It certainly gives pleasure to see symbols as inspiring tools to motivate the generations to come. Contextually, we can take a look at the initiative taken by the state to confer the ‘Bharat Ratna’ on Sachin Tendulkar as one such symbol. It was felt necessary to honour a person who, undoubtedly, captured the minds of millions, who became a ‘Hero’ for the ‘nation’, a true epitome of national imagination. This is the very ‘Nationalism’ which binds people together and brings pride, and this is why, we feel proud to be Indians. Why not Bharat Ratna for Sachin Tendulkar, as he gets support across society. He has attained this populism by serving the purpose of nationalism so well.
However, for a moment, let’s think over all the above-mentioned terms namely; nation, nationalism, inspiration, populism, service and so on. What are these terms all about? Are these represented through collective conscience/imagination or merely imposed, manufactured and socially-constructed metaphors of a few shrewd minds? To put it differently, did Sachin play for the ‘nation’? Even if he did, was he the only sportsperson to have brought glory to the nation?
BCCI (for whom Sachin played) has been claiming before the Supreme Court that it is not at all public and is a completely private body registered under Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act. It is not amenable to rules and regulations framed by the Government of India (Supreme Court’s Direction, 2005). Therefore, the changes made by the BCCI in the rules of selection process, format of game, choosing of venues, collection of huge money through matches can never be questioned by general public in a court of law. In 2005, in the Zee Telefilms judgement, the Supreme court noted the BCCI’s stand: “It is a private organization whose objects are to promote the game of cricket. Its functions are regulated and governed by its own rules and regulations independent of any statute and are only related to its members” (Cited in Times of India, 18th Nov, 2013). Why does BCCI have this firm stand? Is it only to escape public scrutiny regarding its management process?
Surprisingly, people still associate cricket with the nation instead of associating it with the corporates (market economy) which are unashamedly backed by influential politicians and industrialists. Apart from this, what about the other sport personalities (some names- Dhyan Chand, P.T. Usha and others) who represented the so-called ‘nation’ in the international scenario? It is not only about whom to honour and whom not to, but also about politics of recognition and mis-recognition of greatness, which is cleverly framed by the ruling-dominant ideas. These dominant ideas are characterised by different social realities, namely caste, class, gender, region, religion and so on. The above-mentioned sport persons were sidelined because of their inability to cope up with these very ideas and specifically, there is no element of market economy working for these other sportpersons to grasp the so-called national imagination. Therefore, they have failed to fulfil the criteria of ‘populism’.
In colonial and post-colonial India, there is a history of creating false-nationhood by perpetuating the dominant ideology in the name of collective imagination. In the process, many nationalist leaders have come out with mythical symbols to impose the idea of nation; for example- Gandhi’s conception of Ram Rajya, which still has a powerful impact on the people. As long as someone conforms to this notion, s/he is considered as a nationalist, otherwise s/he is treated as a traitor or anti-national and therefore, Ambedkar had to suffer, when he raised the issue of untouchability and demanded separate electorates for the untouchables. Fortunately, Sachin Tendulkar need not suffer like Ambedkar as he is conforming to the idea of nation and nationalism.
Next in the line – Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Salman Khan and others. Because these celebrities have the largest fan following in the ‘nation’, despite the fact that they all are torch-bearers of the ruling ideology. They all fulfill the criteria of populism/nationalism.
I am a Ph.D student of Social Science doing research on ‘Democracy and Dalit Leadership’. I am associated with UDSF, JNU, since 2010 and engaged in many other activities related to Ambedkar’s philosophy. I am from Odisha.