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Sunday May 6, 2012

From batsman to MP

All eyes are trained on ‘Master Blaster’ Sachin Tendulkar as he takes his seat in India’s Rajya Sabha (House of Elders).

India’s cricketing great, Sachin Tendulkar, is now set to start a new innings as a member of parliament. The 39-year-old iconic batsman, with a hundred centuries under his belt, was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, (House of States) by President Pratibha Patil in the distinguished persons’ category.

Sachin was happy to accept the nomination, though his fans were divided, with a number of them expressing concern that he might be “polluted” by rubbing shoulders with politicians.

Having played cricket for the country for nearly 23 years, Sachin’s new role as an MP could well hasten his retirement from the game although he has denied it.

However, critics questioned his decision, pointing out how he had failed miserably in the on-going Indian Premier League. He was the oldest player in the Indian Eleven and the selectors did not seem to have the courage to “drop” him, such being his hold on the national psyche, critics argued.

Nomination of Sachin to the Rajya Sabha came as a huge surprise to everyone as never before had an active sportsperson been made a member of the House of Elders (Upper House).

Besides, under Article 80 of the Constitution, the President was empowered to nominate 12 members to the Rajya Sabha with “special knowledge or practical experience in the field of literature, science, art and social service”.

Critics said sportspersons did not match the above description.

However, given his mass appeal and fan following, politicians were rather muted in their criticism. Some murmured that it should have been better if he had been nominated after a few years when he was no longer playing competitive cricket. Others protested that he would be wasted in Parliament, having shown no interest in public affairs.

But it was left to the maverick leader of the Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray, who hails from Sachin’s home city of Mumbai, to openly dub his decision to accept nomination to the Rajya Sabha as wrong. Thackeray said that Sachin had allowed himself to be dragged into the ruling Congress Party’s “dirty picture”.

Master Blaster, as the legendary batsman is popularly called by his fans, however, denied that his nomination signalled an end to his cricketing career. Whatever he had achieved was because of cricket. Nor was he set to join active politics. Sachin said he would instead use his stint as an MP to speak about sports and sportspersons and how to advance their cause so that the country becomes a great sporting power.

He asserted that the nomination was a “rare honour” and he was glad to know that earlier the legendary Bollywood singer, Lata Mangkeshkar, and the late actor, Prithviraj Kapur, were nominated MPs. Precisely because he mentioned Mangeshkar, who is widely known as the Nightingale of India, there were fears that, like her, he too may have little to say or do as a Rajya Sabha member. Mangkeshkar hardly attended Parliament. And in the six years her term lasted, she did not get a word in edgeways in the House.

Frankly, barring an exception or two, traditionally most nominated members have rarely, if at all, participated in the parliamentary proceedings. This is especially true of nominated members from the world of films and sports. For instance, legendary thespian Dilip Kumar was nominated to the Rajya Sabha but made no effort to contribute to the House proceedings. Ditto for Bollywood actress Hema Malini, who retired as a member a couple of years ago.

One exception was Shabana Azmi, the public-spirited actress who was nominated by the IK Gujral government more than two decades ago. She took active part in debates and particularly highlighted the plight of slum-dwellers in Mumbai and other big towns. She also focused on women-related issues. In the current Parliament, her husband and noted Bollywood lyricist, Javed Akhtar, is a nominated member. He too has been vocal on the concerns of the film industry.

Meanwhile, along with Sachin, President Pratibha Patil also nominated yesteryear’s Bollywood star Rekha to the Rajya Sabha. A top-grade heroine in the 70s and 80s, Rekha was no longer active in films, though she was seen occasionally at film award functions. Her nomination evoked some catty comments, especially among film lovers.

According to old Bollywood lore, Rekha and Amitabh Bachchan had hit it off as a great pair both on and off-screen during their heyday as top stars. Since Amitabh Bachchan’s wife, Jaya, an accomplished actress in her own right in her younger days, was currently an elected member of the Rajya Sabha on the ticket of the opposition Samajwadi Party, the presence of Rekha in the House was allegedly meant to rile Jaya Bachchan.

A Bollywood film in the 80s, Silsila (romantic liaison), had focused on the supposed triangle between Amitabh, Jaya and Rekha. All three actually played the same role on the silver screen in the above film. Hence the headlines in most newspapers, “Now Silsila in Parliament”, once it was officially announced that Rekha would sit with Jaya as a member of the Rajya Sabha.

Notably, the founding fathers of the Republic had provided for nomination of 12 members to the Rajya Sabha in the expectation that the debates in the House would be enriched with the contribution of these experts and achievers in literature, science, art, etc. Unfortunately, over the years, the provision has been misused by successive governments to bestow patronage on people friendly towards it.

Very often, active politicians are accommodated in the Rajya Sabha under the nominated category. Mani Shankar Aiyar, a former minister in the Manmohan Singh government who was defeated in the last parliamentary election, was nominated to the Rajya Sabha a few months later. Unmindful of the real objective behind the constitutional provision for nominating 12 members of eminence in various fields other than politics, Aiyar did not sever his connection with the party. In fact, he is a full-fledged member of the ruling Congress Party, even though he is a nominated member of the House.

Hopefully, Sachin would stay true to the Constitution and steer clear of all partisan political controversies while performing his duties as an honourable member of the Rajya Sabha.

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