Star cricketer Sachin Tendulkar’s nomination to Rajya Sabha was met with widespread bemusement on Friday, with many questioning whether the publicly apolitical batting superstar will have the time or inclination to serve as an MP.
President Pratibha Patil approved the government’s nomination of Tendulkar late on Thursday, offering him one of the 12 seats in the Rajya Sabha, or upper house that are reserved for presidential appointees.
He is the first active sportsman to receive the honour, with the seats normally gifted to people who have distinguished themselves in the arts, sciences or social services.
The adoration of the cricketer in India verges on religious worship – a fact not lost on Friday’s newspaper headline writers, with newspapers announcing that ‘God has a New House’.
Not to divert attention: Cong
Most members of the upper House welcomed the decision even as the Opposition felt this could be a move by the Congress to divert attention from the problems afflicting the party.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut maintained that Tendulkar should be given the Bharat Ratna but questioned the timing of his nomination to Rajya Sabha.
“Sachin is still on the field and has not retired. So why is he not being nominated for Bharat Ratna? And if Sachin is being used to divert attention from the problems plaguing Congress, then such politics should not be practised by them. Anything that Congress does is inspired by politics. Sachin is above politics,” he said.
Congress Rajya Sabha member Satyavrat Chaturvedi rubbished the opposition charge that Tendulkar has been nominated to divert attention.
“The Government, country and Parliament are above any individual. One person can neither build nor destroy the fate of a party or a government. The sooner this confusion is removed, the better. The kind of mindset Shiv Sena has, it can say anything,” he said.
Chaturvedi maintained that nominated members have also contributed immensely to Rajya Sabha.
“I have seen some nominated members who have made a lot of contribution. Can anybody ignore the contribution made by M.S. Swaminathan or Shabana Azmi? On the other hand, there were some who visited only once in a blue moon,” he said.
Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Mayawati (BSP), Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP), Sudip Bandyopadhaya (TMC) and Raj Babbar (Cong) welcomed Tendulkar becoming a Rajya Sabha member.
Hope Sachin is not bored: Hema Malini
Rajya Sabha is a place for retired people and one hopes that Sachin Tendulkar does not get bored with his new responsibility, actress and former MP Hema Malini said today.
“It is a very prestigious thing. I am happy for him. This (RS) is for retired people…and I suppose he is not retired yet. I just hope he doesn’t get bored,” Malini, whose term in Rajya Sabha ended recently, said.
Noted director Mahesh Bhatt hoped that glory will follow the 39-year-old star batsman in Parliament as well. “He is a legend. It is great that he has been nominated. Glory is his co-traveller. This (nomination) is just deepening of his halo,” Bhatt said.
“Don’t forget Sachin had taken on the Shiv Sena and said that Maharashtra belongs to every Indian not just to Maharashtrians,” actress Shabana Azmi wrote in reply to a Twitter user, who said Sachin would never raise his voice against anything wrong.
Bandit Queen director Shekhar Kapur wrote, “I think its great that he goes to the Rajya Sabha. Better than many many that have gone before.”
Actress Gul Panag tweeted, “I am all for Sachin for RS. Better than a retired 60+ sports person no?”
While Bollywood celebrities came out in support of Tendulkar’s nomination, the twitter world seemed divided with ‘Unfollow Sachin’ trending on the micro-blogging website.
“UnfollowSachin trended not just in India, but worldwide. Point was made loud and clear that Sachin’s fans don’t like his Rajya Sabha entry,” a twitter user wrote.
“We like Sachin for his cricket. With GpCapt rank in AF he degraded Air Force Offrs. Same way many don’t like him degrading MPs post (sic),” another tweeted. “Give him a chance, he has always done right things in his life,” a supporter wrote.
The reaction of media commentators and some of the ‘Little Master‘s’ fellow cricketers was one of puzzled caution.
“Frankly, I am at a loss for words,” said former Mumbai and India team-mate Sanjay Manjrekar.
“I never realised these sort of things interested him. He is not one to express his views publicly and this would be a real test for him. I hope he can make a difference in parliament.”
Tendulkar, who turned 39 on Tuesday, has played more Tests (188) and one-day internationals (463) than any other player since his debut in 1989.
He is the highest run-getter in both forms of the game and last month became the first batsman to complete 100 international centuries – 51 in Tests and 49 in one-dayers.
Doubts on serving as a politician
Despite recent speculation about his retirement, Tendulkar has given no indication that he plans to hang up his pads, leading some to question how he could fit an MP’s duties into his hectic playing schedule.
“He plays almost right through the year, where is the time to go to parliament?” said another ex-international Akash Chopra.
“I will be disappointed if he did not contribute and make a mark for himself in the Rajya Sabha.”
Not a great idea: Bhogle
Noted cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle suggested the nomination was a cynical ploy to gain ‘political mileage’ out of Tendulkar, who has rarely, if ever, spoken out on political issues or professed any party affiliation.
“I don’t think it is the greatest idea,” said Bhogle. “He does not have the experience of governing or doing social work.”
No comment from the cricketer
Tendulkar has not yet commented to indicate whether he will accept the honour.
But news of the nomination broke just hours after he and his wife called on ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi at her residence in New Delhi.
“My only fear is that the stamp of a political party should not come on him,” said Chetan Chauhan, a former India opener who forged a career as an MP.
“The minute he associates himself with a party, the public’s perception about him will change,” Chauhan was quoted as saying by a newspaper.
Well-known cricketers who are sitting members of the elected lower house, or Lok Sabha, are former internationals Mohammad Azharuddin, Kirti Azad and Navjot Sidhu.
A snap online poll in a daily revealed 68 per cent of respondents did not want to see Tendulkar in parliament.
Another editorial labelled Tendulkar’s nomination a populist move that made ‘little sense’.
Pointing out that that Tendulkar’s cricketing duties kept him on the road for 216 days last season, said nominating an active sportsman ‘defeats the purpose’ of choosing eminent people who can enrich parliamentary debate.
“His new role will force Sachin to choose between his duty to the team and his job as a parliamentarian. It’s an unfair choice,” it said.