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Don't target Sachin: he's a Bharat Ratna boy

One VK Naswa from Bhopal has filed a PIL against Sachin Tendulkar for endorsing products on television, alleging that he is misusing Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour in the country. He has claimed that this had made him uncomfortable.

A soft target

Even the Madhya Pradesh High Court is unsure whether a Bharat Ratna awardee can, under law, appear in television commercials. It has asked the assistant solicitor general for clarity on the matter.

Ever since Tendulkar retired from international cricket in November 2013, it has become a growing fad to ride his coattails for 15 minutes of fame.

Be it the short-lived outcry over making him the first Bharat Ratna sportsperson, ahead of hockey wizard Major Dhyan Chand, or the constant scrutiny of his attendance in Parliament as a nominated Rajya Sabha MP, the cricketer who could do no wrong is suddenly a soft target.

Yes Sachin made millions and doesn't need to earn a livelihood. But does that mean he can't be allowed to work?

Granted, Tendulkar has made millions owing to his cricketing prowess and unmatched popularity, and doesn't 'need' to earn a livelihood any more. But does that mean he can't be allowed to work?

After all, according to media reports as recent as 1 May, he is still the brand ambassador for Luminous inverters, Musafir.com, BMW, Aviva insurance, MRF Tyres, DM Healthcare, UNICEF and the International Cricket Council. He is contractually obligated to endorse these products, for which he earns a fee.

Naswa might argue that endorsing products isn't Tendulkar's profession. But that can't be compared to any other profession, given one doesn't retire from the fields of music or politics the way one retires from sport.

Other awardees

But to draw a hypothetical parallel, if a Bharat Ratna awardee politician retires from active politics but is invited as a motivational speaker for a fee, can that be targeted with a PIL too?

Did Pandit Ravi Shankar stop playing in concerts after getting the Bharat Ratna in 1999? Or did Lata Mangeshkar stop singing after 2001? What about her co-recipient Ustad Bismillah Khan? Or did they forego any form of payment and just start doing concerts for social service? Why did Naswa not file PILs against them?

No one individual since Mahatma Gandhi has united public opinion the way Tendulkar did with a bat in hand

Whether Tendulkar deserved to be given the Bharat Ratna within days of his retirement is a debatable point. Major national icons have waited years - some have even been dead for decades before being honoured.

But Tendulkar did not go begging for the Bharat Ratna, the government recognised his cricketing achievements and the fact that he has dominated public consciousness for a quarter of a century worthy enough to confer it upon him.

Heck, he had become a nominated MP even before he had hung up his boots!

The distinction

The problem with Tendulkar is that parallels cannot be drawn easily. No one individual since Mahatma Gandhi has united public opinion the way he did with a bat in hand. No human has been put in the pantheon of gods like he has. No one has made grown men and women sob like children just by making a mistake and getting out. Tendulkar is just different.

There are those who still maintain he played selfishly, for records. There are those who find his simple, humble, middle-class boy image an 'act'. Like with all things popular, there will always be detractors.

But hey, let's not forget that for three generations of Indians - those who thought him their son, their contemporary or a father figure - Tendulkar the batsman brought the greatest joy to the greatest number. One cracking cover drive or push for four down the ground gladdened a billion hearts.

That's the reason why almost two years after disappearing from the cricket grounds, he is still being missed on the field, still endorsing so many brands, and still relevant enough that a PIL against him in Madhya Pradesh can spawn this article.

Shreyas Sharma

Shreyas Sharma @11shreyas