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By Suresh Menon
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Sachin Tendulkar is being used once again. This time by political loudmouths so keen on protecting his good name that they think nothing of throwing dirt on the fair name of our democratic country. ‘Thou Shalt Not Criticise Sachin’ has, especially in recent years, become a commandment that is at once silly and embarrassing. The cancellation of the book release of Shoaib Akhtar’s ‘Controversially Yours’ because he criticised Mumbai’s favourite son should make us all hang our heads in shame.
It began with Rajiv Shukla, Vice President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India demanding an apology from Shoaib for suggesting Sachin didn’t enjoy playing him. I haven’t read the book, but if media reports are to be believed (just because it is on television, it doesn’t mean it isn’t true), then Shoaib has called into question Sachin’s match-winning abilities and said that on one occasion, Sachin rather than play the ball simply moved away from the line.
To me these sound like the desperate attempts by an immature person to get back at Sachin for the treatment the batsman meted out to him especially at the 2003 World Cup, and a pathetic attempt to sell the book. By pouncing on these irrelevancies, the cricket Board, the National Congress Party and the Shiv Sena, each more loyal than the king, have done Sachin a great disservice. They have lent credibility and seriousness to frivolity. Shoaib Akhtar will laugh all the way to the bank.
Sachin does not need the Rajiv Shuklas of the world to defend him; if anything, such a move is counter-productive. He does not need political parties to use him to score cheap points with the voting public. Politicians should have taken a pointer from Sachin’s dignified response when the story broke. His response was lack of response and the suggestion that it was not worthy of a response.
Sadly, this is not about Sachin. It is not even about the climate of intolerance which seems to be built into our system by the defenders of the indefensible (although that is an important element too). It is about the new political discourse – dragging in art, sport, entertainment, culture into the ambit of the one great perceived cause. Nationalism. Thus, to criticise Sachin is anti-national; to appreciate the works of M F Husain is anti-national; to watch a movie which deals with reservation in educational institutions is anti-national.
Politicians say, refining Frank Sinatra further, ‘It is my way or my way.’ There is no choice, no other sieve through which anything can be filtered.
The Sachin story is made to order for politicians. A good Brahmin boy with an international reputation versus a wild Muslim boy from Pakistan. There are so many layers – good vs evil, India vs Pakistan, wholesome vs tarnished, us vs them, our icon vs your bad boy, blameless career vs career full of off-field shenanigans and much more.
The question is not whether Shoaib is right or wrong. Either way he is entitled to express his opinion. It is unlikely that many of those calling for his head now have even heard of Voltaire, but it has become a cliché to quote him in such situations: I do not agree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.
The self-appointed Upholders of National Integrity consistently fail to recognise that they usually cause great harm to the person or institution they are trying to protect with such excessive zeal.
A politician who has taken credit for browbeating the prestigious CCI into cancelling the event said, “Sachin is the God of cricket, and I, being a cricket fan, organised the protest. I also called upon the CCI to prevent their venue from becoming a platform for a book that criticises Sachin."
The Shiv Sena man has said, “(The book) will hurt the sentiments of all our countrymen."
It would have been possible to sympathise with the CCI who might have decided to cancel the show calculating that discretion is the better part of valour, but its president has been reported as saying, “We do not want to sully the association we have with Tendulkar.” So it is about protecting Sachin’s fair name, after all.
If a throwaway line by a sportsman is expected to hurt the sentiments of all our countrymen – a significant portion of whom live below the poverty line – it does not speak well of the country. And who gave these windbags the right to speak on our behalf anyway? Our culture needs to be protected from them, not by them.