(Published in Sify.com on 8 June, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/why-not-let-sportsmen-be-sportsmen-news-columns-mgiqK2ibgbe.html?ref=false)
Now, we know Rahul Gandhi and Sachin Tendulkar can wave to each other from their respective spacious balconies in Lutyens’ Delhi – provided, of course, that the former MP who currently occupies Tendulkar’s allotted 7000 square foot property, Vikram Verma, moves out after all.
And since newly inducted Rajya Sabha MP Tendulkar is geographically that much closer to the Bharat Ratna, the debate has begun again. The World Cup and the hundred hundreds, and now a political career. Short of being from the Nehru-Gandhi family – which, again, he is now geographically close to – Tendulkar has about all the qualifications civilians have traditionally needed to receive the honour.
Last year, Azharuddin obligingly stoked controversy over the anticipated bestowment of the Bharat Ratna on Tendulkar, by saying former hockey captain Dhyan Chand, who was part of 3 Olympic Gold-winning teams, should be the first sportsperson to receive the Bharat Ratna.
Now that Viswanathan Anand has returned with his fifth World Chess Championship title, the self-appointed pundits of political correctness have started another debate – should the first Bharat Ratna given to a sportsman go to Anand or Sachin? Poor Anand has been asked the question in practically every interview he’s been cornered for, before being asked about Tendulkar’s innings in the Rajya Sabha.
What exactly do we expect Sachin Tendulkar to do in the Rajya Sabha? If he takes time off from tours to attend to his “official” duties, we’ll churn out columns asking if it isn’t time he retired. If he continues to play cricket while his seat stays empty, we will bemoan the resources wasted on an absentee MP, from a posse of security guards to an army of domestic help who will keep the lawns lush and carpets clean at his unoccupied Delhi bungalow. We will cry foul at his being given the level of housing that is usually given to ministers of Cabinet rank.
Perhaps we should be doing so already. On the day he took oath, complete with straightened hair and a solemn voice, Sachin Tendulkar made it clear that his priority would be playing cricket, and remained vague about his intentions in the Rajya Sabha. He has said he hopes to help cricket and other sports. When questioned further, he’s gone on the defensive, saying he didn’t ask to be nominated – a fair enough point.
What exactly do we expect Sachin Tendulkar to do in the Rajya Sabha once he retires? Yes, he is the leading run-scorer and century-notch-upper in cricket. Yes, he is a brilliant sportsman, who’s guided the team to a whole lot of victories. But what will his role be as Parliamentarian?
When he and actress Rekha were nominated to the Rajya Sabha under the Prominent Citizens Quota in April, Twitter went viral with jokes about the Silsila love triangle and introspection over the Bharat Ratna. If Tendulkar must be given a civilian award, does he really need to back his achievements in cricket with a foot in Raisina Hill?
And if his nomination to the Rajya Sabha is about the betterment of sport in the country, why not just give him a plum post in one of the many bodies involved in sports administration?
On the assumption that Sachin Tendulkar does retire at some point in the near future and take his place in the Rajya Sabha, we all know we’ll keep a close watch on the debates he participates in and the points he raises. If he limits his involvement to sport, disgruntled voices will say an MP should contribute to other issues too. If he does, people will whine that he is a sportsman and shouldn’t be getting involved in politics.
Why can’t we simply let our sportsmen stay sportsmen? Why can’t we enable them to become more engaged in the running of their sport in the country, instead of nominating them to positions that they cannot do justice to?
Was the Prominent Citizens Quota created in Parliament for the purpose of bringing in celebrities with whom MPs could click pictures that they could plaster their living room and Facebook walls with? Or to enable people who could actually contribute to the running of the country by dint of their knowledge of subjects that would come in handy, such as, say, nuclear physics or agriculture techniques?