Opinion

The political correctness of being Tendulkar

NS Vageesh | Updated on February 12, 2021

Too much is being read into Sachin’s response to Rihanna’s tweet. The cricket icon is being sadly drawn into the political game

The Maharashtra Government is going to ‘probe’ the recent tweets by celebrities such as Sachin Tendulkar on the ongoing farmers agitation on the outskirts of New Delhi. Even if these were the worst of times and the age of unreason, it beggars belief and common sense that a State government should act in this manner against a national icon — for what is, after all, a harmless, neutral and even anodyne tweet! After all, what did Tendulkar really say?

His tweet last week ran as follows: “India’s sovereignty cannot be compromised. External forces can be spectators but not participants. Indians know India and should decide for India. Let’s remain united as a nation.”

That was as carefully crafted as any one of his drives on the field. The tweet was made in response to a post by pop star Rihanna. The fact that the Tendulkar tweet was synchronised with those of a few others, ostensibly on the prompting of the Ministry of External Affairs, has given rise to all this brouhaha.

The State government and the Centre lose no opportunity to bring each other down by a few pegs, even if a few reputations are damaged in the process. Politics is clearly at play and Sachin is just an unwitting pawn in this game. One of Maharashtra’s senior politicians, Sharad Pawar, in a rare display of pique, said that Sachin should be cautious while speaking about fields other than cricket. Now, that was gratuitous advice from a man who has seen Tendulkar up close through his entire career not only as a politician but as a senior cricket administrator. He should have known better than anyone else that Tendulkar has always done exactly that.

Focussed on the game

Sachin has maintained true discipline and self-control in keeping his mouth shut and focussing on his game — never mind every attempt to draw him out from his safe harbour and get him to comment on all matters — relevant and irrelevant.

He has stayed that way through his 25-year playing career and in the seven years since his retirement. His entire public life can be summarised as one long exercise in smartly ducking or swaying out of the way of the many bouncers directed at him. When was the last time you ever heard Tendulkar express an opinion on any matter of national significance?

As a matter of fact, one can say it’s been 12 years — in November 2009. Just around the time he completed 20 years as an international cricketer, Sachin said in response to a media query, “I am a Maharashtrian and I am extremely proud of that. But I am an Indian first. And Mumbai belongs to all Indians”. The statement was made in the backdrop of some parties raising parochial sentiments in the run-up to State elections thereafter.

What did you find controversial in this? Read it again and many of you will think this is another version of the national pledge that we dutifully recited in school assemblies for a dozen years. But our politicians managed to read more into it and the statement drew the ire of the late Bal Thackeray who was piqued enough to call it a ‘cheeky single by Tendulkar’. He went on to add that “Tendulkar had left the crease and moved to the pitch of politics by making these remarks which have hurt Marathis.”

Tendulkar’s stature, the public goodwill and the support he enjoyed, ensured that the paroxysms quietened soon and everyone moved on.

Perhaps it’s once again only a matter of a few days before the Maharashtra Government beats a retreat from its ill-advised move to ‘probe’ Tendulkar and others for their tweets and attend to more pressing matters of state.

This still unfolding episode does however raise a number of questions about the stance that celebrities should take on various issues. Should they, at all, in the first place, involve themselves in matters beyond their domain? Should they respond to requests from either political leaders or officialdom, for lending their heft to ‘national’ causes? When should they get involved? Where does one draw the line about the extent of involvement?

These are questions that everyone has to answer for themselves. Still, if one may offer a word of advice to all celebrities in the fray and those still to come, it’s this: Follow Tendulkar! No, not on social media. Follow his methods — the way he stuck to his tasks, avoided diversions, built his professional career and reputation and then, most importantly, stayed mum throughout.

True, some will call you dull and boring and even accuse you of ‘political correctness’. You will also miss your 15 seconds of international fame, the odd headline and more than a couple of controversies generated by click-bait skills from an issue-starved media. But that’s a small price to pay, isn’t it? If you are really serious about your career and life, that is.

The writer is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist

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Published on February 12, 2021
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