Column | Indian sportspersons, film stars condone the COVID-19 tragedy purposefully

Adam Gilchrist, Gautam Gambhir, Abhinav Bindra, Taapsee Pannu

There has been lot of discussion on the attitude of celebrities in the fields like cinema, sports and television to the multiple crisis faced by the citizens due to the COVID tsunami which has hit the country. One part of the debate is on what has been done by these magnetic personalities whose performance on the big and small screen or on the sports field attracts lakhs of worshipping fans. The superstars of cricket and Bollywood have big incomes and have also very wealthy business associates. But this time the debate is equally on what these celebrities have said. And even what they have not said.

Bindra, Gilchrist raise a moot point

Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra has launched a fusillade of shots from his pen asking whether sportsmen, especially high-earning cricketers, are doing anything to help people suffering in all parts of the country. He has said these stars who are associated with the Indian Premier League, the richest cricket league of the world, cannot be deaf and dumb to the hardship faced by people, many of whom are fans. Bindra has also claimed if he were the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, he would have contributed a big sum for purchase of vaccines and other medical necessities to fight the pandemic.

Others have quoted the critical tweet of former Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist on the collapse of Indian health system, saying no Indian player will dare to criticise the government. Former India cricket captain Saurav Ganguly is the president of the cash-rich BCCI.

Similarly, voices have come up in film industry on why those actors who criticised Barbadian pop singer Rihanna for her support to farmers agitation are silent about the apathy to the coronavirus patients. Also most superstars of Bollywood have not offered their empathy.

Focus on celebrity politicians

Similarly, celebrities who have chosen politics are also under the scanner. Gautam Gambhir, former India cricketer and BJP MP for East Delhi, has been trolled by continuing with cricket commentary while patients are scrambling for beds and oxygen in his constituency. Gambhir has retorted he is coordinating relief work conducted by his team, even sourcing scarce medicines to be distributed from his constituency office. Celebrity politicians like Gambhir, actors Hema Malini and Sunny Deol are upset they are under microscopic scrutiny compared to professional politicians. Last year posters put by her opponents in Mathura constituency of Uttar Pradesh had claimed Hema Malini was missing.

The enthusiasts argue that film and sports celebrities have always responded to the human dimensions of the tragedy. Last year when Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the PM Cares Fund to fight the epidemic, many celebrities gave contributions, led by Sachin Tendulkar, Akshay Kumar, Varun Dhawan, Virat Kohli and his actress-wife Anushka Sharma, Kartik Aaryan and Suresh Raina. Actor Sonu Sood mounted a massive drive to help stranded migrants to reach home from Mumbai and other cities, by hiring aircraft and buses, as well as arranging trains. Even during the ongoing second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite testing positive, he is busy helping with oxygen, ventilators for patients and arranging food and transport for migrants.

It has been a tradition for celebrities to help the government and society during times of war and calamity. When the Chinese invaded in 1962 or when India went to war to help the brutalized people of Bangladesh in 1971, film stars travelled in convoys in many cities to mobilize donations for the war effort. Several actresses donated their gold ornaments to encourage other women to help the war efforts.

Vested interests

But most celebrities have been wary of making harsh comments against the government, unless they publicly endorse one political party. They prefer to refrain from wading into controversy, for multiple reasons. For sportsmen their respective sports organizations are the source of their bread and butter, with both central and state governments controlling either directly or indirectly the central federations and state associations.

Many cricketers recall how even the great Kapil Dev was denied his dues for long by the BCCI, because he had supported opponents of the cricket board. Similarly film celebrities point out how government can harass them in multiple ways. The latest was the income tax raids on national award-winning actress Taapsee Pannu, who had posted critical tweets against those in power. Even if Abhinav Bhindra argues speech is silver, for most celebrities it is silence which is golden.


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