When in crisis, play Sachin
|SANJAY K. JHA AND SAMYABRATA RAY GOSWAMI|
April 26: Parliament can now cock its ears for the most famous soft voice in the country, provided Sachin Tendulkar can take time off from his busy cricket schedule.
The President tonight accepted a recommendation from the government to nominate the 39-year-old elder statesman of cricket to the House of Elders or the Rajya Sabha.
Sachin had not reacted in public till late tonight but usually the President signs such recommendations only after word has been conveyed that the nominee would consent.
The President tonight cleared two other nominees: actress Rekha, 57, and industrialist-cum-social worker Anu Agha. Two other vacancies remain.
If Sachin does accept the nomination as MP — Congress leaders insisted he had given his acceptance when he met Sonia Gandhi this morning — he will be the first active sportsperson to become such a member of the Rajya Sabha. Parliament has several sportspersons but they have been elected.
"The process is expected to be cleared in the next two days and will be announced by Monday," a Congress MP from Mumbai said, referring to Sachin's nomination.
Sachin had received the offer from the Congress right after scoring his 100th international ton on March 15. But he had remained undecided for over a month, having steadfastly kept away from politics through his cricketing career.
He formally said "yes" today at the request of Sonia Gandhi, who had invited the cricketer and wife Anjali to her home to congratulate him on his century of centuries, sources said.
Congress leaders are interpreting the nomination of Sachin as a masterstroke by the party at a time it has been desperately looking to refurbish its image in a season of scams and a sense of drift.
The nominated slot is apolitical — a point once underscored by Jawaharlal Nehru and reflected by the President making the final recommendation. This means Sachin will not have to join the Congress if he becomes a nominated MP.
But the Congress knows well that Sachin will continue to be associated with its government in the public mind. The meeting with Sonia at 10 Janpath will do no harm to that perception.
The private reaction from leaders of other parties, all of whom had joined the recent chorus for the Bharat Ratna to be awarded to Sachin, reflected this. They wondered ruefully how the Congress had landed such a prize catch at a time its credibility had been hit so bad.
Sachin was thought to be close to Bal Thackeray in his initial days but he has articulated his secular and pan-Indian positions several times as he has grown in stature.
Elated Congress spokespersons flaunted their trophy in New Delhi, often punning on cricket.
"It will look nice if he comes to Parliament; (it) will encourage sports," Renuka Choudhary said before adding tongue-in-cheek: "We will throw a googly and he would bat."
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said: "We expect Sachin to be present in Parliament, it is a serious business."
CPM leader Prakash Karat, a known cricket and football fan, termed the proposal "good".
The Congress, however, would like Sachin to continue playing cricket: all it wants is that he should send signals, subtle or direct, to the voters ahead of the 2014 election to support the party.
While most nominated members preserve their independence during their six-year tenure, some do demonstrate a sense of loyalty to the party that brought them to Parliament.
If a Mani Shankar Aiyar, nominated by the President in 2010, is a dyed-in-the-wool Congressman, actress Hema Malini and Ram Jethmalani behaved pretty much as BJP members.
"(Some of) our party leaders who are close to Sachin had intimated the government that he was agreeable to the Rajya Sabha nomination," the Mumbai MP said. "Although he wanted to be seen as apolitical, they said, he would not refuse if Soniaji asked him."
Sachin and Anjali were accompanied to 10 Janpath by IPL boss and Congress MP Rajiv Shukla.
"They were with Mrs Gandhi for nearly half an hour. She was very warm. And when she smilingly asked him why he was refusing her party's nomination to grace the Rajya Sabha, Sachin gave in," a source close to the cricketer said. "He could not refuse her. She has such a charming way about her."
The Mumbai MP said the recommendation for Tendulkar's nomination had been sent out from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to the home ministry yesterday, a day after the cricketer's birthday.
"The PMO knew it was a done deal even before the meeting at 10 Janpath. It was a mere formality," he said.
Trinamul MP Derek 'Brien tweeted that "currently seat number 100 in Rajya S is Ashok Ganguly fmr Chairman HLL. He just told me he'll move to a nearby seat and give @sachin_rt 100."
Sachin is actually the first sportsperson to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha unless one counts Dara Singh, who was involved in a kind of wrestling that isn't an Olympic sport.