Mary Kom’s Rajya Sabha Nomination Not Necessarily Beyond Politics

To woo the tribes of Manipur, the BJP has nominated Mary Kom to Rajya Sabha, will its ploy work, asks Patricia Mukhim

4 min read
Unlike other sportspersons like Sachin Tendulkar, known for their abysmal performance in Rajya Sabha, will Mary Kom set a new precedent? (Photo: Agencies/ Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

Nominations to the Rajya Sabha under Article 80 of the Constitution makes news only to the extent that people are curious to know who the great personalities are who have merited entry into the august House. The Constitution stipulates that nominees are to be selected from amongst people who have special knowledge or practical experience in literature, science, art and social service. It does not mention sportspersons or media persons although in recent times these two categories seem to have become favourites among different ruling parties.

Earlier, those nominated to the Rajya Sabha included luminaries like the scholar Dr Zakir Hussain, renowned historians Dr Kalidas Nag and Dr Radha Kumar Mookerji, eminent scientist Satyendranath Bose, renowned exponent of classical dance forms Rukmini Devi Arundale etc. Gradually the bar has been lowered to accommodate party loyalists that includes journalists and others.

Is Mary Kom’s Nomination Justified?

The latest nominations by the BJP following the completion of tenures of the UPA nominees is therefore par for the course. The list includes 2012 Olympian Mary Kom, better known for her prowess as a pugilist. But questions have been raised as to whether a serving government employee (Mary Kom serves in the Manipur Police) can be nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Mary Kom is dedicated to her sport and like Sachin Tendulkar, she might not have the time or inclination to attend Rajya Sabha proceedings.

As far as perks are concerned, Mary Kom would enjoy incentives far beyond what she does at the moment. She has the luxury of free air travel for herself and her family members apart from a free, plush accommodation at Lutyens Delhi and several other freebies that sportspersons might ordinarily not be entitled to.

Boxer Mary Kom and Indian badminton player PV Sindhu during a programme in  Mumbai, on 24 September 2015. (Photo: IANS)
Boxer Mary Kom and Indian badminton player PV Sindhu during a programme in Mumbai, on 24 September 2015. (Photo: IANS)

What Explains Mary Kom’s Nomination?

  • Political observers see Mary Kom’s nomination as BJP’s gameplan to appease the tribes of Manipur.
  • People in Manipur have been at loggerheads with the Centre over three contentious bills.
  • The move is seen as BJP’s attempt to assuage feelings of those belonging to ethnic communities.
  • The ace pugilist has states so far that her objective after entering the House of Elders would be to push for a national sports policy.

Sportspersons as Rajya Sabha Nominees

N Gopalaswami Ayyangar while speaking at the Constituent Assembly in July 1947 had averred that by nominating members of great calibre an opportunity is given to seasoned people who may not wish to take part in the hurly burly of politics. Ayyangar, a member of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution further elaborated, “who might be willing to participate in the debate with an amount of learning and importance which we do not ordinarily associate with the House of the People (Lok Sabha).”

As far as nomination of sportspersons is concerned, Sachin Tendulkar was perhaps the first to enter the Rajya Sabha.

A data journalism portal Factly which analysed the performance of the ten nominated members of Rajya Sabha found that Tendulkar and Rekha, both UPA nominees have an attendance of 5.5 percent and 5.1 percent respectively and the latter had not participated in a single debate.

Both of them were nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2012.  Sachin asked only two questions in the House and that too, after his prolonged absence became a heated subject of debate.

 BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, Former BJP MP &amp; cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, Olympic medallist Mary Kom, Former Malayalam actor Suresh Gopi who have been nominated by President Pranab Mukherjee for Rajya Sabha on Friday. (Photo: PTI)
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, Former BJP MP & cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, Olympic medallist Mary Kom, Former Malayalam actor Suresh Gopi who have been nominated by President Pranab Mukherjee for Rajya Sabha on Friday. (Photo: PTI)

Politics Behind Rajya Sabha Nomination

Mary Kom is perhaps replacing Prof Mrinal Miri, former Vice Chancellor, NEHU (North-eastern Hill University) who is a renowned scholar of philosophy from India’s north east. Prof Miri registered an attendance of 88.5 percent and used his MP funds with a great deal of scrutiny and accountability. He refused a government bungalow and chose to live in his private residence at South Extension-II, New Delhi.

Political observers see Mary Kom’s nomination as a two-pronged gameplan of the BJP. While on the face of it she represents the best in her sport, she also comes from the tiny Kom Naga tribe of the hills of Manipur, a state embroiled in protracted ethnic conflicts. Since September last year when the Manipur government passed three controversial bills ostensibly aimed at protecting the indigenous people of Manipur, which the tribes feel is an attempt by the Meiteis in the plains to encroach into their living spaces in the hills, the protests that followed claimed nine lives. The dead bodies are still lying unburied in the morgue. They are being used to put pressure on the Centre to revoke the three bills lying with the Union Home Ministry.

Perhaps this is also a subtle attempt by the BJP to assuage the hurt feelings of the hill tribes. But is that a miscalculation? Manipur is a fractured homeland of several ethnicities not a collective space of a common polity.

Will Mary Kom Set an Example?

The BJP has been trying to get a foothold in Manipur and even toying with the idea of doing an Arunachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand there too. The irony, however is that the people of Manipur are themselves tired of the Congress government which they see as contemptibly corrupt and incapable of addressing the persistent paranoia that afflicts both the hill tribes and the Meiteis in the valley. Can Mary Kom be the palliative?

Kom herself had stated that on entering the Rajya Sabha she might push for a better and more enlightened sports policy. Let’s hope we can see and hear her in the Rajya Sabha more often than with her gloves on!

And will she remain apolitical or will the luxuries of a good life woo her to politics? We will wait and watch!

(The writer is the Editor of The Shillong Times and former member of NSAB)

Also Read: After Bihar, Is Meghalaya Looking at a Booze Ban?

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