Indian cricket star Sachin Tendulkar took the oath to become a member of the country’s upper house of parliament today after being nominated by the ruling Congress party, a pick that drew criticism and a legal challenge.
Tendulkar joined the chamber, known as the Rajya Sabha, in the presence of Congress lawmakers at a private ceremony in the office of Vice President Hamid Ansari, who oversees the running of the house. He was presented with a scarf after reading out a short statement.
While Tendulkar vowed to uphold his responsibilities as a member of parliament, he said his focus would remain on cricket. “When there is time, I will see how I can help,” Tendulkar said in an interview with Rajya Sabha television.
Nicknamed “Little Master,” the 5-foot-5 Tendulkar is an idol in India, where cricket is the most popular sport among the country’s population of 1.2 billion. He earns about $8 million a year from salary and endorsements, according to Forbes magazine, and was given the honorary rank of group captain by the Indian Air Force in 2010 in recognition of his “glorious achievements as a cricketer and sports icon.”
He joins other former Indian test cricketers in parliament, including Mohammad Azharuddin and Navjot Singh Sidhu, who have used their sporting fame to win election to the lower house. In neighboring Pakistan, World Cup winning captain Imran Khan has emerged as a major challenger to established politicians less than a year ahead of parliamentary polls.
Of the 250 seats in India’s Rajya Sabha, 12 are filled by candidates nominated by the president. Congress’ decision to recommend Tendulkar was challenged in the courts on the grounds that the constitution didn’t contain a category for sporting excellence when choosing nominees. His nomination also triggered debate in the media, and opposition claims, that he was being used as a political pawn by a Congress party damaged by corruption scandals.
Tendulkar, the leading run-scorer in Test and one-day matches, became the first player to score 100 international cricket centuries this year during India’s Asia Cup one-day loss to Bangladesh, ending his yearlong wait to reach the milestone.
It was the latest record for Mumbai-born Tendulkar, 39, in a career that began at 16. In the past two years, the right-hander became the first player to hit a one-day international double-century, score 50 Test hundreds, amass an unprecedented 15,000 Test runs and set the record for Test matches played. In April last year, he helped India win its first Cricket World Cup title since 1983.
Tendulkar, who made his debut against India’s archrival Pakistan in 1989, registered his first three-figure score in Tests against England in 1990 at the age of 17.