Celebrities in Parliament. What can they do ?
There has been a strong demand from certain segments of the public in recent times to give the Bharat Ratna Award to Sachin Tendulkar for his astounding achievement in the field of sports—namely, cricket. There is no question but that Tendulkar deserves recognition, of some kind. But the demand has been put on the backfoot with a nomination to the Rajya Sabha, a most inappropriate Award, if one can say so. His nomination, wrote Hindustan Times (April 28) “raises several valid doubts about the utility of inducting celebrities in the House”, the first time such an event took place in its long history. The paper reminded its readers, “there have been several celebrities who did not cover themselves in glory despite being given this high office to which they could have made signal contributions”. They seemed to have preferred to pursue their vocations over the conduct of their duties in the House. Thus, Lata Mangeshkar who accepted a seat did not turn up in the House even for once for the entire term. Hindustan Times didn’t say it, but it was an insult to the whole nation. The paper noted that “some film stars treated the honour with scant regard as did Dharmendra and Govinda”. And it said: “It would add insult to injury if celebrities are noted solely for their celebrity value”. The whole exercise thus “loses its prestige and sheen”. Concluding, the paper very rightly said: “At a time when young people—in a very young nation—are becoming disillusioned with politics, it is imperative that the choice of Rajya Sabha candidates does not instil more cynicism”.
The Asian Age (April 25) wondered whether, considering that Tendulkar is to indulge in constant travel, he would be able “to find time to work related to Parliament for nearly half a year”. Gently expressing its doubts of Tendulkar being able to do justice to his new appointment, Asian Age wondered whether on the part of the government “It is part of the calculation to earn a few quick brownies points by nominating to the House the epoch-making batsman whose popularity surpasses that of perhaps any other person in the country”. If that is so, said the paper, “then the government has acted with a cynical lack of regards for the needs of the Parliamentary forum”. Surely, it can’t be said that Tendulkar has been nominated to assist him financially. His salary will be Rs 16,000 per month. He will be paid Rs 1,000 per day for the duration of the session and sitting of a Committee. Normally the House is in session for 165 days in a year. And if Tendulkar is present throughout the period he should earn Rs 1,65,000. Of course, he will enjoy other perks like free telephone calls, free travel etc, which must sound like peanuts to Tendulkar. Why?
Tendulkar’s annual earning from brand endorsements come to around Rs 40 crore. His fees for an endorsement as noted by The Economic Times (1 to7 April) is Rs 5.3 crore. The BCCI contract, according to India Today (February 13) is Rs 1 crore. His match fee is Rs 85 lakh and earnings from IPL Rs 7 crore. Actually, according to the journal, Tendulkar should earn Rs 60 crore for endorsement of seventeen brands. All this becomes substantial even in comparison with what MS Dhoni earns. The captain gets Rs 1 crore through an annual BCCI contract, match fees are Rs 1.86 crore and endorsements from 23 brands some Rs 150 crore. Moneywise, becoming a Member of the Rajya Sabha is no big deal. There is a media claim that Tendulkar’s total career earnings are in excess of Rs 500 crore. Is that a correct assessment or is it an exaggeration? Only Tendulkar can tell. A nominated member to the Rajya Sabha apparently does not have to reveal his earnings. The idea of nominating ‘celebrities’—twelve of the 250 Rajya Sabha members can be nominated by the President—is normally a sensible one. It recognises achievement whether in the field of art, literature, music, dance, drama, theatre, science, technology or ought else. But one presumes that they are equally capable in contributing substantially to the proceedings of the House, certainly in the field of their speciality.
What can Tendulkar possibly contribute from his cricket expertise? In the very first batch of appointees, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had recommended the names of Zakir Hussain, scientist Satyendra Bose, dancer Rukmini Arundale, lawyer Alladi Krishnaswamy, not to mention Prithviraj Kapur. Zakir Hussain was in course of time to be President. One pre-supposes all nominees to be “elders”. At thirty nine Tendulkar is still young. His concentration apparently is strictly on cricket. He may have his views on international issues and, for all one knows on domestic ones as well, but it is one thing to have views and quite another to have expertise. He made news when some time ago he asserted that Mumbai belongs to all Indians and not just to the Marathi manoos. It drew the hatred of the Shiv Sena but it certainly endeared him to Indians everywhere.
Writing in The Hans India (April 29), Bhupendra Chaubey, National Bureau Chief of CNN-IBN said that he would be the happiest if Tendulkar were to rise as an eminent Parliamentarian, but then, he added: “I don’t think you have got your timing right on this one”. In an Open Letter addressed to Tendulkar, Chaubey said: “In the great game called politics, you actually don’t get to see the ball. You may not even know who the bowler is and who is your partner. For all you know, the person sitting next to you and claiming to be your partner at the other end may actually be an opposition bowler. He may end up clean bowling you”. In nominating Tendulkar, Sonia Gandhi is playing to the gallery as when she recently called on some swamijis in north Karnatak, in an obvious attempt to win votes. It is sickening. It would have been more to the point if instead of musicians, artists etc, Sonia Gandhi appointed newly retired scientists, educationists, members of well-known Think Tanks, social workers, editors and such others who can speak with authority on issues such as poverty, illiteracy, rural uplift, etc with authority, making substantial contribution to the level of debate. Rajya Sabha is not there to provide various kinds of entertainment to the public, though some members may differ on this. In Rajya Sabha Members play a different kind of game but then who is there to advice Sonia Gandhi who has her own game to play? Carry on, Sachin. Good luck to you.