The Moral Timidity of Sachin Tendulkar

Precis circulated for members of Swadeshi Jagran Manch founded by Hindu Samaj
17-February-2021 11:23 am IST, New Delhi

Swadeshi Jagran Manch. (2023). The Moral Timidity of Sachin Tendulkar

Tendulkar is known to be a genuinely decent human being—self-effacing, humble, and respectful to everyone he encounters. However, this personal decency has always been accompanied by a deep-seated timidity towards authority and a fear of upsetting any establishment, whether in cricket or beyond.

In early January 2020, Ajinkya Rahane, the vice-captain of the Indian Test cricket squad, posted a photograph of himself relishing vada pav, the famed Maharashtrian snack. Beside the picture, he questioned his followers in a neutral manner, "How do you like your vada pav? 1. Vada pav with tea, 2. Vada pav with chutney, 3. Just Vada pav," Rahane asked. His Marathi colleague, Sachin Tendulkar, replied quickly, revealing his preference, "I savor my Vada Pav with red chutney, a hint of green chutney & some imli chutney for an enhanced blend."

During this exchange, protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act had been agitating the nation for over a month. Throughout this time, Tendulkar had maintained his silence, which was predictable and emblematic of his personality. While many other celebrities were speaking out, feeling that the country's secular future was at risk, Tendulkar remained preoccupied with mundane matters.

In his book, "How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century," historian Frank Dikotter highlighted the concept of common subordination. As per Dikotter, "the cult of personality" was the most effective strategy for a dictator to gain power and eliminate rivals. It compelled allies and rivals alike to collaborate through common subordination, turning everyone into a liar by forcing them to acclaim the dictator before others.

This concept aptly elucidates the spectacle that ensued when Rihanna tweeted, drawing attention to the farmers' protests, causing a commotion among the Indian establishment. A well-orchestrated chorus of imitation tweets by celebrities, particularly actors and sports stars, emerged the next day, affirming notions of Indian sovereignty. This has become a periodic farce of the Modi era, where celebrities, willingly or unwillingly, become handmaidens for the regime. On the evening of 3 February, Tendulkar's Twitter account, boasting over 35 million followers, posted a tweet following the same pattern as others, joining this sycophantic circus. Perhaps the logic of common subordination explains why Tendulkar felt compelled to participate, but his addition to this collective debasement surprised many.

Tendulkar is considered a sacrosanct public figure, beyond the reach of those in power. No Indian establishment, even the vindictive one, would risk being seen as hounding or persecuting him.

So what explains this anomaly from someone who is usually careful in his words? The answer lies in Tendulkar's conservative upbringing and his psychological makeup, which can be described as a state of stunted adulthood.

His social background is easily grasped. Tendulkar was raised in the salaried, lower-middle-class, Maharashtrian world of what was then Bombay. He belongs to Mumbai's largest community, lacking substantial economic and cultural power amidst the city's upper echelons, which is the driving force behind much of the Shiv Sena's politics. People from Tendulkar's background often display an excessively deferential attitude towards the powerful and wealthy in India's financial capital, which is evident in Tendulkar's relationship with the Ambanis.

Before 2014, during a less polarized age, Tendulkar's timidity towards the wealthy and powerful was not as apparent. He was an appropriate mascot for centrist status-quoism and the gradual, incremental mobility that characterized India in the first two decades after liberalization. Tendulkar epitomized values cherished in the conventional, hierarchical, and self-congratulatory milieu of the middle class. He showed no eagerness to challenge societal prejudices and kept his notion of ethics limited to his personal conduct.

Tendulkar is known to be a genuinely decent human being—self-effacing, humble, and respectful to everyone he encounters. However, this personal decency has always been accompanied by a deep-seated timidity towards authority and a fear of upsetting any establishment, whether in cricket or beyond.

His image of studied neutrality served him well during the pressures of his cricket career, but a public life cannot be sustained with complete avoidance of moral choices. There will be moments, like now, where fence-sitting becomes untenable.

Before our current divisive times, it was harder to see, but now it's clear that Tendulkar also shares some of the worst traits of the Indian middle class: indifference to the greater good, lack of commitment to human rights and democracy, and intellectual vacuousness.

The cricket writer Rahul Bhattacharya once described Tendulkar as a "man-child superstar," granted not the indulgence of perpetual adolescence but of permanent childhood. This childlike psyche was evident in his banal autobiography, where he failed to address broader issues in the society and the world.

Unlike other sports stars who rise to success, Tendulkar seems unable to transcend the limitations of his social background. His personality has not grown with his public stature, lacking larger ideas about society and the world. When pressed to take a stand, Tendulkar habitually opts to back existing power structures.

Both his social and psychological aspects play out in his subservient equation with the Ambanis. Tendulkar's deferential relationship with the Ambani clan underscores both social and psychological facets of his character. One episode during an ostentatious Ambani wedding underlined this dynamic. In a friendly cricket match held as part of the Ambani clan festivities, Tendulkar behaved like a compliant worker for the Reliance-owned Mumbai Indians by crouching to strap a pad onto Mukesh Ambani's leg. Seeking to evade controversy at any cost, Tendulkar's intimate ties with India's richest family likely shaped his decision to align himself with a position that ultimately benefits the Ambanis.

It remains baffling what Tendulkar has learned from his sporting heroes, such as Donald Bradman. Bradman's moral courage during the apartheid era, and Kumar Sangakkara's stand against violence and racism, contrast starkly with Tendulkar's silence.

In February, former India Test batsman Wasim Jaffer faced communal attacks from the Uttarakhand state cricket team's administration. Many in the cricket community supported Jaffer, and there was a clamor for Tendulkar to speak up. However, he remained silent, indicating his reluctance to take a stand.

In the aftermath of his tweet, a meme has circulated, depicting Tendulkar as a man who wears the colors of whichever establishment is in power. This portrayal accurately reflects Tendulkar's apparent lack of beliefs or ethical concerns toward the society and country that have revered him.

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