God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. But does Sachin Tendulkar aka God know what he’s let himself in for by accepting a Rajya Sabha nomination from the Congress-led government?
Within hours of the news filtering out on Thursday, the man who united the country of a billion-plus people with his cricketing prowess has become the object of a hyperpartisan debate that does little justice to his stature.
Television airwaves were choked with expressions of cynicism that Sachin had allowed himself to be used by the Congress to harvest popular goodwill and to distract attention away from the numerous crises that have the government bogged down.
Sanjay Manjrekar, who has played with distinction alongside Sachin, told CNN-IBN that he worried that the maestro may not have given adequate consideration to the downside of accepting such a nomination. Manjrekar’s point was that for all of Sachin’s status as arguably the best cricketer of all time, he hadn’t sufficiently spoken out on public causes – in the way that an Anil Kumble or a Saurav Ganguly had – and would therefore be seen as a mere ornamental MP.
Other commentators pointed to singer Lata Mangeshkar’s patchy record of attending Rajya Sabha as a nominated MP – and her failure to take up any causes in the public interest (other than objecting to a flyover that came up near her house) – to flag the risk of fall from public esteem that awaits Sachin.
And on Twitter, right-wing commentators flooded the social media platform with a protest campaign, which found expression in the hashtag #Unfollow Sachin, which is currently trending high.
Why were they incensed? One campaigner fleshed out the collective sense of outrage here. Essentially, it revolves around the perception that by accepting the Rajya Sabha nomination from the Congress, and by personally meeting Sonia Gandhi, Sachin had, in a manner of speaking, sold his soul to the “corrupt” Congress.
But the Twitter campaign also faced equally strong pushback from diehard fans of Sachin – and those of a neutral bent of mind who don’t understand why this is a big deal. And far from losing followers on Twitter, Sachin is if anything gaining more by the minute (not that he’s keeping score).
For the record, nominations to the Rajya Sabha are made on an apolitical basis, and Jawaharlal Nehru had in his time made that point abundantly clear. In other words, Sachin won’t be required to join the Congress, or “sell his soul” in any other way.
And parties across the political spectrum – from the BJP to the Left – have welcomed the nomination, which they see as a mark of honour to one of India’s most endearing sportsmen. So, at least among the political parties, there is no outward display of partisanship.
But The Telegraph points out that Congress leaders are already “interpreting the nomination of Sachin as a masterstroke by the party at a time it has been desperately looking to refurbish its image in a season of scams and a sense of drift.”
The Congress knows well that Sachin will continue to be associated with its government in the public mind, and Sachin’s meeting with Sonia at 10 Janpath on Thursday would do no harm to that perception, it added.
On the other hand, it noted, leaders of other parties, all of whom had joined the recent chorus for the Bharat Ratna to be awarded to Sachin, wondered ruefully in private how the Congress had “landed such a prize catch at a time when its credibility had been hit so bad.”
On the face of it, of course, there is of course enough in the move to feed the innate cynicism that resonates within all of us. Nominating someone so popular as Sachin for a Bharat Ratna or a Rajya Sabha nomination is a no-brainer, a way to harvest goodwill on the cheap. You can be sure that the Congress will milk this during the next elections, perhaps by enlisting Sachin to campaign on its behalf.
Precisely how Sachin will contribute to Rajya Sabha debates in the public interest isn’t clear (but then, that can be said of the performance of even some of our elected MPs). On that count, it would have been much more challenging to get Sachin, for instance, to take up a cricket administration role in the hope of reforming a flawed system. A Rajya Sabha seat merely gives him a “retirement plan” as the reward for a distinguished career in sport.
Yet, it is hard to empathise with the extreme, apoplectic reaction to Sachin’s nomination. Sachin’s entry to the Rajya Sabha isn’t in itself about to change anything about either politics or sports. In any case, we have far bigger issues of public import to worry about than this. The political tug-of-war over Sachin only shows how low our hyperpartisan polity has descended.