The controversy over Sachin and Rekha has brought into relief the question, do we really need celebrity MPs?
When the cosmetically propped apparition called Rekha and cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar were invited — not voted — to grace the Rajya Sabha as members of parliament, a couple of years ago, the general consensus was positive.. The popular feeling was that they deserved the honor and brought their acknowledged abilities, skill, confidence, focus & hunger to perform to their new task.
Ooops, no such luck!
However, neither Master Blaster nor Bollywood’s timeless diva made much of an appearance in Parliament. Their swearing-in was the last time anyone heard either of them open their mouth. In all the time they were meant to be there, they contributed nothing in the form of initiatives, ideas, suggestions or responses. Is this shocking? Outrageous? Incredible? Or simply … to be expected?
Analysts point out that it is silly, unrealistic and unfair to expect celebrities, with little interest and knowledge outside their professional arena, to suddenly turn messiahs and activists, championing causes for creatures of a lesser god!
High profile Times Now anchor Arnab Goswami yelled, “Time for London but no time for Parliament!” as he kicked off heated debates on a recent panel discussion.
The controversy over Sachin and Rekha has brought into relief the question, do we really need celebrity MPs? If yes, do we expect them to conform, adhere to or respect basic rules relating to their mandate, to attendance and some minimal participation?
One school of thought believes that these ornamental MPs must be done away with, because they add no value and are principally just glamorous props. Most of them, they argue, are there for reasons that don’t remotely connect with any track record of public service beyond their professional calling — be it sports or entertainment. Most, also, are clueless about what to do and how to do it and worse, demonstrate little interest or talent, in learning the ropes to make any genuine contribution. The history of celeb MPs — with the exception of Sunil Dutt, Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Shyam Benegal, Kirti Azad and a handful of others — make for very sad reading and speaks poorly of their tenure as eminently forgettable parliamentarians. Now, their shocking attendance register! Why are they there? Who drafted them anyway? What was the objective, goal or motive behind plonking entertainment and sports stars into the seat of a parliamentarian?
Their sympathizers argue that the adoration, popularity and high profile of these makes them inspirational icons. They have been selected not for a political office, but public service, and their mass popularity and celebrity status can draw attention and offer solutions to areas that related directly to their core competencies. Since this calling is a planet away from their professional skill set, they need time to understand the nitty-gritty’s of their new task, before stepping on the gas. Besides, several of these celebrities are still active in their respective calling, so physical presence — in terms of attendance — is bound to suffer.
These sympathizers add that celebs have always been the softest targets for media and critics, because of the enviable position they hold in the heart, mind and imagination of the people. While they admit that many of their breed have not quite made the required mark as MPs, to be dismissive, harsh or insulting is not likely to provide any solutions. Instead, encouragement, guidance and patience are needed. On a lighter note, even the most skeptical will admit that dazzling film stars or flamboyant sports stars do add that extra color and excitement to the staid world of MPs lending a new buzz and energy to the proceedings.
Be that as it may, serious MP-watchers believe that for all parliamentarians — celebrities included — must meet the attendance threshold, failing which they should be dropped. Under India’s parliamentary rules, if a member is absent from either house for a period of 60 days then his seat is considered vacant.
For too long, critics believe, these celebrity MPs have taken the honor — in the words of MP and Bollywood’s high-profile lyricists Javed Akhtar — as a trophy instead of as a responsibility. They skip sessions or are speechless, rarely participating, debating or initiating any meaningful proposal.
While it is true that many of them need time and perspective to understand the ground realities before hitting the performance button, to flamboyantly take advantage of their status by ignoring, neglecting or paying scant attention to the honor, prestige and responsibility bestowed on them is to insult, demean, devalue and trivialize the gravity and importance of Parliament.
While Rekha-watchers are not exactly surprised at her playing hooky from her job or her deafening silence during sessions — she has never ever been accused of overt interest in public service — Sachin Tendulkar’s attitude has been disappointing. Renowned the world over as a committed and dedicated professional with a strong focus on everything he applied his mind to, his failure to respect the institution seems out of character. Why not resign, admit that it is out of his league in terms of time and task and offer that he may perhaps return when his social and professional endorsements and engagements allow to enrich the needy, underprivileged and marginalized sections with a performance that has no boundaries.
Sachin Tendulkar has responded to the accusation against him by citing medical emergency at home. Let us allow him that. Will the little master be prepared to take new guard and start a fresh innings promising a better performance? As for Umrao Jaan, the diva could well be divinely stuck on her favorite number … ye kahan aa gaye hum!