The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Icons may be higher than ordinary mortals to their fans but this is not a position that the government can adopt. Thus it is bizarre that the finance and the sports ministries of the government of India waived the duty on a Ferrari that had been gifted to Sachin Tendulkar. The fact that the car company has agreed to pay the duty of Rs 1.13 crore cannot take away from the irregularity and the impropriety involved in the waiver. To the government and its existing regulations, Tendulkar, whatever be his outstanding cricketing achievements, is as important or as unimportant as any other citizen of the country. The government cannot see itself as a fan of Tendulkar. The step taken by Mr Vikramjit Sen, judge in the Delhi High Court to take suo motu notice of the matter, can only be applauded. It is significant that it was reports in the media that made Mr Sen take cognizance of the matter. The waiver violates the principle of equality and if it is extended it might, in fact, free Tendulkar from paying any taxes and from respecting any of the laws of the country. Tendulkar provides sterling service to the country in his chosen field of activity, but so do many others in their chosen areas; the finance ministry has rightly not extended any special privileges to them. Indeed, by waiving the duty, Tendulkar has been dragged into a controversy which is not his own making at all.

The episode, even after the duty has been paid, will linger because it reveals a particular kind of attitude. Indians very often, in their deification of individuals, lose their sense of balance and proportion. This attitude is all too evident in the behaviour of fans towards their favourite stars. Such displays of public hysteria are disturbing. But things take on a completely different turn when a similar mindset grips public policy and its implementation. The privilege accorded to Tendulkar is an example of this. But the mindset is manifest at a lesser scale in many other realms of public activity. Important persons in public life, especially politicians and bureaucrats, see themselves as being above the law and rules and regulations. They use their position and influence to bend rules and, even at times, to break the law. It is true that Tendulkar did not use his influence but the waiver is an indicator that officialdom, with no rhyme or reason, sees him as a special person for whom ordinary rules do not apply. In a democracy no one repeat no one should enjoy such special status. A democracy is a republic of equals.

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