the honour and answer some pertinent questions- can we really overlook the contribution of other great sportsmen like Major Dhyanchand, wrestler Dara Singh, cricketers Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar or ace-shuttler Prakash Padukone at the cost of Sachin?

Bharat Ratna is given only to those who have done eminent work in the field of art, literature, social service, science and technology but sports is not included in it, so bestowing ‘Bharat Ratna’ to sportspersons would require tweaking of criterion that has been laid down for the country’s highest civilian honour.

This is why the Sports Ministry is going to ask the Home Ministry to include sports in the criterion for Bharat Ratna. If this happens, it would be a welcome move and alleviate the level of sports in the country. After superb performance by the Indian athletes in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games in China, the expectations are high and we all want our sportsmen to do well in international events like Olympics.

Secondly, those who oppose the idea of giving the highest civilian honour to Sachin, contend that he is too young to be considered for the honour given the fact the award has been given to several luminaries posthumously in the past.

Another pertinent question which crops up during the debate is - shouldn’t it be given to those whose achievements had benefited the society at large, rather than for mere `personal achievements`.

And if the government’s intention is to honour the true sons of Mother India then why not give Bharat Ratna to father of nation Mahatma Gandhi, who made supreme sacrifices while battling the British regime and freed us from the Colonial rule.

The general idea behind the award is to recognize the significant contribution of any individual in the field of art, literature, social service, science and technology whose work benefits the society. In that sense social workers, RTI activists, scientists and literary persons deserve this honour more than Sachin, whose "personal achievements" have nothing to do the with the society.

For instance, if an actor excels in acting or if a golfer equals records made by Tiger Woods, by the dint of his performance, then also it has nothing to do with the society.

However, there is a different perspective to see this. Since Tendulkar is a sportsman and has made India proud through his sheer grit and determination, he has been doing a great service to the sports he is associated with and encouraged a lot of youngsters to follow him. That’s all he can do in his capacity as a sportsman. He has taken the name of India beyond its shores and that too with such a positive conviction that it has permeated in the society.

Sachin is, undoubtedly, one of the rare gems that this soil has produced and he will continue to be revered as one of the brightest superstars of cricket in the years to come. He has raised the level of his game to unparallel heights and his greatness is duly acknowledged by his peers, rivals, seniors, fans and commoners alike.

As a sportsman, he too has his limitations since he will remain active may be for one or two more years to come unlike a politician, a social worker or an artist, who can be professionally active till the end of their lives.

A sportsperson’s achievements must be viewed in terms of the years he is active. Sachin has been playing cricket for the past 21 years and may be approaching the end of his career, so is it not the right time to take stock of his contributions to the game and the country?

Ironically, the country’s highest civilian awards were conferred only thrice in the last decade. The ‘Bharat Ratna’, which was started in 1954, has so far been given to 41 eminent personalities, none of whom is a sportsperson, only due to the criteria laid down by the government for the coveted honour.

Is it not baffling to some extent that in the country of billion plus population we cannot find one person suitable for the coveted title. Would it be justified to wait till Sachin becomes eighty or ninety years old and then felicitate him for his out-of-the-world achievements. Or shall we wait till some organization or nation institutes a prestigious award in Sachin’s names for honouring sportspersons.

It seems that we have developed a tendency to recognize our talent only after it has been acknowledged by the rest of the world. I leave this to people of India and our government to decide whether Tendulkar’s contribution to cricket qualifies as the “public service of the highest order” in order to be a Bharat Ratna.

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