Sachin Tendulkar never had anything to say on an issue of any importance. He has always abhorred controversy — this position stemmed from his unwavering focus on cricket, and possibly his Marathi middle-class roots, which laid emphasis on hard work and modesty of behaviour.
After a lifetime of aversion to controversy and taking a stand on matters of importance, Tendulkar plays it safe even in retirement. His tweet yesterday, which seems to be part of national mobilisation against Rihanna and Greta Thunberg, said: “India’s sovereignty cannot be compromised. External forces can be spectators but not participants. Indians know India and should decide for India. Let’s remain united as a nation…”
Every word Tendulkar wrote is true, but only in the context of territorial or economic conflict — really, can tweets by Rihanna or Greta threaten or compromise India’s sovereignty?
As a retired cricketer, Tendulkar is free to speak his mind — but he has never really spoken his mind on important matters, even in his book. In the west, Rihanna or Greta, who’s just 18, are free to speak their mind. They did just that. In reaction, as if moved by one spring, cricketers such as Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Suresh Raina, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli tweeted within hours. Tendulkar, as timid in his words as he was fearless with his bat, could not even bring himself to write “farmers” in his tweet, keeping it cryptic and context-less.
Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ravi Shastri were direct and referred to the farmers.
In early December 2020, before Shubman Gill emerged as a star on the tour of Australia, his father Lakhwinder Singh spoke in favour of the farmers. Lakhwinder told a national newspaper: “He (Shubman) has spent a good amount of his childhood in the village. He has seen his grandfather, father and uncles working in the fields. He has experienced it first hand and knows why this protest matters to the farmers.”
Perhaps it’s proximity to the soil and ground zero of farmer protests that makes people react in different ways: Gill’s family, of farming stock, and from a region that is the epicentre of the protests, has sympathy for the farmers and are talking about it; Tendulkar, and others, far, far away from the protest sites, and with roots in a megapolis like Mumbai, can’t relate to the farmers.
Yet, it must be remembered that Maharashtra accounts for the largest number of farmer suicides in the country — the Central Government stated in 2019 that between 2013 and 2018, 15,356 farmers died by suicide in Maharashtra. Tendulkar, a former Rajya Sabha MP, may be aware of this sad and depressing statistic.
Come to think of it, Tendulkar has indeed taken a stand on an important issue once in his life — in 2009, at an interaction with a large group of journalists, he was asked: “Who does Mumbai belong to?”
Tendulkar’s answer was clear: “Mumbai belongs to India. I’m a Maharashtrian. I’m extremely proud of being Maharashtrian. But I’m an Indian.”
That seems to be a fair answer. But already, there had been a debate over who Mumbai really belonged to — the ‘native’ people or the ‘settlers’ from other states. Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackerey, no less, criticised Tendulkar for this statement, writing: “You said you are proud of being Marathi but are an Indian first. This has hurt the Marathi people. From the cricket pitch you have entered the political pitch. You also said that all Indians have an equal right on Mumbai. What was the need for this?”
Indeed, what was the need for this? But Tendulkar had said what he believed in, and he got universal support for it. It would be only right if he did not invoke national security if others say what they believe in.