Sachin Tendulkar - India's missing MP
- 8 August 2014
- From the section India
When cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar was nominated as an MP in India's upper house of parliament (the Rajya Sabha) two years ago, the first sportsperson to be so honoured, one newspaper fawned that "God has a new House".
But the newspaper sounded a prescient note of caution, saying that the "populist move made little sense" as he was an active sportsman spending more than 200 days on the road. I had been similarly sceptical in a blog post, but hoped he would speak out on sporting matters.
Two years later, the fears appear to be coming true.
A study of the parliament by watchdog PRS Legislative Research reveals that Tendulkar has not attended a single session of the parliament this year. He attended just three sessions last year and has not participated in any debates. He has a paltry 3% attendance rate among the MPs, compared to an average of 77% . Clearly, he is not finding time or is not inclined to come to the parliament even after bowing out of a spectacular 24-year-old career last November.
To be true, most of India's nominated MPs - a dozen of them are nominated in every parliament for "special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as literature, science, art and social service" - do not have a stellar record in the House. There have been more than 200 of them since 1952, and they have included some of the country's top academics, doctors, writers, journalists, poets, film actors and social workers.
But there have many exceptions as well
- In 1953, dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale was instrumental in introducing a bill to prevent cruelty against animals. In a speech in 1952, celebrated actor Prithviraj Kapoor pushed for the creation of a "national theatre" which would, in his words "teach us how to sit together, how to behave towards each other"
- In 1973, cartoonist Abu Abraham spoke eloquently of his visit to some drought-affected regions.
- One of India's most famous writers, RK Narayan, in his inaugural speech, spoke of heavy school bags and sought their "abolition" - "more children on account of this daily burden develop a stoop and hang their arms forward like a chimpanzee while walking and I know some cases of serious spinal injuries in children too"
Tendulkar has not spoken yet, and his absence from the parliament has caused some outrage. In jest, a columnist wrote he would like to take the membership if Tendulkar wasn't using it. Historian Ramachandra Guha, who has written extensively on cricket, says the legend's absence from parliament is "appalling and reflects poorly on him".
"I think it was a cynical move by the Congress government to nominate Tendulkar to the parliament before the elections as the party thought the move would help the party to get the support of India's cricket lovers," Mr Guha told me. "Also Tendulkar should not have taken up the offer. He is just not cut out for parliament and has been a flop,"
In a way, he is right. Unlike some of his peers like Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar is not a very loquacious person and has never been an outspoken commentator on sport. He has not spoken yet on why he hasn't found time to attend parliament, and my phone calls to his manager went unanswered.
"I want to raise issues related to sports in parliament," Tendulkar said when he took his oath as an MP in the parliament in June 2012. India is still waiting.