Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th hundred has left Indian cricket—and the man himself—in a state of exhausted relief. Now that it’s done, he will hope his road ahead will be simpler. There’s the IPL over the next two months, all body parts to be kept in sync for the new Indian season. A chance to put the English in their place, the prospect of batting alongside a new No. 3 in Test matches. And ODIs? After the Asia Cup, who knows how many more? That is the way his life is, anyway.
Outside this world is another ecosystem—entities whose interests lie in finding more Tendulkar-centric magnets to keep their wheels greased and moving. Along with fans who dreamt the dream and a media which stamped impatient feet because their pages and packages were ready, an entire industry chewed its finger-nails: brand managers, advertisers, media planners, marketing men, TRP hounds. Coca Cola sat on more than 7 lakh special edition gold cans in the wait from 99 to 100 from their ‘Happiness Ambassador’.
Now? Tendulkar’s career covers two decades, a hundred centuries and a World Cup. What next? All the damn boxes have been ticked. There has been a photo-op with Roger Federer, the chequered flag at the Indian F1 GP, and even a waxwork at Madame Tussaud’s. The Cannes red carpet, seriously, would be idiotic.
Wait. The Tendulkar economy sees one more carrot dangling before it—the Bharat Ratna. India’s highest civilian award is not a branding exercise but don’t be surprised if a ‘movement’ begins soon. It could start with a nightly TV news show insisting that the ‘nation’ wants a Bharat Ratna for Sachin. It is actually what the ceaseless, celebrity-branding whirligig wants. This ‘nation’ here refers primarily to plu chatterati, or to borrow from Amitav Ghosh’s description of India’s public life, “a whirling continuum that seamlessly unites cricket, politics and Bollywood. Each domain leaks into the other and the major figures are all closely linked.”
The political support has been speedy. The Bharat Ratna was previously awarded for “exceptional services in arts, literature, and science and in recognition of public services of the highest order”. That criteria has now been changed to “recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour”. Enter sport and cinema, though they already have their own “highest national honours”—the Khel Ratna and the Dadasaheb Phalke award. And the entire ladder of Padma awards. Why’s that not good enough for athletes or movie stars? Because that’s not a good enough award ‘brand’? It’s not ‘exclusive’ enough or ‘limited edition’ or ‘bespoke’? Tell us, fellas.
Opening up the Bharat Ratna to “any field of human endeavour” has only opened the door for silly arguments: should not Viswanathan Anand get it first? Why shouldn’t Dhyan Chand get one? Bachchan over Dilip Kumar? Surely Aamir before Shahrukh? Social workers and scientists will never be able to compete with what Ghosh calls Cripollywood.
The arguments for Tendulkar’s Bharat Ratna come in an emotional flood: look at what he has achieved, has he not served the country, has he not affected the lives of millions, must the Bharat Ratna be the preserve of politicians?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and no. A counter-question: why the rush? For the first half of his working life, Tendulkar has been exceptional. For that, he has been universally recognised, riotously feted and handsomely rewarded. What remains is the other half of his working life, after cricket, which is still to be lived.
The Bharat Ratna should at least be recognition of a life’s work of excellence and service. Letting the years pass before handing it out is good judgement. Particularly in sport, where careers are far shorter than in art, science, literature or cinema. After they quit sport, though, athletes can either turn into parodies of themselves or redefine themselves. The choice is theirs and Tendulkar is still to make his.
Athletes can be extraordinary even after sport. Imran Khan built Pakistan’s first specialist cancer hospital. Outside politics, he is one of his country’s leading philanthropists. Speed skater Johan Olav Koss, four-time Olympic gold medallist, founded Right to Play, a body that works with under-priviledged children through sport in 20 countries.
Forty-one men and women have received the Bharat Ratna. Perhaps the best way to decide whether Tendulkar should be given the Ratna any time soon, is to look at the most exemplary of the winners. To ask not whether this remarkable cricketer’s achievements are on par with those of Lata Mangeshkar or Rajiv Gandhi. But with Ambedkar, Karve, Ghaffar Khan or Mandela. How can anyone say yes?
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo.com
I liked Sharda Ugra’s column on the issue of awarding the Bharat Ratna to Sachin Tendulkar (A Jewel Deferred, Apr 9). What she says makes a lot of sense. But Sharda doesn’t ask the hard questions. Does Sachin deserve the Ratna if any of the following is true? Is it true that he filed income-tax under the heading of an ‘artist’ rather than a ‘cricketer’ to save tax? Is it true that he asked for corporation rules to be bent so he could get additional fsi to build a gym in his new house? Did Sachin get customs duty waived on his Ferrari, which he then ended up selling to a Surat-based businessman?
Abhiram Bhat, Mumbai
For God’s sake, stop this Bharat Ratna for Sachin. Think 10 times before you decide if he deserves it. When Kapil prolonged his career to break Hadlee’s record of Test wickets, the same people who looked on indulgently at Sachin and his pathetic scramble for century number 100, had criticised Kapil. And please, let’s not let M/s Ravi, Sunny and Manjrekar be the lead debaters on this issue. They think cricket is not played anywhere other than Mumbai. They had bayed for the blood of Sourav, Dravid and vvs; as far as Sachin is concerned, he can play for as long as he wishes.
R. Ramaswamy, Bangalore
Sachin has not done signal service to the country that has materially influenced the lives of his countrymen. Those who say he has changed people’s lives advance a naive, even immature, line of argument.
S.K. Jha, Darbhanga
This debate is just a storm in a teacup. Yes, Sachin’s cricketing record is staggering, but he has achieved this in a sport that’s played at its highest level by only 10 nations. Why, most countries in the world don’t even know what cricket is! That fact alone should put him back in an imaginary queue of possible Ratna awardees. The Bharat Ratna should not be conferred on someone based on popular opinion or public clamour, but keeping in mind the weight of achievement and the odds faced on the way.
C.K. Jaidev, Dubai
Given the popularity of cricket in India and the astounding batting records of Sachin, the demand to grant him Bharat Ratna is but natural. Yet, if internationally acclaimed performances in a sport can bring in our highest award, then many other sportspersons also deserve it. If popularity is the consideration, why not offer a Bharat Ratna to Amitabh Bachchan? Given Sachin’s commercial appeal in endorsement of various brands, I would not be surprised if the recent media chatter about his award is orchestrated by the sponsors.
Dipto, New York
What has Sachin done to even make people talk about his getting a Bharat Ratna? Has he played free for the nation? Tell him that for the next one year he’ll not be paid to play Tests. Within 20 minutes he’d fax in his medical certificates saying he has a shoulder injury. Please, we want real heroes to be honoured, not cricket merchants.
Even the Bharat Ratna has been won by people who don’t deserve it. It has become, like so many things in India, a place for petty politics and wrangling and favouritism. Sachin’s achievements would be remembered by his countrymen. He shouldn’t bother about awards given by corrupt netas.
Nasar Ahmed, Karikkudi
For someone like me, who actually likes watching cricket, Sachin provided great moments of pride. But you cannot get a Bharat Ratna by just doing your job!
Ashutosh Kaul, Toronto
Sachin is a great cricketer, like Gavaskar, Dravid, Lara and Richards. But he’s not greater than Sobers, and certainly not better than the Don. If there’s one Indian sportsman who deserved this award it’s none other than hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, who gave us three Olympic gold medals in 1928, 1932 and 1936.
R.K. Singh, Gurgaon
What she says makes lot of sense. The die hard fans may not like it but Ms Sharda Ugra missed some important questions that we should ask:
Does Sachin Tendulkar deserve the Ratna if any of the following that is widely reported is true? (1) That he filed his Income tax returns as an "Artist" and not a player to save on tax? If he himself says he is an artist just to save taxes, how can he be given the Ratna as a player? (2) Is it true that he asked for the corporation rules to be bent so that he can get additional FSI to build a gym in his new house? It is a different matter that politicians were falling over one another to grant him the permission (3) Did he get customs duty waived on the Ferrari and utlimately ended up selling that car to a Surat based businessman? Should he not have paid the customs when he at least sold the car?
So what life's work did Rajiv Gandhi have done that he was confered the Bharat Ratna? If just running a scam ridden government for 5 years earns one then why cant a person who is very symbol of Indian sports get one? May be a little wait but certainly he is far deserving than Bacchans or Khans....
Sachin is a great player like Gavaskar, Darvid, Lara,Vivian Richards and many. But he is not greater than Sobers and certainly not the Don of cricket Donald Bradman. In fact,he does not figure among top 5 players when it comes to highest innings in test ( Lara 400 not out), highest ist class ( Lara 501), Highest test average ( Bradman 99.74 ), No of double hundreds ( Bradman 12 in 52 tests, Sachin 6 in 183 tests) So this Bharat Ratna cacophony should stop. If there is one Indian Sportsman deserving this award it is none else than Hockey wizard Dhyan Chand who got us 3 olympic Gold medals in 1928, 1932 and 1936. The legendary Bradman after watching him play in Adelaide in 1935 said " He scores goals like runs in cricket" What more for a Bharat Ratna.
Why is everyone dissing Sachin in their comments? What is his fault? Did he ask for Bharat Ratna? He has done what he was supposed to do, and did it very well, better than 99.99% of our thankless countrymen. I remember a time before Sachin when at the mere sight of fast bowlers, our batsmen would start backing out or try getting out as soon as possible. Like it or not, he is an inspiration to hundreds of millions of us. For some reason, people are fixated on this idea that an inspiration can only come from a poet or a singer or a politician. Do I need to remind everyone about Jesse Owens? It's a measure of our crudeness and bigotry that we have even classified inspiration.
As for people claiming that he plays only for money, please have some grace. One can say the same thing about a lot of musicians who have got BR.
What the poor fellow does is play his game sincerely and with a wonderful craft without spewing jargon filled nonsense.
Given the popularity of cricket in India, given the astounding batting records of Sachin in the game and given the popularity of Sachin among a huge population of people watching cricket for last twenty odd years, the demand for his Bharat Ratna from a large section of Indians is natural.
Yet, if internationally acclaimed performance in one form of sports is the only measure for Bharat Ratna then there are present and former sposts persons from all forms of sports who have similar achievements to glorify India ( Abhinav Bindra- the only Olympic glold medalist from India or Vishwanathan Anand the world chess champion etc.) and merit Bharat Ratna.If popularity is the consideration, why not offer a Bharat Ratna to Amitabh Bachchan.
However if we cite other highly successful or highly popular artistes/sports persons to deny Sachin a Ratna and demand more from him to qualify for the award, we forget that not all Bharat Ratna recepients were extra-ordinary. Does Rajiv Gandhi merit a Bharat Ratna despite his tragic death? And we can also debate whether other luminaries in fields of Arts were not as acclaimed as those artistes who were awared Bharat Ratna. Shouldn't A.R Rahman deserve a Bharat Ratna for his global recognition in music direction despite local roots?
One should keep in mind that Bharat Ratna after all is an award that is vetted by politicians. So if UPA politicians unanimously favor someone he or she will get the award.
Given Tendulkar's commercial appeal in endorsement of various brands for so many years I am not surprised if the recent media chatter about his Bharat Ratna award is orchestrated by the media sponsors.
However,any attempt to belittle his achievement is quite unfair irrespective of whether one agrees to the idea of confering the highest civilian award to Sachin..
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