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Trickier than the balls Sachin left
- To be or not to be in Parliament

Tendulkar at the event in New Delhi on Friday. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, Aug. 8: Sachin Tendulkar may be paying the price of not knowing how to say “no”.

It’s a skill rarely found in a country touted as a land of renunciation. Yet its absence would be particularly surprising in a man so adept at self-denial that he could score a Test double century while refusing to play his staple drives through the off for a long time lest, woefully out of form, he nick one.

Years on, when the government picked him for nomination as a Rajya Sabha member, should Tendulkar have similarly shouldered arms?

He didn’t and is now caught up in a storm over his serial truancy from the House, so much so that he today found himself on the unfamiliar terrain of having to explain himself.

“My absence is being discussed too much,” he told an event in Delhi where he handed out awards to the Indian medal-winners at the recent Commonwealth Games.

“I do not mean to disrespect any institution or individual. There was a medical emergency in my family. My elder brother Ajit had to undergo a bypass surgery and I had to be by his side,” he said.

He didn’t say anything about not seeking leave from the House, which went into session from July 7. Ajit, his brother and mentor, who was scheduled for an angioplasty on July 27 before the doctors eventually decided on bypass surgery on July 29, has been discharged.

It was CPM leader P. Rajeeve who raised the issue of Tendulkar’s absence during zero hour, asking whether the cricketer and actress Rekha — both nominated to the House in April 2012 — had submitted leave applications. That led to some embarrassing stats tumbling out.

Tendulkar attended Rajya Sabha sittings on just three days in 27 months, his last appearance being December 13 last year, deputy chairperson P.J. Kurien revealed. Rekha’s score: seven days.

Kurien’s defence of the duo was based on a technicality. Article 101(4) of the Constitution says that if a member of either House remains absent for 60 days without permission, their seat may be declared vacant.

“The absence of Tendulkar is around 40 days at present. The absence of Ms Rekha is less than that. In both cases, there has been no violation of the constitutional provisions,” Kurien said, indirectly admitting neither had sought leave.

The pages on Tendulkar and Rekha on the Rajya Sabha website suggest they hadn’t ever asked a single question.

To some, the controversy may represent a justified effort to impose the burden of accountability on a man whose God-like status in India had virtually made him immune to any criticism as a player. Others may see it as the burden of early sainthood on a mortal placed under a 24x7 halogen glare and expected not to blink.

For, the context behind the stats is that unlike many, the cricketer did not lobby for a Rajya Sabha seat — it was the Congress that drafted him to deny the first mover’s advantage to its political rivals.

Perhaps it was a catch-22: turning the nomination down could have subjected the cricketer to the same charge as now — of being disrespectful to the august House.

The whole of India would vouch that its favourite son is a deeply private person, never known to be articulate. Even the stirring exception provided by his farewell speech stood out more for substance and sincerity than oratory.

Yet he had stood up with an unequivocal message about Mumbai belonging to all of India when vested interests sought to fish in sectarian waters.

Even the MPs pointing a finger at him cannot claim Tendulkar has embarrassed the country more with his absence from Parliament than those who mark their attendance only to create din and disruption, wielding pepper spray or wads of cash, tearing documents or hurling mikes.

If the logic that celebrities cannot complain about the glare that comes with their status applies to Tendulkar, it should also apply to the directly elected celebs who hardly open their mouth in the lower House. Or, like Tapas Paul, skip this entire session citing ill-health that appears to have coincided with the disclosure of his “rape-and-shoot” speech.

Singling the ex-cricketer out even among the nominated Elders may be unfair. When the late author R.K. Narayan was a nominated member, a veteran reporter who studiously attended the House said he hardly spoke. But, the reporter added, when Narayan did speak, he raised the important issue of the weight of children’s schoolbags.

“I am now pleading for abolition of the school bag by an ordinance, if necessary…. An average child carries strapped to his back, like a pack-mule, not less than 6-8 kg of books, notebooks and other paraphernalia…. I know some cases of serious spinal injuries,” the author had said in the House, flagging a matter that has received wider attention since then.

If there’s room for a debate, perhaps it should be about the need for nominated members — a tradition started so that stellar achievers who may not be able to survive the vagaries of power politics could serve the country.

Rajeeve told The Telegraph he had respect for Tendulkar but had raised the matter because he felt Parliament was losing out on his contributions.

“The House should be enlightened by his contributions. That is not happening. So I raised the matter,” Rajeeve said.