By: Udayan Namboodiri
India’s reigning sporting hero, Sachin Tendulkar, was sworn in as a Member of Parliament on Monday (June 4th), one of 12 distinguished citizens appointed by the president to the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) for six-year terms.
Spared the rough-and-tumble of electoral politics, these eminences are supposed to “enrich” the Parliamentary process with their special knowledge.
But as the media frenzy of the swearing-in ceremony fades, many Indian commentators are wondering what Tendulkar, or Bollywood star Rekha, who was similarly nominated and sworn in last month, will bring to the table.
“I was a little disturbed seeing the way Rekha was sworn in, all that publicity as if it was some awards night,” activist and actor Kirron Kher told Khabar South Asia.
India’s public service broadcaster, Doordarshan, telecast live Rekha’s brief swearing-in ceremony while constantly showing another actress-turned-parliamentarian, Jaya Bachchan. In the 1980s, Rekha was rumoured to be in a relationship with Jaya’s husband, Amitabh Bachchan.
“The mischief was quite clear,” commentator Rajat Kher told Khabar. A number of Parliamentarians later protested the “coverage” to the chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
After numerous TV hours dedicated to condemning this display of “poor taste” and questioning the rationale for appointing Rekha, commentators this week focused on Tendulkar, who earlier this year became the toast of the cricketing community by notching 100 century innings in the international arena.
“The man has been given every award possible by the state already, isn’t that enough? He would just be a spectator in Parliament and it would be a waste of public time and money to send him there,” commented former Indian politician Roshan Baig.
Celebrity MPs make up a long tradition in the world’s largest democracy. Whether film stars or singers or cricketers or the odd wrestler, some actually contest elections and win. But when inside Parliament or its satellite legislative bodies in the states, their contribution is marginal.
The tradition, recalls veteran writer Tarun Ganguly, began in the 1950s when the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, fielded film stars as candidates of his Congress Party in “weak seats” – constituencies where the party’s chances were slim – with the hope of cashing in on the actors’ glamour.
Nehru’s grandson, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, brought as many as 14 celebrities, including cricketers and out-of-work actors, to Parliament through the 1984 general election. But none of them left their mark on India’s parliamentary tradition.
“To deliver a speech in Parliament there is a long waiting list. Most of the time is allotted to the big parties, and within them, it’s always the big leaders who hog the precious minutes. Nominated MPs like Tendulkar and Rekha will find it impossible to make an impression throughout their terms,” former Bollywood actor turned politician Vinod Khanna told Khabar.
Tendulkar, who is the first still-in-action sportsman to get a presidential nomination, was quoted in the media saying, “I will contribute to the other (non-cricket) sports in the country.”
Many observers like Chennai-based writer M.P. Raju criticised him for this “tall promise”.
“I want to know how a nominated MP can contribute anything, including in the sporting arena. Tendulkar would not be in government, so how can he make things better for Indian hockey or soccer?” he said.
Another celebrity appointees, former actress Hema Malini, attracted attention for all the wrong reasons. In 2007, during “Question Hour” in the Rajya Sabha, she wanted to know from the Finance Minister why “reverse osmosis” water purifiers were not given tax breaks.
The Ethics Committee pointed out that she had a commercial interest in the matter, as she had been modelling for a popular brand of “reverse osmosis” water purifiers on national TV for the preceding months.
“I only work for the people. I don’t know anything about rules,” was all the “Dream Girl” of the 1970s could say in defence. But that didn’t prevent the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from sending her back to the Rajya Sabha when her six years as a presidential nominee were up.
Source: Khabar South Asia