Monday, November 16, 2009

India blasts Thackeray for taking on Sachin

New Delhi: India's political establishment on Monday joined the cricket board to slam Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray after he criticised cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar's "Mumbai belongs to all" comment.

From the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), otherwise a Shiv Sena ally, to the perenially critical Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the entire political class said that Thackeray's hard-hitting attack on Tendulkar was uncalled for.

In a signed, open letter to the cricketer published in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna on Monday, Thackeray said his "friendly advice" to Tendulkar was that he should "concentrate on international pitch" and stay away from politics for his "own well-being".

Thackeray, whose party suffered a rout in last month's assembly elections in Maharashtra, took umbrage at the cricket maestro's statement last week that he was "a proud Maharashtrian but an Indian first" and "Mumbai belongs to all".

That comment followed widespread criticism of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and Shiv Sena for the assault on Samajwadi Party MP Abu Azmi for taking oath in the Maharashtra assembly in Hindi. A furious Thackeray said that players like Tendulkar "ultimately play only for themselves".

In no time, voices across India, a country which is celebrating 20 years of Tendulkar's glorious career that has made him a cricket legend, hit out at the 83-year-old Shiv Sena founder leader.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said Thackeray's remarks were needless.

Said BCCI spokesperson Rajiv Shukla: "It is completely uncalled for. They (Shiv Sena) have no business to talk like this. Tell me what crime Sachin has done? What is wrong in saying that 'I am an Indian and Mumbai belongs to all'... No Marathi will support Shiv Sena if they talk like this."

A day after the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) denounced linguistic chauvinism, the BJP simply refused to side with the Shiv Sena. Party leader Arun Jaitley told reporters here: "If any Maharashtrian says he is proud of being a Maharashtrian as well as an Indian, then I find this statement absolutely correct."

The Congress did not spare the Shiv Sena. Its spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said: "He (Thackeray) should be the last person to preach to a gentleman cricketer like Sachin Tendulkar."

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor said on Tweet: "On Sachin and Sena, my late dad Chandran Tharoor said in '66: 'With Maharashtra for Maharashtrians and Kashmir for Kashmiris, where is India for Indians'?"

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a BJP ally, also made clear his displeasure. "Shiv Sena is on the wrong foot in criticising Sachin Tendulkar," said the Janata Dal-Secular leader.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad and the CPI-M politburo member Brinda Karat also did not spare Thackeray. Karat said: "Thackeray's comments are completely uncalled for."

The sporting community also rallied behind Tendulkar.

Said Olympian Milkha Singh: "Whatever Sachin has said is completely right. India comes first and the state comes later. Sport and politics should not be mixed."

In his Saamna article, Thackeray said: "You are free to hit fours and sixers on the cricket field, but keep off the political pitch." Tendulkar grew up in Thackeray's neighbourhood in Bandra East and learnt his first cricket lessons there.

"With (your) one statement, you became 'run out' in the pitch of Marathi minds," the Shiv Sena leader said.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), otherwise a more radical Marathi outfit, did not react. Sanjay Raut, editor of the Saamna newspaper, defended Thackeray.

"Bal Thackeray has not said anything wrong," he said. "We also believe that the nation comes first. That is why we say 'Jai Hind, Jai Maharashtra'."

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