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Playing to the gallery

india Updated: Nov 26, 2009 21:19 IST
Ayaz Memon
Maharashtrian

Everybody in Indian life wants a slice of Sachin Tendulkar. The rub-off effect of his brand equity is too huge to ignore, more so for those running political agendas. Almost every party has tried to grab his allegiance in recent years, but Tendulkar has dealt with all as he would a testing, late outswinger from Glenn McGrath: shoulder arms and let it pass.
The only way to include him in such an agenda could then only be by default. However, for the past week I have mulled over the Shiv Sena’s recent diatribe against him and must confess to still being befuddled. What’s wrong in saying that I am an Indian first instead of a Maharashtrian? Bereft of any cricketing logic, the controversy also seems a zero-sum game politically.

Whispers abound that Tendulkar’s ‘closeness’ to Raj Thackeray — the bête noire of the Shiv Sena — led to his becoming a target. Very few years separate the two in age, and they have been good friends for years. But that has never influenced Tendulkar’s public posture where political issues are concerned.

Indeed, he has tried hard — and successfully as yet — to keep his identity as an apolitical person intact, more so where the Thackeray family is concerned. After the split, Tendulkar has straddled not just the geographical but also the political distance between the two factions by keeping his political beliefs inscrutably personal while making himself available to both as a representative of the son of the soil.

What compelled the Shiv Sena then to take unprovoked potshots at him? A whiff of desperation is unmistakable in the emotional blackmail, of course. There has been much fretting and wringing of hands in Matoshree after the state elections in September left the Shiv Sena with fewer seats in the assembly and pride seriously dented. But even if the nose is bloodied, to lop it off seems a grotesquely silly way to show pique.

Nobody expects the Shiv Sena to show grace under pressure, yet to compare Tendulkar to Lokmanya Tilak and Sunil Gavaskar reveals not just the extent of the confusion in the party, but also caricaturises its current predicament. The first comparison I find so facetious as to be funny, but I’ll leave the first to those with a greater understanding of the Maharashtrian ethos to analyse. It is the comparison with Gavaskar I find more relevant because it is seriously flawed in context and diabolical in motive.

The Sena argues that unlike Tendulkar, Gavaskar ‘favoured’ players from Mumbai when he was captain, citing the examples of Ghulam Parkar and Suru Nayak who were selected for the 1982 tour of England. Perhaps Gavaskar did, but it had such a dubious impact on the performance of the team that it should never be repeated.

Indeed, the history of Indian cricket is littered with examples (including Tendulkar’s tenure as captain, easily the most undistinguished aspect of his career) of how favouritism has failed the country. The more damaging aspect in this was parochialism which divided the dressing room into Mumbai versus Delhi, East versus South and what have you for decades.
It is only in recent years that the cricket system has become more transparent, more accountable where selection matters are concerned leading to a massive upsurge of exciting talent from all parts of the country. True, favouritism may not have been completely eradicated, but parochial interests have been considerably marginalised. That is something that needs to be succoured — and not just in cricket — in the modern milieu of our nation.

The Shiv Sena presupposes the part as more important than the whole and argues for regionalism over nationalism. This mocks not just at Indian cricket, but also at the idea of India.

Mumbai-based Ayaz Memon writes on cricket and other matters

The views expressed by the author are personal