Timing of Bharat Ratna for Sachin Tendulkar: Pre-election gimmick by government to cash in on the emotional wave?

The Government managed to make a mockery of Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement and, in the process, insulted the award. Nobody should be entitled to take advantage of an occasion this poignant as a pre-election publicity stunt. That is simply not done © IANS

In a sudden move the Indian Government decided to award Sachin Tendulkar with the Bharat Ratna. Abhishek Mukherjee tries to explain why the gesture was completely unnecessary.
 

We drank in every word of Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell speech; we nodded and smiled and basked in nostalgia; even the self-proclaimed macho alpha males possibly had their ‘awwww’ moments earlier today; social media erupted; and we basked in the glory of living through the Tendulkar era.
 
Then the news came out: Tendulkar has been nominated for Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour for Indians. The initial reaction was that of happiness: it has finally dawned upon them to bestow the award upon a sportsperson, which felt good. For some inexplicable reason actors and people from the musical world have been awarded the Bharat Ratna but sportsperson have not been.
 
It felt good, especially when we were soaking in the farewell and its aftermath; everything about Tendulkar felt good at that point of time. Then, as the day moved on, a few questions dawned upon me.

 
Did he actually deserve the award?
 
Let us first find what the Bharat Ratna is all about. The website of the Ministry of Home Affairs states that Bharat Ratna “is awarded in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour.” This, obviously, includes cricket, and Tendulkar definitely qualifies for the award if cricket is the criterion.
 
But is he the greatest sportsperson India has ever produced? Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that Tendulkar’s career has been more illustrious and impactful than Sunil Gavaskar’s or Kapil Dev’s — which obviously means that the honour was justified.
 
But what about other sport? Tendulkar was a champion of the sport, but wasn’t Dhyan Chand the first genuinely great sportsperson to have emerged from this country? Dhyan Chand was held in the high esteem outside India for his wizardry on the field, and had won accolades from people that ranged from Don Bradman to Adolf Hitler.
 
In fact, Dhyan Chand was so unbelievably skilled that his stick was broken open in Netherlands to check whether it was real, and in Japan they had to stop play to check whether there was stick on the glue. He should, by all definitions, have been the first one to win it.
 
The other chief contenders, of course, were Prakash Padukone, Geet Sethi, and Viswanathan Anand — that too if we exclude champions like Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Leander Paes, and Mahesh Bhupathi. Tendulkar is definitely a deserving candidate; but there are definitely others who should have been awarded the Bharat Ratna before him.
 
Especially the quartet of Dhyan Chand, Padukone, Sethi, and Anand.
 

Was the gesture necessary?
 
Not quite. Saturday’s farewell showed the place Tendulkar holds in the cricket fraternity. Lively Ian Bishop was sombre, quiet VVS Laxman was animated, and Harsha Bhogle kept on weaving magic with words on air. Everyone applauded him, chanting the man’s name, waving the tricolour, and not a single eye was left dry.
 
Tendulkar has always been about cricket: about its people, present and past and future; about the media; about the support cast; and about us. The world of cricket became one when he delivered his farewell speech, smiling and nodding and crying in unison.
 
Emotions flowed like never before. The nation crossed its socio-economic strata to become one; for once all animosity was forgotten; we called and texted each other and flooded Twitter and Facebook to exchange our feelings throughout the day; we were immersed in Tendulkar enough without the award.
 
Then the news came out (and went viral). The more we think of it, the more synthetic the gesture seems: was the Government really trying to be magnanimous? Or was this some kind of pre-election gimmick it had been trying to pull off to gain publicity out of Tendulkar’s retirement?
 
In a day of nostalgia and cricket the publicity stunt seems so cheap that one almost wishes that the award had not been announced. He did not need the award, and neither did the world around him for whom he batted: for us he was the award in person.
 
Cricket almost feels cheated to see him being used. It has a right to. Nobody should be entitled to take advantage of an occasion this poignant as a pre-election publicity stunt. That is simply not done. Not only has the Government managed to make a mockery of his retirement in the process, it has also simultaneously managed to insult the award in the process.
 
The fact that a national icon and an iconic award have been demeaned at the same time has not really gone down well with us. Banking on emotions is not okay, but we will still accept them as long as they do not involve our heroes. Especially him.
 
Oh, and if you’re really keen on awarding people of sports you should probably start with Dhyan Chand.
 
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)