Is Sachin Tendulkar the media’s anti-Modi?
Over the past couple of weeks, in the run-up to Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement, there is perhaps only one personality who has rivaled Sachin in media coverage – Narendra Modi. However, while every event associated with Modi culminates in a ‘debate’, with Sachin it becomes a reason to celebrate. Obviously, both of them attract eyeballs – and hence the unrelenting coverage. That said, the media has contributed as much to the creation of both the Sachin and Modi cults – albeit in contrasting fashions. In the case of Sachin the evangelical fervor with which he was revered by the media as ‘God’ meant the near complete proselytisation of a populace. On the other hand, the media not sparing every dubious opportunity to nitpick when it came to Modi resulted in a section of citizenry rebelling against this siege. History tells us that, it is rebellion that is the fountainhead of many faiths.
Putting the microscope on Sachin, it is an indisputable fact that he was a gifted cricketer [though some dispute his effectiveness – check out Master Laster by Sumit Chakraberty] – but does that elevate him from being a mere mortal on more routine matters off the field? Has the media even tried to ask Sachin any uncomfortable questions? Well, apparently not – here is a sample of 10 questions that G. Sampath wishes someone asks Sachin. Some of those 10 questions will be central to the remainder of this post. In case of Modi though, till recently, every interview revolved around ‘uncomfortable questions’ about the 2002 riots.
Sachin’s batting was always a pleasure to watch. His sublime straight drives and cantankerous cuts consistently evoke awe and applause. Though, as Rohit Brijnath says ‘it would have been too much for Sachin to have been lyrical‘ . With this being the case, Sachin tends to be etched in our minds more as statistics than as strokes. And Sachin’s obsession with numbers simply reinforces it. I can think of two instances which underscore this – 1) Sachin’s protest against Dravid’s declaration when he was on 194* and 2) The 100th hundred saga, culminating in a lost cause – 114 off 147 against Bangladesh. But then aren’t we all like that – How many of us really work in ‘teams’ in our offices? Are we really unhappy if our company profits are down, but we get a promotion?
I think it is a bit far-fetched to have expected Sachin or anyone to have ‘exposed’ match-fixing. By the same standards most of us in the middle-class would be making visits to the Lok Ayukta and Vigilance departments every other day. On the other questions of Ferrari tax exemption and FSI enhancement for his bungalow – how many of us ‘invest’ in tax-savings schemes? How many middle-class localities would you find today that do not violate building by-laws?
While it is the middle-classness of Sachin that endears him to us, what attracts us to Modi is the exact opposite – that he has done what none of us have had the conviction or courage to do. He has sacrificed his life for the Sangh, he has patiently waited his turn. He doesn’t have time for a family, and has consciously kept his family far away from power. Yet, he aspired for the highest office. For those of us in the middle-class who have no aspirations beyond hoarding real-estate, “Modi for PM” symbolizes an audacious aspiration that we could never associate with a mere tea-boy. In addition to the pragmatism of it all, Modi as PM would be poetic justice in the eyes of many of us.
Coming back to Sachin, his farewell speech though was touching. Best part was that he didn’t start with thanking Sonia Gandhi and end with N.Srinivasan. He spoke about what really mattered to him – his family. That he chose to mention his late agent Mark Mascarenhas showed he was talking from his heart. Given his sincerity and humility what one cannot fathom is his consent for this ‘retirement circus’.
His wife said, Sachin decided to go the moment he realised that he couldn’t give his 100%, and his farewell series ‘worked-out’. It is a sort of self-contradiction – why have a farewell series at all if Sachin feels he cant give a 100%? Someone who walked the talk was Adam Gilchrist, who decided on his retirement in the fraction of a second – between the time the ball hit his glove and dropped to the ground (when he grassed a catch). Much to everyone’s surprise he announced his retirement on 96-tests. It is such retirements that get permanently embalmed in history – for they can never be orchestrated again.
Where was the need to give the world many months’ notice and kick-off a media frenzy – it would be naive, if not foolish, to say Sachin didn’t foresee this farewell. Here is where one wonders if it was Sachin’s obsession with statistics that triumphed or if he was arm-twisted by commercial considerations in the media and the BCCI. Neither option seems unrealistic. Even more bizarre was Sachin’s acceptance of Rajya Sabha membership, when he was an active cricketer. Given his popularity, he knows better that most that he can become a Member of Parliament the moment he chooses to – when Navjot Sidhu and Kirti Azad can, it is but a blink an eyelid for Sachin. So why the hurry? What were the compulsions? Did this have anything to do with the Bharat Ratna?
Sachin is but a reflection of those of us in the middle-class. He is no God. He is the nice guy next door who will drive you to the hospital but doesn’t always make way for an ambulance.