By Suresh Menon
Sachin Tendulkar needs to have a serious chat with his handlers. Like a prize horse, he is being groomed and taken around stud farms as a plaything of the cynical in sport, marketing and now Parliament. Sadly, he continues to live out other people’s dreams, following the script written by those who would use him for their own narrow ends.
On the face of it, there is much to recommend India’s first sporting nominee to the Upper House of Parliament (Dara Singh, let’s face it, was no sportsman. He was an entertainer in a version of WWF wrestling, taking on moniker-challenged folks with names like King Kong, and periodically proclaiming himself ‘world champion’). It is recognition of the importance of sport in the national mainstream; there is even the possibility that sportsmen will benefit by having one of their own in a seat of power.
But scratch deeper and the stench of cynicism hits you. A ruling party reeling under corruption charges, with inefficiency as its watchword and policy paralysis as its manifesto is in urgent need of shifting the focus from an old story which has re-emerged: Bofors, the 25-year old scandal. When you can’t change the logic of an argument, change the argument itself. Ride piggy-back on the character and record of one of the whitest reputations in the country.
It serves a two-fold purpose. It wins brownie points among large swathes of the population, and establishes, or at least suggests that the greatest cricketer in the cricket-mad country is a Congressman. Perception is more powerful than reality, after all.
It has meant that Tendulkar has endorsed not just the politics of a limping party, he has also raised the credibility of one of its chief fixers Rajiv Shukla, better described as Shukla the Unctuous. And we have not even got to the question of how a man who is still an active cricketer is expected to attend Parliament even occasionally.
But what about the picture from Tendulkar’s point of view? The Congress Party might find it convenient to ride on his coat-tails at the moment, but is Tendulkar likely to seize the moment and make a difference in his own field at least? That seems to be the fond hope.
But a man who had little direct effect when it came to taking up such issues as player remuneration, player association for addressing grievances, excessive touring, badly-planned cricket calendars, and a host of other pressing matters in domestic cricket, is hardly likely to champion similar causes just because he sits in the Rajya Sabha. A word from him might work wonders, but will one emerge from the depths of his caution?
Tendulkar’s image took a blow this past year as he appeared to be chasing records with a passion that pushed into the background the needs of the team. Again, perception may have overwhelmed reality, but by picking and choosing and hanging on in a format of the game where the World Cup win might have come as a logical climax, Tendulkar has done his cause no good.
Men like Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly who have stuck their necks out on occasion on matters of principle and in the cause of the game, are clearly better choices as Parliamentarians. But then the exercise is not so much about getting the best men for the job as getting the biggest name with the added advantage of being a non-rocker of boats. In his 23-year career, Tendulkar has not taken a stand on any issue, choosing his version of courage over conviction.
Perhaps I am being hyper-critical as one tends to be when discussing great performers in any field, as if they ought to meet a higher standard than others. Just as most Indians are convinced that anything less than a century from Tendulkar must count as a failure, it is possible that we also believe he should have as great an impact on India’s politics as he had on cricket. That is both unfair and unnecessary.
Perhaps Tendulkar will surprise us all in the Rajya Sabha. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the country will be made here. Perhaps he is now pursuing the Bharat Ratna with as much determination as he pursued his 100th 100.
Still, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the great cricketer has willingly played the pawn to the cynical intentions of a political party. Only of one thing is there any guarantee – that the Rajya Sabha versus Lok Sabha cricket match will now be a sell-out.
By Suresh Menon