Numbers lie. Sometimes.
“Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” – Pericles (495-429 BC)
It does. Even if you thought that you are an apolitical creature (which these days can be a euphemism for ignoramus), politics chases you. It isn’t surprising that an apolitical creature exists in a body which is essentially of a political animal, an animal that will never be on the endangered list. So what if you didn’t even contest the election for class monitor in your school days or you thought that the Mid Day Meal Scheme was a Sheraton complimentary for corporate clients? You are a star in your walk of life, you have representative urges and the government of the day has the constitutional bypass to help you circumvent the electoral process. You are an object of mass adulation and pixelated times have made you a constant presence in popular imagination. And what if you are Sachin Tendulkar? The bypass has to act as a thoroughfare.
The bypass is enshrined in the Article 80 of the Constitution, which has the provision that the government can nominate 12 persons to the Rajya Sabha apart from 238 elected members, and it goes on to state: “The members to be nominated by the President… shall consist of persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as the following, namely: literature, science, art and social service.”
Yes, it is known that some DNA enthusiasts are tracing the provision to some ‘peerage patterns’ in the British House of Lords, while some are questioning the absence of ‘sports’ in the wording of the provision. Well, the elasticity theory of ‘social service’ (and may be ‘art’) has ensured that many fit in. And unusual service to the phrase ‘social service’ can accommodate sports too. There is another charge that the ruling party has sought to ride on the icon’s popularity.
Now we surely needed better conspiracy theorists, or some amnesia therapists to remind us that when has one Rajya Sabha nomination, that too for a celebrity, swung the political fortunes of a party? The nature of objections also reflect the state of mainstream discourse, and two important concerns have escaped the scrutiny that emerge from Sachin’s nomination and other ‘12 club’ nominations.
I have the numbers, I represent my craft, I represent people (Celebrity Cult and Myth of Representative Entitlement)
Even within the Article 80 dole-outs, the disturbing signs are how the eligibility conditions for representation are being rewritten. Some of the nominations are symptomatic of how the government is falling prey to the mechanics of celebrity cult and how popular appeal has distorted the government’s measure of representative entitlement.
The suitability of icons of different fields of excellence for legislative debates and even their commitment to the role needs reappraisal. The celebrity-tag carrying representatives have done little to leave their mark on parliamentary debate or make constructive interventions. Nominated film personalities (Hema Malini, Shabana Azmi), music icons (Lata Mangeshkar) amongst others have not contributed to the discourse in the Upper House in any substantive way and have certainly not found the House cosy enough to attend its sessions.
Of late, by yielding to the cult of celebrity cult, the government seems to have legitimized popularity as an entitlement to representative bodies.There are ways in which even a mundane issue like the nature of school curriculum can be elevated to a quality intervention, which was established by R K Narayan’sintervention on the issue (he was nominated in 1989). In the list of honourable exceptions, agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan’s interventions have also proved him to be an appropriate nomination owing to his erudite contribution to parliamentary debates.
People are Swayed, Government Nods (Populist Templates of Excellence)
Sachin’s nomination also manifests the dangers of the democratisation of rewarding excellence. It is dangerous because it reinforces the myths of popular imagination.It might represent a hypothetical scenario when National Awards are coalesced with Filmfare awards. The government’s benchmarks for evaluating excellence have to be more widespread, inclusive and stricter. The point is not to underplay Sachin’s achievements. The point is that the government’s assessment of the sporting scene of the country has been blinded by populist templates. The achievements in other sporting disciplines of larger global reach (for example, Vishwanathan Anand’s achievements as World Chess champion) or even other achievers of yesteryears in the same disciplines have apparently lost out to the tyranny of adulation. So much for the government’s sportsmanship in identifying its icons!
The state has to transcend the popular narratives of excellence and the government of the day has to also redraw the contours of entitlement to representation. The tyranny of popularity cannot be one of them. Matters of legislative concern cannot be left to the cult of the celebrity. Numbers have to give way to something not-so-numerical. Sometimes and somewhere. Can the ‘12’ club be one of them?