There are few people who receive greater adulation or celebrity in India than its cricketing stars. And among that select group, no-one stands higher than the “little master”, Sachin Tendulkar.
In recognition of this, in the spring of 2012, around 18 months before he would retire from the sport he reigned over, the man whom many believe was the cricket’s greatest ever batsman, was nominated to the upper house of India’s parliament to sit as an independent.
“It is an honour which I accept with full respect, but I am here because of my cricketing career,” he said, as politicians from all parties lined up to have their photograph taken with him.
But this week India was witness to what few would have expected – criticism of the 41-year-old Tendulkar. After the release of figures that showed he may have the worst attendance figures in the parliament – this year he has not attended a single session - there were even demands that he should stand down.
“If they are absent for 60 days, their seat can be vacated,” P Rajeev, a member of the opposition Communist Party of India, told the parliament.
Another parliamentarian, Rajeev Shukla, a member of the Congress party, which nominated the former cricketer to the parliament, told the Times Now television channel: “Why have you chosen to become a member of parliament if you don’t attend?”
Tendulkar, who played in more than 200 Test matches and who scored 15,921 Test runs, a record, was one of of 12 people from the worlds of sport, the arts and media nominated to the upper house two years ago. Parliamentary records show he has not attended a single session this year, has failed to take part in any debates and attended on only three days in 2013.
Another independent member who has faced similar similar criticism is Bhanurekha Ganesan, a Bollywood actress better known by her stage name, Rekha. She was also appointed to the upper house, or Rajya Sabha, in 2012 and has attended the parliament on seven occasions, according to information collated by PRS Legislative Research, a monitoring group.
Shreya Singh, a spokesperson for PRS Legislative Research told The Independent that while the average attendance in the upper house stood at 77 per cent, Mr Tendulkar’s stood as just three per cent and Ms Ganesan’s was seven per cent.
She said records showed that nominated members typically attended less than elected members, asked fewer questions and delivered fewer speeches. She said the fact that such members had such busy lives might explain their poor attendance.
But some parliamentarians have gone as far as to say the poor attendance is an insult to India’s position as the world’s largest democracy.
“I like him very much as a cricketer and I really like Rekha as an actress, but their conduct as nominated members of Rajya Sabha is despicable to say the least,” another parliamentarian, DP Tripathi, told the Press Trust of India.
He added: “By their behaviour and continued absence, they have insulted parliament and Indian constitution. Such people should have never been nominated to this august house. I pity those MPs who get themselves clicked with Rekha and Sachin Tendulkar.”
Yet according to officials in the upper house on Friday, rules of the chamber say that a member cannot be ousted until they fail to attend for 60 days in succession. Neither Mr Tendulkar or Ms Ganesan is yet at that stage.
Last month, Mr Tendulkar captained the MCC side in sits bicentennial celebration match at Lord’s. It is understood he has also been spending time with member of his family who was in hospital. His spokesman, Manoj Warrier, said Mr Tendulkar was expected to soon address the issue.